Parliament rebukes Maclean’s

What does it mean in practical terms?

by John Geddes

A House motion upbraiding Maclean’s for the magazine’s cover story on corruption in Quebec politics is thought to be only the second time in a century that MPs have closed ranks to express their disapproval with the work of a news publication.

Only one independent MP, Quebec City’s André Arthur, openly argues the motion was misguided, although Liberal MP Marc Garneau also expressed concern about the precedent. “If in two weeks, another magazine writes something that’s considered excessive,” Garneau said, “we can’t make a habit of putting out a motion every time we’re not happy about what’s written in the media.”

But Government House Leader John Baird, whose party approved the motion without argument, suggested the situation was “somewhat unique.” He added, “It goes without saying that matters of national unity are sensitive.”

This week’s House motion was prompted by the Maclean’s cover story headlined “The most corrupt province,” which was illustrated by a satirical depiction of Bonhomme Carnaval—the popular snowman mascot of Quebec City’s famous winter carnival. The story chronicled scandal in Quebec politics and an accompanying column by Andrew Coyne discussed why the province might be prone to it.

The motion by Bloc Québécois MP Pierre Paquette said: “That this House, while recognizing the importance of vigorous debate on subject of public interest, expresses its profound sadness at the prejudice displayed and the stereotypes employed by Maclean’s magazine to denigrate the Quebec nation, its history and its institutions.”

It passed without debate or a recorded vote.

Maclean’s requested an interview with Paquette, but a Bloc spokeswoman said the party would not answer any questions from the magazine until it issues an apology “to the people of Quebec.”

Baird, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s point man for House business, said the motion was shown to him on Wednesday. He agreed to it without asking for changes, although he said the precise wording wasn’t what he would have used had he drafted it himself. He didn’t say how his version might have been different.

Baird drew a distinction between Paquette’s motion and a formal censure from the House. “Censure would imply a judgment with consequences,” he said. “This just expresses sadness.”

In this case, the House did not ask for an apology, as it did after the Globe and Mail published a story in 2006 on the shooting at Montreal’s Dawson College, in which author and journalist Jan Wong prompted outrage inside Quebec by suggesting that the province’s history of linguistic strife contributed to the incident.

That prompted Liberal MP Denis Coderre to introduce this motion: “That, in the opinion of the House, an apology be given to the people of Quebec for the offensive remarks of Ms. Jan Wong in a Globe and Mail article regarding the recent Dawson College tragedy.”

It passed with the approval of all parties, like Paquette’s this week. However, the motion denouncing Maclean’s nearly failed to sail through unopposed: André Arthur, an independent MP from Quebec City, who is an outspoken former radio host, initially answered No when the Deputy Speaker asked if the motion had the unanimous consent of MPs.

Paquette immediately rose to warn Arthur “that he had better stick around for the rest of the week and all of the next week because I will move this motion every single day.” Arthur then left the chamber, and the motion was then agreed to by all MPs present.

“What they’re trying to do is make people who haven’t read Maclean’s or don’t read English believe that you said Quebecers are corrupt, when in fact Maclean’s clearly showed the political system in Quebec has unbelievable corruption problems,” Anthur said in an interview. “That’s perfectly true.”

Beyond the content of the Maclean’s story, Arthur questioned the wisdom of the legislature pronouncing on journalism, except where Parliament itself is directly involved. “I think the only case in which Parliament would have the right to comment on news coverage would be in a case where the integrity of Parliament itself was called into question,” he said. “It could call in the journalists and have them explain themselves. In any other case, Parliament has no business censuring, endorsing, or criticizing a newspaper article.”

In fact, the House has very rarely passed motions to rebuke the media. The Library of Parliament could find only two other comparable episodes, both obscure footnotes, before the recent Maclean’s and Globe cases. In 1873, the editor of the newspaper Courrier d’Outaouais, Elie Tassé, was ordered to appear before the bar of the House to answer questions about an article reflecting on two MPs. Then in 1906, a journalist named Joseph Ernest Eugène Cinq‑Mars was also called to appear before the bar, where he answered questions about a story that reflected poorly on an MP, after which the House passed a motion of censure against him.

