In a scrum Monday, Michael Ignatieff was asked about the Maclean's cover story describing Quebec as "the most corrupt province in Canada," and he answered:
"I don't know the term in French, but [the Maclean's article]is Québec bashing. I don't like Quebec bashing either in English or in French. … You have to criticize corruption in public life. However, it's important to do it throughout Canada. To say that it's only a problem in Quebec -and that's what the article suggests - I think that's just Quebec bashing."
The good news is that, other than a statement by one Bloc member, all was quiet in the House of Commons - a forbearance that MPs have not always shown in the past in such situations. Instead, as should be the case, journalists themselves have begun to debate the soundness of the articles in question.
By far the most interesting reaction so far has been that of Carole Beaulieu, the publisher and chief editorial writer of L'actualité. Like Maclean's, L'actualité is owned by Rogers, and wouldn't you like to be a fly on the wall of corporate offices in Toronto for this war of words.
Under the heading " Maclean's and punctuation," here's a translation of Ms. Beaulieu writing on the magazine's website:
My journalism professors at Carleton - one of the bastions of anglo-Canadian journalism orthodoxy and rigour - would have given a big fat zero to the headline on the cover of Maclean's.
The article cites an American professor who, in 1968, concluded that "Quebec is perhaps the most corrupt province in Canada." Perfect. According to the journalism rule, the phrase should have been in quotation marks, and it should have been attributed. It's his opinion. Not a fact. It would be a lot less pretty, but perhaps as sellable.
Should the Québécois be concerned about recent cases of corruption and nepotism in the construction sector, the unions and in government? Yes. And they are concerned. All recent polls show they're furious.
If Quebec is the worst province, could Maclean's tell us which is the best? Or share their methodology with us so that we can evaluate it?
If corruption is due to an interventionist state or to nationalism, as Andrew Coyne states, how is it that the Scandinavian countries are the least corrupt in Transparency International's rankings? In recent history, PQ governments have the best reputation for fighting corruption, so how can Mr. Coyne associate nationalism and corruption when it's Ottawa that committed shabby acts to prevent secession?
As to suggesting that it's in the nature of Québécois to be corrupt, let's just say that we're still looking for the scientist who'll discover the corruption gene and prove that it's carried by Québécois but not other Canadians.
In Québec, the opposition parties, social groups, police and journalists are working hard to expose corruption and curb it. Perhaps not as quickly as some would like. But they're working at it.
Regrettably, Maclean's - which is owned by the same company as L'actualité - seems to have adopted the slogan : Don't let the facts get in the way of a good story.
For the most part, Anglophone journalists - including on Maclean's website - have abstained from the debate, though Andrew Coyne gave an interview to TVA yesterday. On the French-speaking side, most of the leading commentators and editorialists have weighed in, and there's more to come. Who knows? Perhaps we'll see the coverage debated on an "At Issues" panel one of these evenings.