When reporters asked Mary Simon, Canada’s newly appointed governor general, why she doesn’t speak French, she replied that she was denied the chance to learn French at her residential day school. This prompted me to Google Simon’s biography. According to Wikipedia, she attended Kuujjuaq Federal Day School, then Fort Carson High School in Colorado and completed high school by correspondence. I would guess her US school didn’t offer French language instruction either.
Like Mary Simon, I grew up in Quebec. I entered English elementary school a few years after her. From grade two onwards, French was part of my daily instruction. But this was in Montreal. I’m sure the reason Simon’s day school didn’t teach French was due to its remote location. It would be hard enough to attract an English speaking teacher to the far north, never mind an additional French specialist or a teacher qualified to teach both official languages.
My understanding is that French isn’t a required subject in many Canadian schools. Most students in English schools don’t emerge bilingual. Even those who take French Immersion usually need to maintain some French in their personal lives or work to be comfortable speaking the language. My French language skills greatly improved after I finished school and worked in an office with mostly francophone colleagues. I lived in a Montreal neighourhood that was predominantly francophone and spoke French on a daily basis. After I moved to Calgary in 1996, my skills dropped off because I didn’t need to speak French anymore.
Evidently Mary Simon didn’t need to know French for her previous lifestyle and jobs as a broadcaster and diplomat. Otherwise she’d have taken courses, like numerous Anglo Canadians who aspire to particular positions. I doubt Erin O’Toole and Jagmeet Singh left their elementary schools equipped to lead federal political parties. O’Toole has said he learned French in the military. Wikipedia says that Singh, like Simon, attended high school in the US.
Simon’s answer to reporters about why she doesn’t speak French was convenient for deflecting questions, but it wasn’t accurate.