POLITICS

Couche-Tard vows to submit plan after put on black list by Quebec language office

12/10/2012 03:27 EST | Updated 02/09/2013 05:12 EST
MONTREAL - Alimentation Couche-Tard says it is working hard to soon submit a plan to Quebec's language office outlining how it will respect the laws governing the use of French in the province.

"Couche-Tard has always wanted to run its stores in full compliance of the law," stated Francis Lapointe, vice-president of operations for western Quebec.

The Montreal-area convenience store operator said it hasn't received any complaints from customers or the office in the last year but has been unable to meet the extended July deadline to submit a plan because of "administrative and operational issues."

"We have had many positive and constructive meetings with the language office over the past year and obtained an extension to develop a plan that integrates our seasonal workers, the last missing element," he said in a news release Monday.

Couche-Tard (TSX:ATD.B) said it recently adopted internal policies that ensure full respect of the French language charter known as Bill 101. The law guides where French is used in computers, internal memos and signs.

The original plan was due in September 2011. The language office said it tried several times to contact Couche-Tard but was unable to obtain details of when it would submit a language plan.

Consequently, it placed the retailer on a black list that prevents it from obtaining government contracts. Other names on the list are La Senza lingerie chain, Montreal's downtown Hilton hotel and several small businesses.

After its skirmish with the retailer was reported in Montreal La Presse, Couche-Tard said it submitted a letter Monday to the language office saying that it is acting in good faith to remedy the situation as soon as possible.

Couche-Tard has about 900 corporate-owned and affiliated stores in Quebec and the Atlantic provinces.

Meanwhile, Couche-Tard announced Monday that it is acquiring 29 convenience stores in the United States for an undisclosed price.

The 25 stores in Illinois plus eight in Missouri and one in Oklahoma will eventually be rebranded Circle K and continue to sell Phillips 66 gasoline.

The convenience store chain said Monday that the transaction is expected to close some time this month and will be funded with available cash.

Two of the sites have car washes.

Couche-Tard will buy the land and buildings for 25 locations and hold leases on the remaining four. It is also buying the rights to supply 29 wholesale stores located throughout the same geographic area.

Its Midwest division will subsequently include 527 company-operated stores and 212 locations under wholesale or franchise agreements.

Couche-Tard is the leader in the Canadian convenience store industry, operating under the Couche-Tard and Mac's brand names. It is one of the largest in North America with about 6,200 convenience stores, including some 4,600 with fuel.

It also has 2,300 stores in Europe through its acquisition of Statoil Fuel & Retail.

On the Toronto Stock Exchange, Couche-Tard's shares were up 24 cents at $48.51 in afternoon trading.