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Back to school: CEOs brush up on French after Quebec language uproar



A language furor rattling corporate Quebec has left some companies scrambling to improve the French-speaking skills of their C-suite executives to avoid the kind of public relations nightmare that engulfed Air Canada earlier this month.

Language remains a sensitive issue in Quebec, the only Canadian province whose sole official language is French and where the dominance of English in the 1970s sparked the rise of the separatist Parti Quebecois (PQ).

The Air Canada incident cast a spotlight on how some top executives of prominent companies got away without speaking the language, driving calls for improving French, and raising questions about Quebec’s ability to attract talent.

“There are a number of entities that have spoken to us about that consideration being heightened in light of these comments that have been put forth by Air Canada,” said Adam Dean, founding partner at Dean Executive Search over the need for French.

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Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau caused an uproar with comments suggesting that he did not need to speak French, which along with English is one of Canada‘s two official languages, even though the Montreal-based airline is officially bilingual. Rousseau later apologized and pledged to improve his French.

“It’s important that the presidents of Quebec companies speak French,” Quebec Premier François Legault said on Friday.

Air Canada, which took federal government aid during the pandemic, faced criticism from both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland.

The backlash could complicate the search for a new head of Montreal-headquartered Canadian National Railway Co, whose current CEO is bilingual but has hired uni-lingual English-executives in the past.


CN shareholder TCI Fund Management Ltd has proposed Jim Vena, a former operations specialist at both CN and Union Pacific, to head the railway.

One rail source said Vena, when at CN, could understand and speak some French. Reuters could not immediately reach Vena for comment.

French was not part of TCI’s early criteria for a new CEO and the Air Canada incident would not impact those views, a source familiar with TCI’s thinking said.

TCI did not respond to a request for comment.

CN ensures that its customers, employees and the public can receive services and communications in both official languages, a CN spokesman said when asked whether the new CEO would need to speak French.

Representatives for Freeland and Legault declined comment on CN’s CEO hiring process.

But some CEOs are brushing up their French.

The English-speaking CEO of Laurentian Bank, Rania Llewellyn, is “committed to improving her French,” a bank spokesman said. The U.K.-born head of Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin Group postponed a speech in English speech scheduled for Monday in order to improve his French skills.

The uproar is raising questions over Quebec’s ability to attract talent. The province is separately weighing language legislation that companies say would it make it more cumbersome to hire employees who speak English, in addition to French.

“It is more difficult by virtue of the fact there are parts of the country where French is not spoken, so if that is the requirement for the role, it can be challenging,” Dean said.

About 75% of Canada‘s population speaks English and about 23% speaks French, some of whom are bilingual, according to the country’s 2016 census, its most recent.

Shareholders say they care more about performance.

“As a shareholder you want the best CEO you can find,” said one Air Canada shareholder who nevertheless said that Rousseau had erred in his comments. And a portfolio manager who holds CN stock dismissed the kerfuffle as political. Both declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.

“As a stockholder I don’t have a political agenda,” said the fund manager. “I have an agenda on whether they are run well.”


(Reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal and Maiya Keidan in Toronto; Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Denny Thomas and Leslie Adler)


Canada Premiers to hold virtual news conference on struggling children’s hospitals



Canada’s premiers plan to hold a news conference in Winnipeg today as children’s hospitals struggle to deal with a wave of child illnesses.

Hospitals across the country have been cancelling some surgeries and appointments as they redirect staff amid an increase in pediatric patients.

Admissions are surging under a triple-threat of respiratory syncytial virus, influenza and COVID-19 at a time when the health-care system is grappling with record numbers of job vacancies.

In Ottawa, two teams of Canadian Red Cross personnel are working rotating overnight shifts at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in support of its clinical-care team, while some patients have been redirected to adult health-care facilities.

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A pediatric hospice in Calgary has been temporarily closed as staff are diverted to a children’s hospital.

Members of the Alberta Medical Association have sent a letter to the province’s acting chief medical officer of health calling for stronger public health measures to prevent the spread of the illnesses, including increasing public messaging about the safety of vaccines, encouraging flu and COVID-19 vaccines, and temporarily requiring masks in schools.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2022.

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As nature talks unfold, here’s what ’30 by 30′ conservation could mean in Canada



Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was unequivocal Wednesday when asked if Canada was going to meet its goal to protect one-quarter of all Canadian land and oceans by 2025.

“I am happy to say that we are going to meet our ’25 by 25′ target,” Trudeau said during a small roundtable interview with journalists on the sidelines of the nature talks taking place in Montreal.

