Bonhomme strikes back
Quebec journalist Jean-François Lisée replies to Maclean’s after its publication of "Quebec: The most corrupt province".
I was more amused than shocked by Maclean’s cover naming Quebec “the most corrupt province in Canada.” It certainly feels that way these days, and Martin Patriquin’s only challenge was to cram in a single story all the strands of allegations and shady shenanigans surrounding Quebec’s current Jean Charest government. All the facts in the story are public knowledge, and for the most part brought to light by an aggressive Quebec media and no less insistent opposition parties.
Granted, the blow—being named most corrupt province—was not as painful for me to take as for most of my brethren, since I am aware of Maclean’s penchant for take-no-prisoners covers. Thanks to the weekly’s headline writers, I have been informed these past few months that Lawyers are Rats, Hitler is Back, Toronto Sucks, New York is a Land of Constant Terror, Hillary Adopted an Alien Baby, and Bush was a new Saddam.
No wait! Maybe one of those titles came from another magazine. No matter. Having been a journalist for a couple of decades, I did try to find in last week’s issue the methodology used to grant Quebec its number one spot on the corruption scale. I was curious to know who was number two, and how wide the margin was—as in Maclean’s yearly university rankings. Did the writers use the number of corruption convictions of elected officials in each province since 2000? The cash amount proven to have changed hands illegally? Or, since no conviction is to be found in Quebec (yet?), the number of police inquiries in play? I was disappointed. Maclean’s has no comparison metrics whatsoever. The whole cover is based on opinion and perception alone. Hopes for a Pulitzer on this one are dim.
So, what is the fuss about? A screaming headline loosely based on facts? They’re a dime a dozen. They sell. And Maclean’s is in the selling business. So all would be forgiven, if it were not for Andrew Coyne’s scoop that Quebecer’s are impervious to “constructive criticism.” Let’s try.
Coyne to Quebec: I have some constructive criticism for you.
Quebec: Great, let’s hear it
Coyne: You are pathologically corrupt.
Quebec: Gee, thanks!
The story is not about the trifecta of: 1) alleged and probably rampant political-donation-for-contracts schemes of the current Quebec government; 2) alleged and demonstrably occurring strong-arm tactics and graft culture of one major element of one of many Quebec unions; and of 3) alleged and probably rife bidding-rigging system of a group of contractors (dubbed «the fabulous fourteen») in the Montreal area since earlier in the decade. That would have been sufficient for a cover.
No, Maclean’s writers purport to show—and clearly affirm—that Quebecers as a people are inherently, historically and systemically corrupt. “Deeply entrenched,” “inevitable” lack of ethics, with “roots of corruption [that] run deep,” “a pattern.” “A peculiar set of pathologies,” writes Coyne. “A long line of made-in-Quebec corruption that has affected the province’s political culture at every level,” writes Patriquin. (Yes, “every” level!)
Two arguments are marshaled to explain why Quebec stands “in a league of its own” in the corruption sweepstakes. The first is the size of government. The second is the corrupting impact of a nationalist culture intent on getting “loot” or “booty” from Ottawa.