Maclean’s has heard a great many voices over the past two weeks regarding our recent cover story on corruption in Quebec politics (“The most corrupt province in Canada,” Oct. 4, 2010).
Many of these voices, largely the political elite in Quebec, have expressed a degree of outrage ranging somewhere between apoplexy and eye-popping fury. We have been wildly accused of xenophobia and bigotry. The House of Commons, in a unanimous motion orchestrated by the Bloc Québécois, declared its “profound sadness” at our coverage.
We’ve heard a very different message from the public at large, however. Canadians have told us loudly and clearly that they are concerned about the significant problem of corruption and unethical behaviour displayed by their elected representatives. And this sentiment is noticeably stronger in Quebec than any other province. It seems a far more convincing expression of the public interest than complaints from a bunch of self-interested politicians.
Despite the loud din of official condemnation, we’ve yet to hear a single argument disproving anything we wrote. Every instance of corruption or political wrongdoing we detailed in our coverage had already been reported at length by other media outlets, both in Quebec and outside the province. Some argued that we offered no hard statistical evidence sufficient to label Quebec the most corrupt province in the land. But should the fact that Canada lacks a comprehensive data set for measuring corruption mean no Canadian media outlet can ever discuss the issue of systemic political corruption or gauge the relative integrity of political leaders in a particular province? Of course not. And what of the decades-long list of examples of corruption all emanating from Quebec? It requires deliberate self-deception to ignore such obvious evidence. For greater certainty, however, Maclean’s decided to find out what Quebecers themselves think about the issue.
A nationwide Angus Reid poll compiled for us at the end of September shows Quebecers, much more than other Canadians, see their province as burdened by a political system that features unethical behaviour among politicians at all levels. Asked to describe their concern with corruption in their home province, 68 per cent of Quebecers said they were very or moderately concerned. This is substantially higher than the response from any other province. When all respondents were asked to rate politicians from their home province, Quebecers again proved themselves the most pessimistic—58 per cent said their politicians acted unethically. Finally, 62 per cent of Quebecers identified broad or systemic political corruption as the source of their concern. The national average was 48 per cent.
In other words, and at the risk of repeating ourselves, it appears Quebecers agree that Quebec is most corrupt province in Canada.
Such prima facie evidence supporting our contention about Quebec’s political system is in sharp contrast with the House of Commons’ bizarre and unprecedented criticism of our magazine.
The Bloc used a point of order to seek unanimous consent for their motion criticizing Maclean’s truthful and fact-based coverage of this important public issue. When André Arthur, a principled Independent MP from Quebec, refused to co-operate, the Bloc simply waited until he left the chamber before reintroducing it. There was no notice or debate on the motion and it passed without a recorded vote. It was an unwarranted and shocking abuse of parliamentary authority that infringed on the freedom of the press for the nakedly political purpose of blame-shifting.
Many MPs privately admitted to disagreeing with the statement but, unlike Arthur, lacked the courage to make this known for fear of angering touchy separatists. “Many of us had problems with the motion,” one unnamed MP told the Globe and Mail newspaper. “Ultimately we went along for one reason . . . it was a separatist trap.” The MP concluded, “all in all it was a sad thing that happened in Parliament.” And spineless too.
Regardless of the angry bluster or profound sadness on display by politicians from Quebec and elsewhere, Quebecers themselves recognize significant problems with their political system. They can see it’s corrupt. And they want it cleaned it up.