That goal, which would already mean protecting 1.2 million more square kilometres of land, is just the interim stop on the way to conserving 30 per cent by 2030 — the marquee target Canada is pushing for during the COP15 biodiversity conference.

But what does the conservation of land or waterways actually mean?

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“When we talk about protecting land and water, we’re talking about looking at a whole package of actions across broader landscapes,” said Carole Saint-Laurent, head of forest and lands at the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The group’s definition of “protected area,” which is used by the UN convention on biodiversity, refers to a “clearly defined geographical space” that is managed by laws or regulations with the goal of the long-term protection of nature.

“It can range from areas with very strict protections to areas that are being protected or conserved,” said Saint-Laurent.

“We have to look at that entire suite of protective and restorative action in order to not only save nature, but to do so in a way that is going to help our societies. There is not one magical formula, and context is everything.”

The organization, which keeps its own global “green list” of conserved areas, lists 17 criteria for how areas can fit the definition.

Most of the criteria are centred on how the sites are managed and protected. One allows for resource extraction, hunting, recreation and tourism as long as these are both compatible with and supportive of the conservation goals outlined for the area.

In many cases, industrial activities and resource extraction are not allowed in protected areas. But that’s not always true in Canada, particularly when it involves the rights of Indigenous Peoples on their traditional territory.

In some provincial parks, mining and logging are allowed. In Ontario’s Algonquin Park, for example, logging is permitted in about two-thirds of the park area.

Canada has nearly 10 million square kilometres of terrestrial land, including inland freshwater lakes and rivers, and about 5.8 million square kilometres of marine territory.

As of December 2021, Canada had conserved 13.5 per cent of land and almost 14 per cent of marine territory. The government did it through a combination of national and provincial parks and reserves, wildlife areas, migratory bird sanctuaries, national marine conservation areas, marine protected areas and what are referred to as “other effective areas-based conservation measures.”

These can include private lands that have a management plan to protect and conserve habitats, or public or private lands where conservation isn’t the primary focus but still ends up happening.

Canadian Forces Base Shilo, in Manitoba, includes about 211 square kilometres of natural habitats maintained under an environmental protection plan run by the Department of National Defence.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada is a non-profit organization that raises funds to buy plots of land from private owners with a view to long-term conservation.

Mike Hendren, its Ontario regional vice-president, said that on such lands, management plans can include everything from nature trails to hunting — but always with conservation as the priority.

To hit “25 by 25,” Canada must further protect more than 1.2 million square kilometres of land, or approximately the size of Manitoba and Saskatchewan added together. To get to 30 per cent is to add, on top of that, land almost equivalent in size to Alberta.

The federal government would need to protect another 638,000 square kilometres of marine territory and coastlines by 2025, or an area almost three times the size of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. By 2030, another area the size of the gulf would need to be added.

Trudeau said that in a country as big and diverse as Canada, hard and fast rules about what can and can’t happen in protected areas don’t make sense.

He said there should be distinctions between areas that can’t have any activity and places where you can mine, log or hunt, as long as it is done with conservation in mind.

“There’s ability to have sort of management plans that are informed by everyone, informed by science, informed by various communities, that say, ‘yes, we’re going to protect this area and that means, no, there’s not going to be unlimited irresponsible mining going to happen,'” he said.

“But it doesn’t mean that there aren’t certain projects in certain places that could be the right kind of thing, or the right thing to move forward on.”

The draft text of the biodiversity framework being negotiated at COP15 is not yet clear on what kind of land and marine areas would qualify or what conservation of them would specifically mean.

It currently proposes that a substantial portion of the conserved land would need to be “strictly protected” but some areas could respect the right to economic development.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2022.

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UN Mideast refugee chief says Western funding shortfall may abandon hosting countries



The United Nations refugee chief for the Middle East says countries hosting asylum seekers need more funding, or they’ll feel abandoned by the global community.

Ayman Gharaibeh (ay-MAHN guh-RYE-bah) says countries are pulling back their funding to help places like Lebanon and Jordan host refugees from Syria, and the lack of funds could prevent kids from being educated.

Gharaibeh says Canada is one of the few countries that isn’t pulling back funding, and he hopes Ottawa will encourage its allies to stop lowering their support.

He says the U-N is already struggling to support refugees due to inflation, a drop in donors and new conflicts that have displaced people from Ukraine and Ethiopia.

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Meanwhile, his region has only received eight per cent of the funding it has requested for winter gear, such as fuel and children’s clothing — compared to fifty-eight per cent by this time last year.

Gharaibeh says countries that are left to fend with these costs might stop co-operating in international agreements, which could cause more chaos in refugee flows.

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