Maclean's strikes back after Charest criticism
Published Wednesday, September 29, 2010 7:19PM EDT
MONTREAL - Maclean's fired back at the Quebec government Wednesday after Premier Jean Charest lashed out at the magazine for calling his province the most corrupt in Canada.
In a scathing letter to the publication, the embattled premier asked Maclean's to apologize to Quebecers for an article he describes as a "twisted form of journalism and ignorance."
But the magazine answered his missive Wednesday with a stinging rebuttal of its own -- and no apology.
In a bold headline, last week's cover of Maclean's declared Quebec "the most corrupt province in Canada." It featured an image of the jovial Bonhomme Carnaval mascot carrying a briefcase overflowing with cash.
The letter gave Charest an opportunity to try and score political points by wrapping himself in the Fleur-de-lis and shielding his scandal-ridden, increasingly unpopular government.
The premier, whose Liberals have been battered in recent years by waves of corruption allegations, said the "offensive thesis" in the article discredits the magazine.
"I'm writing in regards to your sensationalist 'feature' on Quebec," reads the opening line of the two-page letter addressed to Maclean's editor Mark Stevenson on Sunday.
"Far from serious journalism, which is supported by facts and evidence, your article tries to demonstrate a simplistic and offensive thesis that Quebecers are genetically incapable of acting with integrity."
Just hours after Charest released the letter in Quebec City, Maclean's shot back with an editorial in which it stood by its story and Andrew Coyne's accompanying column.
"It's true that we lack a statistical database to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Quebec is an outlier among the provinces," Maclean's wrote in the editorial, which was posted on its website.
"But that does not mean we are required to suspend all judgment in the face of a preponderance of evidence -- scandal after scandal at every level of government in the province, all of them involving not just one or two bad actors but systemic corruption."
The magazine insists there is "political sleaze" in every province, but Quebecers have seen more of it than anyone else.
"It's worth noting that none of our critics has mounted a credible case that any other province better deserves the title of worst in class," said the editorial, which is to be published Thursday in the latest issue of the magazine.
"Quebec's political system is failing its people. But let's be clear about this: it is a political problem, and a reflection on the province's politicians and its political culture, not a condemnation of the character of the province or its people."
Last week's issue aimed to answer the question of why so many political scandals originate from Quebec.
It examined provincial scandals in the 1930s all the way to the present, including the lengthy list of issues that have dogged the Charest government in recent years.
The edition also looked at the reign of longtime premier Maurice Duplessis, the construction scams of the 1970s, the Mulroney era and the federal sponsorship scandal.
It also pointed 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 magazine immediately ignited a fiery response from the province's political class, prompting federal and provincial politicians of all stripes to paint it as exaggerated, divisive and a shining example of "Quebec-bashing."
The Conservatives, Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois tabled a motion Wednesday in the House of Commons denouncing the articles.
Even the Quebec City winter carnival has hired a lawyer to weigh the possibility of legal action.
Charest argues the magazine gets it all dead wrong.
"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 sovereigntist movement," he wrote.
"With this twisted form of journalism and ignorance, any society would be painted in a poor light."
Charest also pointed out how the story failed to mention that Quebec was the first region in North America to regain all of the jobs it lost during the economic crisis.
He indicates the economic gap between Quebec and the rest of Canada is mostly due to the province's investments in hydroelectricity, which will make it a North American leader in producing cleaner, renewable energy.
"Yes, Quebec is different from the rest of Canada," he wrote.
"You say it's the 'bete noire' of the country; I say Quebec is half of Canada's soul, identity, and humanity."
Last week's issue hit newsstands as Charest testified at an inquiry into alleged political cronyism.
One political scientist said while it's possible that Quebec is the most corrupt province in the country, he was disturbed by Coyne's argument that its scandals are rooted in its culture.
"The climate in Quebec has become so cynical towards the government, most people are convinced the system is corrupt," said Christian Dufour, a professor at Montreal's Ecole nationale d'administration publique.
"But I think there are fewer people who agree with Andrew Coyne's argument. It's a very troubling argument."
A member of a Quebec right-wing group says politicians are doing a poor job of running the province and should be apologizing to Quebecers.
"Mr. Charest is in no position to ask for an apology on behalf of Quebecers for anything," said Joanne Marcotte of the Reseau Quebec Liberte, a populist group trying to emulate the Tea Party.
"If Quebecers are to get apologies, they should come from their political elite, whether it's Liberal or Pequiste.
"He should be ashamed of himself to ask such a thing."