Evidence of meeting #24 for Official Languages in the 44th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was robinson.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Tracy Robinson  President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian National Railway Company

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal René Arseneault

Please answer very briefly, Ms. Robinson.

5:45 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian National Railway Company

Tracy Robinson

If that is true, it's completely unacceptable. It hasn't been my sense since I've been with this company that there would be any reprisals for things like that. We need to create.... It's very important that we—

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal René Arseneault

Thank you.

I'm sorry, Ms. Robinson. Six minutes go so quick.

I now give the floor to Mr. Boulerice, who is replacing Ms. Ashton.

Mr. Boulerice, you have six minutes.

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Thanks to Ms. Robinson for taking the time to be with us today.

I introduced a motion to have you meet with us today and explain your point of view, and you can understand why.

You're aware of the scandal involving Air Canada and its president and CEO. We subsequently learned that a member of CN's board was leaving to enter politics, or rather to return to politics, and there are suddenly no more francophones on CN's board.

Are you aware that, for many Quebeckers and francophones, that was an annoying and insulting situation?

5:45 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian National Railway Company

Tracy Robinson

If the question is whether I am aware of how Quebeckers feel, I am aware. I've read...and I've had people approach me. I am aware that this hasn't been a positive thing for members of the Quebec community, and indeed some of our employees.

It's certainly not what we want in CN, and not what I want as I move into this company. As I said, we have a long and very rich history in Quebec and in Montreal. We're very proud of that. As I look at this company, I see us as being a very strong supporter over a long period of time of the French language. I'm proud of that, and it's a commitment that I am making as I go forward.

As I have joined the company, I have moved from western Canada to Montreal.

I'm very happy to be living in Montreal and learning the French language.

It's going to be a—

June 1st, 2022 / 5:45 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Ms. Robinson, let's be clear here: you know how hurtful and insulting this can be for many francophones, for many Quebeckers. I know that you weren't in your position at the time and that you aren't personally responsible. So I'm not asking you for a personal apology.

Is Canadian National apologizing for the fact that there are no more francophones on its board? Will you apologize to the committee on your company's behalf?

5:50 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian National Railway Company

Tracy Robinson

Mr. Chair, I want to thank the member for his question.

What I'm offering is a commitment to appoint a francophone director from Quebec in the very near future. That's a priority for me and for the board.

What I offer to you is a firm commitment on the actions we are taking to rectify the situation.

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Thank you.

As I understand it, you're not apologizing on behalf of CN, but you are making a commitment. We'll see what actually happens.

The question in my mind is how can the number can fall to zero when the board loses only one francophone.

Would you support the idea of applying the Official Languages Act to the boards of companies subject to it, such as Canadian National, and of setting a minimum percentage and quotas for those boards? That would guarantee an end to this kind of situation.

5:50 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian National Railway Company

Tracy Robinson

I would tell you that we have on our board of directors right now, three members who speak French. Two of us are working hard to become bilingual. We will be appointing a francophone, Quebec-based member of the board shortly. They also will obviously speak French.

It's been a long commitment that this company has made. I think our track record speaks for itself. As I said, we're in a short period of time where we do not have a francophone, Quebec-based member, but we will rectify that very shortly.

As to the question of whether there should be some other approach to this through the government, that would be something that Parliament would need to consider, I suppose.

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Thank you, Ms. Robinson.

I have a final question for you.

I know that a third party is conducting an independent investigation of CN's management and of the respect accorded to the French language and francophones within the business.

What's your action plan and what's your vision to ensure that francophone workers are respected at CN?

5:50 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian National Railway Company

Tracy Robinson

I think that this company has done a very strong job of embracing the French language, being actively headquartered in Montreal and very active, supportive and a leader in supporting the French language in this province and, I hope, in this country.

I want to be someone who not only continues that tradition, but it's a personal commitment of mine and a personal interest that this company aligns with those around us in ensuring that we protect, support and show that leadership in supporting the French language as we go forward.

I believe it's an important role that CN will play, and we'll play it by being a positive role model in doing it.

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

In that case, I can't wait to have a conversation with you in French on the streets of Montreal.

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal René Arseneault

Thank you, Mr. Boulerice and Ms. Robinson.

There is very little time left before 6:00 p.m. I'm going to give the floor to three more speakers. Each of them will have exactly three minutes. I'll be very strict about that.

Mr. Gourde, the floor is yours.

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lévis—Lotbinière, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My question is for Ms. Robinson.

You're well aware of the complaints that have been received. However, did you know that, when Sébastien Labbé, vice-president for Bulk at CN, appeared before the Standing Committee on Transport on April 25, he delivered a statement in English only? And yet it would have been easy for him to do it in French, at least in part, because he speaks very good French.

Were you aware of that?

5:50 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian National Railway Company

Tracy Robinson

Yes, I have been made aware of the situation.

Monsieur Sébastien Labbé, as you note, speaks French very well. We're not perfect. I think, if he were doing that again, he would make his prepared remarks in French, but I am also aware that he was able and did respond in French to the questions put to him in French.

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lévis—Lotbinière, QC

Thank you.

Sometimes it's important for large organizations such as yours to have a culture of recognition. If I'm not mistaken, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec is a CN shareholder. It manages Quebeckers' savings. Quebeckers trust CN and invest their money in it, and that says a lot. However, we're annoyed when we sense that it doesn't have a culture of recognition of French.

Can you assure us that the next two or three persons who sit on the board will be Quebec francophones, not francophones from Alberta, for example?

5:55 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian National Railway Company

Tracy Robinson

First let me say that I'm disappointed that you don't feel that support, with 90% of our executive in Quebec and two-thirds of our executives across North America speaking French.

Yes, I am from Alberta, and it is a great honour for me to sit in this position with CN. I have committed to learning French.

Speaking French is one of my priorities. I want to ensure that everyone can communicate with me and CN in the official language of his or her choice.

I think that the right way to demonstrate our commitment is to.... I think it's a strong statement of our company that we would have someone from western Canada commit very publicly to learning French.

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lévis—Lotbinière, QC

Thank you, Ms. Robinson.

I'd like to ask you a final question.

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal René Arseneault

You have 30 seconds left, Mr. Gourde.

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lévis—Lotbinière, QC

You said you're very proud of your company. However, CN isn't all that proud of its infrastructure.

May we please have an update on when the “pont de Québec” will be painted?

5:55 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian National Railway Company

Tracy Robinson

I must tell you that I am aware that we are in discussions around the bridge in Quebec City. At this point in time, with my tenure here, I can't give you any details around the nature of those discussions or any timing associated with that.

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal René Arseneault

Ms. Robinson, if you have any further information you could provide the committee, feel free to provide it to our clerk.

The next questioner for three minutes is Mr. Angelo Iacono.

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Angelo Iacono Liberal Alfred-Pellan, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Welcome, Ms. Robinson and Mr. Finn.

Ms. Robinson, congratulations on your appointment, which occurred on January 25, 2020.

I very much appreciated your saying that CN leads by example.

Considering that, do you offer French courses to CN executives and board members? If so, are they supposed to take them?

5:55 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian National Railway Company

Tracy Robinson

I am certainly in the middle of classes, and I think that the right way to learn French is not just to take classes but to immerse yourself in French. I'm surrounded by French here. I'm surrounded by French employees.

In my courses, I practise my French every day. For example, I speak with my colleagues, I listen to podcasts, and I order my meals in French.

This is the way I want us to show respect for the language, and that is to use it. Yes, we provide support.

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Angelo Iacono Liberal Alfred-Pellan, QC

I'll move on to my next question because I have very little time left.

Do you think bilingualism should be a requirement when hiring executives?