I grew up in Quebec and know the province's ways, so I can't say that I was completely surprised by the cover on this week's edition of Maclean's. That said, I would hope that - in furtherance of the transparency to which journalist are famously committed - the magazine will soon release the fact-based studies it conducted across Canada before reaching the conclusion that Quebec is the champion of corruption in our country.
Take British Columbia, for example, if you'll allow me to put in a word for the province where I now have the great fortune to live. Out here in Lotus Land, we had the singular distinction of having had the first cabinet minister in the Commonwealth sent to jail. And, more recently, we've had two premiers forced out of office thanks to conflicts of interest. Indeed, one of those ex-premiers has been back in the thick of things lately, boosted by media "watchdogs" who've described his past career as having been "colourful."
Still, even though others should clearly be in the running for No. 1 in this department (have I mentioned that I've lived and worked in Nova Scotia?), it's hard to imagine a province that would be as quick as Quebec to take umbrage at the allegation of corruption. Indeed, Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe - who normally goes out of his way to say that the country he wants to leave is a great country - is all over the Quebec press this morning accusing Canada of being xenophobic toward his province, er nation. Migod, even federalist MPs from Quebec have their knickers in a knot.
For example, Michael Ignatieff's Quebec lieutenant, Westmount MP Marc Garneau, is accusing Maclean's of "sensationalism" for having featured the Quebec symbol Bonhomme Carnaval on its cover: "I found that shocking, it's sensationalism, it's unworthy of a Canadian magazine, it's divisive," he's quoted as saying in this morning's Le Journal de Montreal. As for the deputy leader of the NDP, Outremont MP Thomas Mulcair, he says that the article is "distressing" and he finds it "astounding" that the magazine would have used the image of Bonhomme Carnaval. "This isn't a joke," Mr. Mulcair says, "they're not mincing words in saying that Quebec is the most corrupt province in Canada. … This is a deliberate attack on Quebec. … It's been done expressly to provoke and to confirm anti-Quebec prejudices in the rest of Canada."
Zounds! It's hard to imagine there'd be the same level of outrage if PEI and Anne of Green Gables had been featured on the cover. Which is entirely possible, if you're familiar with public service hiring practices on the Island.
The big difference, of course, is that PEI only sends four MPs to Ottawa. So it will be interesting to see where this frenzy over a Maclean's cover and a "Quebec-bashing" story leads. The last time we saw anything like it was in the case of an article written by Jan Wong in the Globe and Mail, suggesting that the shooting of students at Dawson College was the result of Québec's language laws.
Back then, Premier Jean Charest wrote to The Globe and, for some reason, to Le Devoir as well, demanding that Ms. Wong "have the decency to apologize to all Quebeckers." Then, two days later, Prime Minister Stephen Harper weighed in with his own letter to the same two papers.
To top it off, MPs unanimously passed a resolution demanding that "an apology be given to the people of Quebec for the offensive remarks." Then, when The Globe did not apologize, Mr. Duceppe stamped his feet and declared that the paper must do so because MPs had unanimously demanded it - suggesting that, in 2006, he had an imperfect understanding of the relationship between Parliament and the press. And may still have.
Now, to be fair, Ms. Wong's piece was not the best thing that this very talented journalist had written in her career. That said, if the House of Commons passed a motion every time a journalist trotted out an old hobby-horse - which is a pretty good description of the articles about Quebec in the current issue of Maclean's - MPs would have little time left to carry out their important responsibilities, not to speak of the energy needed to heckle each other during Question Period.
UPDATE There's moree reaction to the Maclean's cover story (as reported by Sun Media papers Le Journal de Montreal and Le Journal de Quebec).
» Intergovernmental Affairs minister Josée Verner, the regional minister in the Harper cabinet for Quebec City: "The Quebec Carnaval has a history of a half-century of success behind it. Bonhomme Carnaval is definitely one of our best ambassadors. To illustrate [Bonhomme Carnaval]like that, holding a briefcase overflowing with cash, is very inappropriate and downright insulting."
» The chair of the Conservative Quebec caucus, MP Steven Blaney: "Maclean's should apologize to the organizers of Carnaval….[Bonhomme Carnaval]is a symbol of our identity as Quebecois…that has nothing to do with political scandals."
» Liberal MP Denis Coderre is "totally disgusted" by the whole affair: "It's completely despicable." He also denounces the use of Bonhomme Carnaval, "a trade-marked brand."
Mr. Coderre says he sees evidence in all this of the "Plains of Abraham disease, wherein we're viewed condescendingly and with contempt.…. To generalise like that, I find that totally unacceptable." This latter statement is not reported in Sun Media's English-language papers, nor is what follows:
» The President of the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society of Montréal, Mario Beaulieu, says the article is "hateful and defamatory" and says that his organization is considering lodging a complaint. (Since Maclean's is not a member of any press council, this would raise the possibility of a complaint to a human rights tribunal, which would be controversial in itself.)
» Finally, veteran Quebec secessionist Gilles Rhéaume says that the Maclean's article is only the latest chapter in the "history of francophobia [in Canada]" And he says likens the use of the image of Bonhomme Carnaval in this way to bannering the image of "the Queen of England made up as a prostitute" across the front page of all newspapers and television news bulletins.