It is the ultimate symbol of Quebec pride — of francophones exerting influence within their own economy.
So there was some surprise at news Tuesday that two senior managers at Quebec's Caisse de depot et placement can't speak French.
Montreal La Presse newspaper reported that meetings are frequently held in English at the giant pension-fund manager, because two senior execs can't speak the language of Moliere.
The executives in question — Kim McInnes and David Smith — work at the Caisse's real-estate arm, Ivanhoe Cambridge, the newspaper said.
The news has created a stir in Quebec's political class.
The Parti Quebecois opposition says it feels like the clock has been set back 35 years on French-language rights, to a time when English was dominant in the boardrooms and corridors of power even in Quebec.
Premier Jean Charest, who is generally less than hawkish on language matters, agreed.
“What I saw today is unacceptable at the Caisse de depot and placement,” Mr. Charest told reporters.
“We're expecting the Caisse de depot et placement to take the necessary steps to correct the situation.”
It was Caisse employees who complained about the unilingual Anglos to the newspaper.
La Presse said they resented not being able to speak French, in an organization created specifically to encourage francophone entrepreneurship.
The Caisse was established in the 1960s by the activist government of Jean Lesage, with a responsibility for investing Quebecers' pension assets. Its mandate has included favouring Quebec companies.
At the end of last year, it held net assets of $151.7 billion.