General

Now that you mention it, maybe it is time for an apology

Martin Patriquin on Quebec, corruption and the Charbonneau commission

In a column Wednesday, the National Post’s Jonathan Kay said some very nice things about this magazine and me personally, and I’d just like to remind Kay that there is a thumb-thick brown envelope taped under his chair. In keeping with the fine political tradition of Quebec, from where both he and I hail, I suggest he stuff the contents into his socks and, I dunno, buy his wife something nice. Or maybe pay off a city councillor.

Seriously, though, Kay (whom I know from my brief time at the National Post) brought up an interesting point. It’s been roughly two years since we ran our “Most Corrupt Province” piece, the cover of which depicted a very happy Bonhomme Carnaval strolling about with a briefcase overflowing with cash; two years since the media sphere in Quebec and the rest of Canada shook with varying levels of incredulity that we would say such a thing; two years since NDP leader Tom Mulcair, for reasons that were surely patriotic and not at all electoral, attempted to label us (and me personally) as anti-Quebec; two years after Jean Charest singled out Maclean’s for its “a simplistic and offensive thesis”; and two years since a parliamentary motion expressing “profound sadness” at the story, sponsored by the Bloc Québécois, passed unanimously in the House.

And what has happened since? In certain respects, not much.

Somehow, despite being profoundly saddened, the House carried on its important work, while its politicians moved on. Mulcair, despite being livid that Maclean’s would publish such Quebec-bashing “worthless facts,” wasn’t above signing copies of the magazine two years later, when we put him on the cover. At the time, the Bloc Québécois refused to speak to Maclean’s until it apologized “to the people of Quebec.” Since then, I’ve interviewed the Bloc at length, including for  this piece in which I hung around with all four remaining Bloc MPs and spoke with then-aspiring leader Daniel Paillé. They were gracious and friendly, our non-apology notwithstanding.

And yet that silly little Parliamentary motion still stands—despite the near-overwhelming daily barrage of evidence that suggests that, well, we were right. To wit: three of Jean Charest’s former cabinet ministers have been implicated in illegal campaign financing schemes. This includes former Deputy Premier Nathalie Normandeau, who during our appearance on Tout Le Monde En Parle demanded I apologize for our “insult to Quebecers.” This is the same politician who harvested some $110,000 for Liberal Party of Quebec coffers—much of it illegally, according to Lino Zambito—thanks to a dinner hosted by Zambito, a would-be construction magnate with known mafia ties. She also let Zambito give her Céline Dion tickets. And roses, for her 40th birthday. Sorry, who is an insult to Quebecers, again?

In Montreal, meanwhile, long-serving, long-suffering, forever-deaf-and-blind Mayor Gérald Tremblay is alleged to have known for years about illegal donations to his party; this, according to one of his former party organizers.

This is entirely separate from the city’s cadre of engineers, members of which were taking mafia bribes, or the well-worn contract-rigging system that ensured that Montreal taxpayers were soaked for wildly inflated construction projects. Then there’s Laval Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt, who recently took medical leave following a police raid on his home and security deposit boxes, apparently in search of millions of illegally funneled dollars. A sombre Radio-Canada technician moseyed up to me the other day as I was setting up for a TV hit. Votre couverture était éronée, he said to me. Le bonhomme portait pas assez d’cash dans sa sacoche. Translation: “Your cover was wrong. There wasn’t enough cash in Bonhomme’s briefcase.”

Here’s the sad part: I could go on and on, but I won’t. Suffice to say, it’s a bit baffling that Parliament isn’t as outraged about the state of Quebec politics today as it was about a certain magazine pointing much of this out two years ago. At the very least, you’d think it would be profoundly saddened.