The last issue of Maclean’s magazine had barely arrived on the newsstands when the entire Quebec political class was uttering cries of indignation. Gilles Duceppe spoke about “xenophobia.” Nathalie Normandeau got carried away: “Enough with Quebec bashing!” All because Maclean’s dared to run a cover headline that Quebec is “the most corrupt province in Canada.”
Of course, tenacious prejudices exist about Quebecers in some milieus of English Canada. But the Maclean’s feature is not part of that ilk. Our politicians’ quick and emotional reaction shows how hypersensitive we have remained to any criticism coming from “outside.” This immaturity is unworthy of what Quebec has become.
In an open letter, Mr. Duceppe points out that there have been political scandals in other provinces, a fact that the magazine’s journalist points out clearly. The Bloc leader notes that Canada’s first prime minister, John A. Macdonald (“Johnny Macdonald,” Mr. Duceppe writes), lost power because of the Canadian Pacific scandal; Maclean’s recalls this as well.
The front cover is sensationalist but the reporting as such respects standard journalistic practices. It does not say that corruption is exclusive to Quebec nor that it is encoded in our genes. The author, journalist Martin Patriquin, points out that Quebec’s political history has been marked by a greater number of scandals than in the rest of Canada; this fact is undeniable.
While the politicians’ indignation is unanimous, Quebec public opinion is divided. Of about 10,000 people who responded on Saturday to the Cyberpresse question of the day, 50 per cent agreed with the magazine. This is food for thought for our elected officials.
Maclean’s puts forward a few hypotheses to explain the phenomenon of corruption in the province. Some of these hypotheses are worth discussing. For example, the everlasting debate on independence. The Québec Solidaire MNA, Amir Khadir, is quoted: “Today’s PQ and the Liberals are the same political class that has governed Quebec for 40 years. The more they stay in power, the more vulnerable to corruption they become. There hasn’t been any sort of renewal in decades. We are caught in the prison of the national question.”
Another possible cause: the omnipresence of the state. Since the Quebec government and its corporations play a determining role in the province’s economy, there is a great temptation for private companies to woo the members of the political class.
Maclean’s columnist Andrew Coyne, a sworn enemy of Quebec nationalism, was surely not surprised at the visceral reaction of Quebec politicians. In his contribution to the report, he attributes part of the problem of corruption in the province to the fact that criticism of the system in place is often very poorly received: “But constructive criticism in Quebec, given the francophone majority’s perception of itself as an embattled minority, all too often leads to a closing of the ranks against what is invariably described as ‘Quebec bashing.’ ”
Those who observe us from the outside are not always wrong . . . The question Maclean’s is asking today, like a cat among the pigeons, is “why are there so many corruption scandals in Quebec?” We should have been asking ourselves this question a long time ago.
André Pratte is the chief editorial writer of Montreal’s French-language daily La Presse. He can be reached at email@example.com
© 2010 La Presse. Reprinted with permission.