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American pick for SNC CEO doesn’t sit well with PQ

Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois speaks at news conference during a campaign stop in a daycare centre in Terrebonne, Que., Aug. 13, 2012.


Quebec's corporate titans continue to provide fodder for campaigning politicians on the provincial election trail.

On Monday, Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois, who is pushing to toughen Quebec's notorious French language laws, seized on news that Montreal-based engineering and construction giant SNC Lavalin Inc. had hired an anglophone American, Robert Card, to become its next CEO.

"I am asking SNC-Lavalin that it make sure that he follow courses in French so that he could at least become bilingual," Ms. Marois said during a campaign stop in Terrebonne, north of Montreal.

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SNC isn't just any company, but a fallen pillar of Quebec Inc. that has been reeling from a string of corruption scandals. Before that, it was long held as one of the province's shining lights on the global stage, long led by francophone Quebeckers, including recently ousted CEO Pierre Duhaime and before that the highly regarded Jacques Lamarre.

Mr. Card, a departing senior executive with Denver-based engineering firm CH2M Hill Companies Ltd., has pledged to learn French and to move to Montreal – similar to former Alcan CEO Richard Evans, an American who made a concerted effort to blend into the Montreal business scene and continues to serve on the board of Montreal-based CGI Group and Resolute Forest Products.

Ms. Marois' comments follow hostile political reaction in the province to the prospect that U.S. home improvement giant Lowe's Cos. will try to take over home-grown Rona Inc., including her pledge to enact steps to block the takeover. On Monday, Liberal Leader Jean Charest proposed a fund to help Quebec companies finance foreign acquisitions while also promising them more power to resist being taken over themselves by foreign corporations.

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