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Air Canada CEO asked to Parliament Hill to testify on 'the importance of respecting official languages'


Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau only signed up for French lessons this fall, but he's going to get a chance to show off his new skills perhaps a little sooner than he thought.

The Montreal-based chief executive, who caused an uproar in November when he said he didn't speak French, has been invited to testify for two hours before Parliament's Standing Committee on Official Languages.

The committee members voted unanimously on Wednesday to invite Rousseau to their next meeting "to answer questions from parliamentarians about the place and importance of official languages at Air Canada," as Bloc Quebecois MP Mario Beaulieu put the request in his motion.

Another committee member, the NDP's Niki Ashton, added -- in French -- that Rousseau will "testify on the importance of respecting official languages."

He'll also be asked to speak about "the measures taken by senior management so that Air Canada's culture reflects Canada's linguistic duality," she said.

Rousseau apologized immediately after his Nov. 3 comment to reporters that, after 14 years living in the city, he is "able to live in Montreal without speaking French and I think that’s a testament to the City of Montreal."

Rousseau grew up in Ontario and lives in the South Shore, a suburb area with a predominantly French-speaking population, with his French-speaking wife.

He was put on the spot that day about his language abilities because he had delivered a speech to the Montreal Chamber of Commerce almost entirely in English.

Air Canada is a federally regulated company, meaning it must provide customer services in both French and English. The CEO doesn't legally need to be French-speaking, but Rousseau's comments went over badly, with even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calling the situation "unacceptable."

Within a week of the gaffe, Rousseau said he had hired a private tutor to try to learn French.

While he likely won't actually be obligated to speak in French committee meeting, the stakes for the two-hour session will be somewhat high. Depending on how it goes, committee members decided, they'll consider ordering a subcommittee to take a much deeper look at Air Canada as a whole.

Rousseau's presentation "might lead us to want to conduct a more fulsome study," one committee member said.

Liberal MP Patricia Lattanzio, who represents the Montreal riding of St-Léonard-St-Michel, had earlier presented a motion to require Air Canada as a company to "testify on its duties as to official languages," but other committee members wanted to specify that Rousseau himself must appear.

The committee's next meeting will be in January. Top Stories

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