Censure, though, is the term usually applied when MPs are upset over some action that directly affects their work—not wider controversies unfolding beyond Parliament. In 2003, Parliament censured former privacy commissioner George Radwanski for allegedly providing misleading information, and RCMP Deputy Commissioner Barbara George was found in contempt by the House in 2008 for misleading a parliamentary committee.

Paquette’s motion fits the definition, not of a censure motion, but of a “resolution.” According to the Glossary of Parliamentary Procedure used by the House Speaker’s office, a resolution is: “A motion adopted by the House in order to make a declaration of opinion or purpose. A resolution does not have the effect of requiring that any action be taken.”




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Parliament rebukes Maclean’s

  1. Hang in there Macleans!
    You're exercising your Charter rights to freedom of expression.
    I'm a Conservative supporter and I remain one, but I believe in this instance that our party's members were too hasty in joining the Parliamentary pile-on that was so quick to censure the article. The politics inherent in a minority government situation may have required it for the sake of optics, but I'd venture a guess that Conservative caucus support for this politically-correct motion by a Bloc-head separatist is only lukewarm at the very best.
    And I never thought I'd agree with a Liberal, but Garneau's quote in your story makes some sense. Good on him.
    Oh, and it sounds to me like the Bloc can't really believe in the words of its own motion. The motion says: "while recognizing the importance of vigorous debate on subject of public interest", and then in the next breath the Bloc MP's spokesperson says the Member won't comment to a reporter from Macleans until the magazine issues an apology "to the people of Quebec.” Gee, that sounds like an oak-solid commitment to "vigorous debate" to me.
    How about you?

  2. I was Conservative MP from 2000 to 2008. I would have been ashamed to have supported this stupid motion. I stand solidly behind Andrew Coyne and Macleans on this issue. Kudos to Andre Arthur. Brian Fitzpatrick

  3. I agree with the others. This is Bullocks!

  4. What does it mean in practical terms?

    Sales

  5. Good stuff. Sales up in Brockville ?

  6. You really need to stop staying at the Rock Machine Hotel. In 21 years of driving in Quebec and staying in Quebec hotels I've never heard of such practices.

  7. Maclean's,

    This was a thoughtful, rounded and well-reserached commentary on the nature and state of politics in Quebec. At no point did it denigrate the populace and I would be shocked to learn that any of the dolts passing this rebuke had in fact read the source material they were so quick to deride.

    I remain proud to read this publication and I truly hope you continue to present your readership with unique and powerful points of view.

  8. Well done Maclean's!! I would have thought that important issues about the integrity of politicians were raised, but apparently not. Too often our media today practices censorship, placing undue deference to authority ahead of truth. It is a sad reflection on Canada that it is not the corrupt who get attacked but those who expose the corruption.
    http://zerzetzen.wikispaces.com

    Roderick Russell

  9. Finally, somebody is standing up and taking notice of Maclean's!

    I double dare you to do a follow up story of the most corrupt cities and towns in Quebec. Just think of the publicity.

  10. Bribing cops? Yeah right!

  11. I think the MacLean’s bonhomme issue represents the culmination of the media’s push to set the agenda in Parliament. The Public and the Parliamentarians have been beat over the heads this last year with the media’s frustration with Ottawa. The Globe’s Ottawa Notebook is delivered every day with the message “Setting the Agenda on Parliament Hill”. MacLean’s kicked off the year-long temper tantrum with a televised CPAC Panel “Is Our Democracy Broken”. Day after day Parliamentarians and the Public read the media’s missives about how EVERYONE ELSE can do things better.

