President and CEO of Air Canada Michael Rousseau offered some clarification on Thursday (Nov. 4) regarding remarks he made on Wednesday (Nov. 3) in Montreal that revealed how he has lived in Quebec’s largest city for 14 years “without speaking French.”
In a 26-minute speech at the Palais des congrès in Montreal, Rousseau, who was invited by Montreal's Chamber of Commerce to speak on Air Canada’s recovery, spoke French for about 20 seconds, CBC News reports.
His understanding of French is "fair," he said, but Rousseau still struggles to speak it.
The Air Canada CEO was asked in French by a journalist for Quebec TV news channel LCN how he's managed to live in Montreal for so long despite his limited French-speaking abilities.
Rousseau asked: "Can you redo that in English? Because I want to make sure I understand your question before I respond to it.”
He said he’s been able to live in Montreal without speaking French, “and I think that's a testament to the city of Montreal.”
When he was asked why he had not learned French, he responded: "If you look at my work schedule, you'd understand why."
The remarks sparked criticism from politicians and Quebec commentators – many of whom pointed out how Air Canada is subject to the Official Languages Act and must, therefore, serve customers in both English and French.
"...in no way did I mean to show disrespect..."
Mr. Rousseau, on Thursday, issued a statement to clarify what he said yesterday.
“As I indicated in my comments to the media, I would like to be able to speak French. I want to make it clear that in no way did I mean to show disrespect for Quebecers and francophones across the country. I apologize to those who were offended by my remarks,” Rousseau said.
The CEO said he’s made a pledge to improve his French while tackling “the serious commercial challenges facing Air Canada as we move from surviving the pandemic to rebuilding to normalcy.”
“The fact that this iconic company is headquartered in Montreal is a source of pride for me and our entire executive team,” he said. “I reiterate Air Canada's commitment to show respect for French and, as a leader, I will set the tone.”