a weekly blog for all interested in professional communications issues

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Maclean’s disses carnival mascot, wounds Quebec pride

It has been a very long time since any magazine has caused much of a stir. So the Oct. 4 edition of Maclean’s really is a trip back to when magazines, or any other printed medium, mattered to most people.

The Quebec government is demanding a retraction. Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe says it is Quebec baiting. Quebec City says Maclean’s has horribly libeled Bonhomme, the carnival mascot because of the cover. (The cartoon icon is carrying a suitcase overflowing with cash.)

For the rest of the country to understand the reaction in Quebec, imagine a Maclean’s cover with Tim Horton’s donuts laced with heroin.

At Maclean’s offices, I’m sure there hasn’t been this much excitement since religious fundamentalists pressured the magazine’s management into firing Pierre Berton in 1963 for daring to write about sex education.

For someone who was born before the world had IPods and cable news, it was like a long-lost guilty pleasure to read a full-length article that dared to be controversial.

Was it good journalism? I would say yes for a number of reasons.

The lead story, by Martin Patriquin, cites a litany of scandal after scandal in Quebec since the days of Maurice Duplessis, the dictator-premier who ran the province for almost 20 years until 1959 like a personal fiefdom. The article reprises a quote from historian Samuel Huntington, who said in 1968 that Quebec was ``perhaps the most corrupt area in Australia, Great Britain, United States and Canada.’’

For the sake of fairness, Maclean’s pointed out Quebec doesn’t have a monopoly on bad behavior. Atlantic Canada is notorious for patronage. B.C. has punted three premiers out of office in recent years amid scandal. And there was quite a stench from Saskatchewan in the early 1990s when 12 members of Premier Grant Devine’s government faced criminal charges for expense account fraud.

The author might have mentioned that Quebec was the first jurisdiction in the country to outlaw political donations from corporations and unions. Because of this, the government of Rene Levesque was able to clean up provincial politics, at least briefly.

But for the most part it is solid journalism that asks what we all have been asking ourselves for years: What is it about Quebec and scandal?

Some answers are offered. Chief among them is that perhaps that Quebec has been so preoccupied over the years about referendums, good government hasn’t been much of an issue.

Perhaps Maclean’s has now done Quebec a favour.

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