MONTREAL -- The head of engineering firm SNC-Lavalin has suddenly cancelled a speech to Montreal's business community because his French-language skills need some work.

Ian Edwards doesn't speak French well despite living in Quebec since 2014.

In cancelling his appearance at the Canadian Club of Montreal on Monday, Edwards promised to return in the new year after brushing up on his ability to speak Quebec's main language.

Edwards says he wants to take the time required to better prepare his presentation and ensure it contains more French.

The move comes a week after Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau ignited a political firestorm by speaking very little French in a business speech and then telling reporters he didn't need to learn the language to get by in Quebec's largest city.

He apologized the next day and agreed to undergo "intensive learning of French" after Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland asked Air Canada's board of directors to make French communication an "important criterion" for senior management and incorporate improvement in Rousseau's French abilities into his annual evaluation.

"Following my arrival in Quebec in 2014, I took French lessons, with mixed results," Edwards wrote in a letter to the president of the Canadian Club.

"More recently, during a meeting of our board of directors held at the end of October, I had already made the commitment to put the necessary efforts to follow language training to the best of my ability."