QUEBEC — "The most corrupt province in Canada." — MacLean's Magazine

Politicians in Quebec lashed out Friday at Maclean’s, accusing the Toronto-based magazine of Quebec bashing after a cover story calling it “The most corrupt province in Canada.”
Photograph by: Handout, Maclean’s

QUEBEC ā€” Maclean’s magazine has unleashed a firestorm in Quebec with a controversial cover story ā€” accompanied by the iconic figure of Bonhomme Carnaval carrying a suitcase stuffed with cash ā€” that depicts Quebec as “the most corrupt province” in Canada.

Quebec politicians of all stripes lashed out at what they called a new episode of Quebec-bashing Friday, while phone-in shows in the province were flooded with angry callers.

The provocative article, which delved into a series of recent scandals in the province and suggested the province is “perpetually rife with scandal,” prompted Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe to send an open letter to the media, asking: “Are Canadians xenophobic?”

“Unfortunately, this attack is representative of a belief widely held in Canada that Quebec is racist, corrupt and always looking for a handout. It appears that the only group in Canada that can be singled out in this way, the only group that can be insulted, is Quebecers,” Duceppe wrote.

Bonhomme is the mascot of the Quebec City winter carnival, and organizers weren’t pleased at its use in the article or with a front-page headline that stated: “Accusations of influence peddling in Jean Charest’s cabinet are just the latest mess. Why so many political scandals happen in Quebec.”

The carnival urged the magazine to apologize for showing Bonhomme, one the province’s most celebrated ambassadors, carrying a suitcase overflowing with cash.

“We were surprised and shocked by this shameless hijacking of Bonhomme’s image,” carnival president Jean-Francois Cote said in an interview. “He is linked to a scandal that has absolutely nothing to do with him.”

The organization has called for a public apology and asked the Toronto-based magazine to pull the latest edition off the shelves. Failing that, Cote said the carnival is considering suing the magazine.

Meanwhile, Duceppe argued in his open letter that if Maclean’s can generalize and assert that all of Quebec is corrupt, one could conclude that all of Canada is xenophobic towards Quebec.

“This perception is indeed widespread in Canada, but one certainly cannot generalize and say that all Canadians see things that way,” Duceppe wrote.

In Quebec City, vice-premier Nathalie Normandeau asked the magazine to apologize to Quebecers for a “totally unacceptable” and “senseless” attack.

“Enough with the Quebec-bashing,” Normandeau told reporters. “The magazine takes on our institutions, our history, our symbols, our events. Enough is enough, we are not going to tolerate this,” she added.

Parti Quebecois intergovernmental affairs critic Bernard Drainville said the government brought it on itself with a series of allegations of corruption and bribery, notably in the construction industry.

“There is already a perception among some in the rest of Canada that Quebec people are culturally, if not genetically, predisposed to be corrupt, and that kind of article will strengthen their prejudice and their anti-Quebec bias and that I think is very damaging,” he said.

Maclean’s did ask permission to use Bonhomme’s image, but failed to explain in what context it would be used, Cote stressed. He added Bonhomme’s image is copyright protected.

Maclean’s stood by its story Friday, noting in a short statement that it is aware that some readers might find the “cartoon” on the cover to be provocative.

“But we think that the articles should be read and judged based on their own merits of fair and credible journalism,” the magazine contended.

The story, which runs over five pages in the magazine, chronicles a number of scandals, notably allegations of cronyism in judicial appointments that has led the Charest government to appoint a judicial commission that is now conducting hearings.

The magazine notes that Quebec is “perpetually rife with scandal” and recalls that Quebec’s dodgy history goes as far back as the Maurice Duplessis era, when patronage was widespread.

The magazine also dwells on the sponsorship scandal, in which the federal Liberals spent nearly $100 million to flood Quebec with Canadian flags before the 1995 sovereignty referendum.