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Apr 26, 2022

CN Rail launches search for francophone board member after language backlash

A Canadian National Railway locomotive pulls a train in Montreal, Quebec, CanadaPhotographer: Christinne Muschi/Bloomberg

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Montreal-based Canadian National Railway Co. says it has launched its search for a francophone director to sit on the board, which currently has no native French speakers.

The company says its board met Tuesday morning to kick off the headhunt for a Quebec-based member whose mother tongue matches the province's official language.

The new addition would replace Jean Charest, a former Liberal premier who stepped down from the board on April 1 to pursue the federal Conservative leadership.

CN drew criticism from language advocates, Quebec investors, the premier and the prime minister last week after it announced a slate of 11 board nominees, none of whom are native French speakers or from the province -- though new CEO Tracy Robinson has relocated to Montreal and begun French lessons.

Language issues in Quebec's corporate world exploded in November after Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau's comments about his weak French skills sparked an uproar.

CN says it aims to appoint a new director "in the coming months" and that the 103-year-old company respects its long history in the province.

The country's largest railroad operator is set to release its first-quarter results after markets close Tuesday.