Premier Jean Charest joined the chorus of critics in condemning Maclean's "twisted form of journalism and ignorance," calling on the magazine to apologize for its "sensationalist" cover story portraying corruption in Quebec as the worst in Canada.
In a letter to Maclean's editor Mark Stevenson, Mr. Charest said the article written by Martin Patriquin fails to meet "basic standards of journalism" and represents a "discredit" to the magazine. The Premier also took aim at assumptions presented by columnist Andrew Coyne that Quebec corruption was linked to its political culture rooted in nationalism and state interventionism.
Maclean's refused to apologize on Wednesday, defending its reporting on "systemic corruption" in the province. It insisted that it was not out to condemn the character of Quebeckers. However, the magazine acknowledged that its conclusions were not based on statistical evidence.
"It's true that we lack a statistical database to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Quebec is an outlier among provinces. But that does not mean we are required to suspend all judgment in the face of a preponderance of evidence," the magazine stated on its website. "If Quebec's people and its press continue to expect the highest standards of ethics and probity from public officials, change will come. We sincerely believe Quebecers deserve better."
The cover of the magazine depicts the jolly Bonhomme Carnaval mascot clutching a briefcase overflowing with cash accompanied with the headline: "The Most Corrupt Province in Canada."
The article examines the reign of long-time premier Maurice Duplessis, the construction scams of the 1970s, the Mulroney era and the federal sponsorship scandal. It also points to more recent allegations of corruption at Montreal City Hall and the current Bastarache inquiry investigating allegations of impropriety in the naming of Quebec judges.
The cover story drew a flurry of criticism. The Montreal Gazette stated in an editorial that "Maclean's is wrong. It didn't come close to making its case." Meanwhile, federal Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe both called it another case of "Quebec bashing."
Mr. Charest wrote in his letter: "Far from serious journalism, which is supported by facts and evidence, your article tries to demonstrate a simplistic and offensive thesis that Quebeckers are genetically incapable of acting with integrity.
"Drawing on recent debates, you have concocted an assortment of dubious conclusions, unproven allegations and isolated events, in which you confuse Premier Duplessis, public service unions, the Quiet Revolution, state intervention, our Catholic roots and above all the sovereignist movement."
Mr. Charest explained that he wrote the letter on behalf of all Quebeckers. "I find the article to be unacceptable.… it's just so nonsensical," he said. "I think they should apologize. But you know what, frankly they won't. I don't think they have it in them."