Who speaks French in your C.A.?

Spread the love

Qui parle fran&ccedil ;ais within your C. A.?

A shareholder advocacy organization is pushing for directors of big companies to disclose the languages ​​they speak.

Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau caused an uproar last year when he said he didn't speak French after 14 years in Montreal.

Several controversies related to the French language have shaken Quebec in recent months. To avoid these situations and because it is about “the social responsibility” of companies, a shareholder defense organization proposes that the languages ​​spoken by company directors be disclosed.

November 2021. A statement by Air Canada boss Michael Rousseau provokes an outcry. Unable to speak French at an event, he candidly claims that he was able to live in Quebec in English only for 14 years and that his schedule prevented him from learning the language of Félix Leclerc.

The remarks shocked the political class and provoked a strong reaction within the population: more than 2,500 complaints were registered with the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.

Other companies are also singled out, including SNC-Lavalin, whose boss, Ian Edwards, decides to cancel a speech scheduled only in English a few days later. In the spring of 2022, Canadian National (CN) was also criticized for the absence of Francophones on its board of directors.

All these cases that occurred in the space of a few months have reignited the debate on the use of French within large companies in Quebec. According to the Movement for Education and Defense of Shareholders (MEDAC), it is high time for companies to be more transparent about the languages ​​spoken by their directors, for their own benefit.< /p>

Several language controversies have hit national businesses across the country and, by their obviously recurring nature, constitute not only a reputational risk, but a real financial risk, argues Willie Gagnon, general manager of MEDAC, in an interview with Radio-Canada.

The organization has also recently submitted a proposal to this effect to the seven major Canadian banks in view of the annual general meetings of shareholders to be held in 2023.

MEDAC proposes that the languages ​​spoken by directors are disclosed in the grid of their skills and expertise, which can be found in the company circular.

“By mastery, it is understood a level of language sufficient to allow its generalized use. »

— Willie Gagnon, General Manager of MEDAC

Afterwards, the question will be addressed in other meetings of Quebec companies whose securities appear in the MEDAC portfolio, twenty in all. Shareholders will be able to vote at this time.

Some companies have already shown themselves open to acceding to our request. Discussions are ongoing, said Mr. Gagnon, without however wanting to name the companies.

Currently, the proposal exclusively targets directors, those who sit on the boards of large companies, but could include senior executives in a subsequent process.

While the approach remains voluntary for companies, MEDAC is however of the opinion that the language issue is a subject of social responsibility, just like diversity.

Several companies have new obligations regarding diversity disclosure under the Business Corporations Act. Covered companies must be transparent about the number of female, visible minority, disabled and Indigenous employees they have.

These provisions will likely be harmonized in several other statutes, including the Bank Act. The MEDAC would like language to also be listed as an element of diversity and has submitted a brief to this effect as part of a consultation led by the federal government.

La Disclosure on the language would not only be a step forward, in our opinion, but a real obligation, in the spirit of the law, underlines Mr. Gagnon.

The Institute for Governance of Private and Public Organizations (IGOPP) agrees with the approach and also believes that language should be considered as an element of diversity.

< blockquote class="styledBase__StyledBase-sc-1push81-0 hoOnuT blockquote">

“To me, a voluntary disclosure like the one being proposed makes sense. I am not surprised to see the opening of some businesses. »

— François Dauphin, General Manager of IGOPP

The latter recalls the cases of Air Canada and CN which caused a stir. For these two federally chartered companies, subject to the Official Languages ​​Act, disclosure should go without saying.

For these companies, the disclosure should not be voluntary, but almost mandatory in these cases. But for companies that do not have these obligations, it makes economic sense to show sensitivity to language issues, he continues.

Mr. Dauphin also believes that many large corporations in Quebec, particularly in the banking sector, now understand the importance of being transparent on the issue of French.

When Laurentian appointed its leader Rania Llewellyn, a unilingual Anglophone, the first thing she said was that she was going to learn French, that it's something important for me, for you, for the Laurentian Bank, which has deep roots, recalls Mr. Dauphin.

MEDAC is optimistic that a company's behavior will change if the proposal will seek substantial support. Also in general, companies are sensitive to the results of votes, underlines Willie Gagnon.

The organization also submitted two other proposals concerning ethical aspects of the use of artificial intelligence and another on an advisory vote on environmental matters.

It is also proposed that the C.A.s of the banks adopt and publish by 2025 an action plan. action aimed at realigning all of their portfolios with the Paris Agreement (carbon neutrality by 2050).

Previous Article
Next Article