Ottawa has a new fire chief.

Council yesterday approved the hiring of John de Hooge, most recently chief of the Waterloo fire department, to take charge of Ottawa Fire Services’ $123-million operation, despite concerns that he does not speak French.

“I have to tell you we’re very happy with our new chief. We think he will be an outstanding leader for the fire department,” said Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans, chair of the Community and Protective Services Committee.

Deans acknowledged that some colleagues had reservations about hiring a unilingual candidate for the bilingual position.

“They would have been obviously happier, as would I, with a bilingual choice, but at the end of the day you want to hire the best person for the job and we really believe that Chief de Hooge is the best person for the job,” she said.

Out of 318 candidates countrywide, the city, with the help of executive search firm Odgers Berndtson, shortlisted 16 candidates and interviewed six for the $150,000-a-year position, Deans said.

Two of those final six were bilingual, but both had experience only with smaller municipalities, said Rideau-Vanier Coun. Georges Bedard.

De Hooge has committed to taking French lessons, and Bedard has asked city staff to review the city’s language policies.

“We have to notch it (the bilingualism policy) up to standard and ensure that in the future, anyone at this management level should be bilingual … This is a highly qualified person … but we have to think about the future.”