    Well I’m not sad to say that finally the Media has been forced to take a good look in the mirror. Geddes here seems to forget that Parliamentarians are in the profession of seeding Nationalism. It’s not ‘part’ of the job — it’s in the fabric of what they do. That’s why all parties could give unanimous consent to a Parliamentary formality that recognized that Canada’s unity and collective sense of Nationalism had been disturbed. Geddes is struggling to understand : Did Parliament make a Rebuke, A Censure Motion or a Resolution? I’m here to tell him that Parliament gave MacLean’s an opportunity to bridge the divide. My friend Robert, a constitutional lawyer, said to me “I don’t know why Parliament wasted a minute on MacLeans”. But I disagreed to say that MacLean’s and Parliament have a relationship and that there was a breach and therefore a call for apology is a mark of Respect that big media deserves. Yet the magazine will not apologize in the right spirit! Both sides: The Media and The Government (which includes Parliament, contrary to the confused definitions of many) must repair the relationship in the interests of The Public.

    • just curious… how does one go about respecting corruption of any kind?

  12. Frankly it borders on Communism to have politicians open their mouth about this subject.
    Macleans did a very good article, and the ruling political elite should keep their mouths shut.

    • Please tell us what your standard is for a good article?
      Seems to me you've not been listening in school if you believe an analysis based on feelings is ''very good''. To me, it is ''very bad''.
      My advice: heighten up your criticism sense a bit, and then you'll be able to realize you are also victim of corruption!

  13. Much like the various MP's, I have not had a chance (yet) to read the piece.
    Nevertheless – what a silly thing for them to do.
    Whether the article is on or off the mark, it is not their role to act on this in any fashion….

  14. More like a polically correct Canadian version of a Fatwah.

  15. The government simply did that to coax quebecers since the article clearly speaks for itself as an argument for separatists.
    Journalism (like any other communication between human beings) should be based on facts and not on perception, since a feeling means nothing on a critical analysis.
    Thanks Maclean's anyway, this heigthens the fire of independance, something that would have been done in 1995 if federal politicians, including anglophones, would not have been so corrupted…

  16. The most outrageous thing about this story is Maclean's grovelling apology to the politicians of this country. Quebec criminal activity is old news that has been allowed to continue for decades. Over 30% of alcohol (spirits) and cigarettes are smuggled into Quebec without even comment by Quebec politicians. The scandals reach from the highest to lowest levels of government, everyone knows it, but apparently English Canada cannot comment on it.

  17. The corrupt have circled thier wagons around the corrupt …….[ Power corrupts; Absolute power corrupts absolute'ly ]

  18. "Me thinks the Lady doth protest too much!"

  19. Don Martin does a nice job lambasting this idiocy in his National Post column on Friday. That they stood up like sheep to support this motion shows the facile, infantile level to which politics in Canada has descended.

  20. "the stereotypes employed by Maclean's magazine to denigrate the Quebec nation"

    Excuse me? Quebec is not a "nation". It's a Province.

  21. The only people who were outraged by the article were politicians from Quebec who are seeking to gain votes by portaying themselves as "defenders" of the people. Yeah right, nice try Duceppe, Coderre, Mulcaire and Charest! The article clearly points the finger at the political class of quebecers not the regular joe. Also because of their selfish "soapboxing" the seperatists and rednecks in the ROC are eating it up, nice one guys. A house divided falls, you vote seeking idoits.

  22. We all support freedom of expression, but all freedoms carry corresponding responsibilities. When one exercises their rights just because one has those rights without due diligence with regard for those responsibilities then one cannot complain when we make an evaluation of you based on that.

  23. I read the article, and although I enjoyed it I must admit it was more of an opinion piece than any kind of quality investigative journalism. Maclean's is very capable of producing reams of data and tables when it suits them, for example the annual lists of universities etc, so it seems to me a few bits of supporting data might have improved the article. For example, number of policians removed from office for corruption, by province, since 1960 or other data points along those lines. The media these days is very fond of pointing to issues without bringing any substance to the table, and this article just adds to the pile.

  24. The parlement should not have condanmed the Macleans…

    But if they had not done it, the Bloc quebecois would have used it to do his own "quebec bashing" like it always do, on the mp's from quebec that are not with the Bloc…

  25. One thing you don't do in Canada is tell the truth. It might hurt people, and as the saying goes, "Hurt people hurt people". Write somethin' like this again, and we'll break yer legs.

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