Michael Russo’s words evoke all kinds of feelings. How can an Air Canada CEO-caliber executive afford to hold a conference only (say 99%) in English in front of a business audience in Montreal? How can he say that he does not have time to learn French and that he does not really need it, given that he has lived here for 14 years without any difficulty?
Once we have expressed surprise, anger, or dissatisfaction with what Michael Russo has said, we must now turn our attention to the Official Languages Act and the work of the Air Canada Board of Directors.
Respect and appreciation of the French language
Air Canada is a private, publicly listed company whose activities fall under federal jurisdiction, such as banks, ferries, and telecommunications companies. The airline, formerly a federal public company, is governed by Canada’s Official Languages Act.
This law has a function
Ensuring respect for English and French as the official languages of Canada, equal status and equal rights and privileges with respect to their use in federal institutions. She also aims
To encourage companies, employers and labor organizations, as well as Canadian voluntary organizations to promote the recognition and use of French and English.
In choosing to designate Michael Russo as CEO of his organization, following the departure of Calin Ruvenescu at the beginning of the year, Air Canada does not appear to have taken into account the Official Languages Act. At the very least, the spirit of the law is not respected because the CEO is unable to speak French, understand a comment in French, and make the effort to learn French, which is one of the two official languages of Canada and the official language of Quebec.
It is up to the board of directors to ascertain the selection of the CEO of the organization. CA members earn $195,000 annually to do their work. There were 22 Air Canada board meetings in 2020.
The Air Canada board is chaired by Christie J.B. Clark, an accountant who previously ran PwC. In addition to Air Canada, he is on the boards of directors of SNC-Lavalin, Loblaw, and the Canadian Olympic Committee. He has served on the Hydro One board of directors in the past. He lives in Toronto. In addition to the base compensation of $195,000, the Chairman also receives $220,000 in additional fees.
Of the 12 board members, only three reside in Quebec, although Air Canada’s head office is in Montreal: the CEO himself, Michael Russo, attorney Jean-Marc Hoot, of Stikeman Elliott, and businesswoman Madeleine Paquin , CEO of Logistec.
These are the people who chose to appoint Michael Russo as CEO of the company on February 15, 2021. These people are responsible for appointing the most qualified people to the top positions of the company. They are the people who must ensure good corporate governance, act with wisdom and integrity, for the benefit of the company – a socially responsible company – and in accordance with the laws.
Responsibility of the board of directors
A few weeks ago, I interviewed Benjamin Smith, CEO of Air France-KLM. He speaks English, runs a large airline in France, and has impeccable French. He was born in the United Kingdom. But he’s also Canadian. He lived most of his life in Canada, and worked for Air Canada for 20 years, until he became number two in the airline.
He was undoubtedly a leading candidate to succeed Calin Ruvenescu. Like Michael Russo, sure…but with that basic skill, which is the ability to express oneself in the two official languages.
It is the responsibility of the Board of Directors to ensure this.
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