Friday, October 1, 2010

Quebeckers Confront Corruption

The spirited defence put up by Quebec politicians and journalists, arguing against the Maclean's magazine article that described the province as the most corrupt in Canada, seems to run counter to the underlying public perception by ordinary Quebeckers that indeed, Quebec is a very corrupt place.

Reading the online comments, attached to the articles discussing the story, one would expect the majority of reader opinions to echo the professionals and defend their beloved province, but surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly at all, such was not the case.
Quebeckers remain deeply humiliated by the allegations made by the magazine because most know the charges to be true.

Whether Quebec is the most corrupt province in Canada is largely beside the point, that it is perceived by almost all Quebeckers as extremely corrupt, is entirely the issue.

Quebeckers didn't need the magazine to remind them that corruption is a problem in Quebec, we already knew.
It's more than likely that the article itself was borne from the growing public debate and outrage that has gripped the province over corruption. The issue has become the number one political topic and has far eclipsed even that of sovereignty.

Perhaps the greatest failing of the Maclean's article was to ignore the ongoing public reaction in  Quebec and so leave the impression that it is business as usual.

It is most certainly not!

Quebeckers across all political stripes have been howling for a cleanup. Most believe that Premier Charest's refusal to call an inquiry into the construction industry, perceived by the public to be the most corrupt and corrupting element in Quebec society, is evidence that he and his party have a lot to hide. His calling of an inquiry over the lessor issue of whether undue political influence was brought to bear in the naming of judges was seen as a diversion and even that hasn't worked out that well. While Marc Bellemare, the ex-justice minister who made the allegations of interference, hasn't made a great case for himself, the exposure of the inner machinations of the political party system, it's fundraisers and their influence, even legal, has left a decidedly sour taste in the public's mind.

Corruption has always been around, but it remained hidden from the public under a layer of secrecy, worthy of the mob code of secrecy - 'Omerta'
Frank Zampino

That all changed drastically one day, two years ago, in May, 2008, when Frank Zampino, the City of Montreal's number two elected official and boss of its finances, resigned rather hastily.  LINK

I remember the press conference distinctly because it was the germ that led to me start this blog.

I remarked to my wife how surprised I was that all the reporters attending the news conference, were falling for Mr. Zampino's story that he was retiring to look for new challenges and that he didn't have anything lined up. Not one reporter challenged him.
If there's one thing that I know, (and reporters should know too) it's that 48 year old politicians, with families to support, don't retire at the zenith of their careers for no reason, it just doesn't happen. They retire because they have to, be it a political, sex or corruption scandal or possibly caused by health reasons or a helluva better offer of employment elsewhere. You pick'em.

Tony Accurso
Eventually the truth came out. Zampino was intimately connected to Tony Accurso, a very big wheel in the Quebec construction industry and whose various companies had a dizzying amount of criminal investigations surrounding them. It started with the news that Zampino had vacationed on Accurso's yacht in the Caribbean and escalated when Accurso gave Zampino a job after he left the city.

All this led to the exposure of the 'Water Meter' scandal, whereby it is alleged that Zampino facilitated a bid by an Accurso consortium to supply hundreds of millions of dollars of water meters to the city of Montreal. That contract was eventually cancelled amid cries of corruption.
It's been downhill since then.

Reporters finally started doing their jobs and the long hand of corruption was exposed at almost every level of government.

Benoit Labonté
In light of the Water Meter scandal, the political fortunes of up and comer Benoit Labonté seemed to rise and for a while he looked like the right man to clean house at Montreal City Hall. But alas, he too was exposed as being corrupt himself, having accepted campaign money from none other than one Tony Accurso and then brazenly lying about it before being outed by the press. LINK
It was quite a shocker!

Eric Duhame wrote in the National Post about the dubious connection between unions, politicians and the underworld;
" March 2009, a Radio-Canada investigation discovered alleged links between the general-director of the powerful FTQ-Construction, the biggest union of the industry, and the underworld. In September, further investigation uncovered a cost fixing scam among construction companies on public jobs, mainly road construction or repair. It involved bikers intimidating the competition and brown envelopes used to buy politicians and bureaucrats.
Many analysts and commentators started to wonder if such corruption could explain why it costs between 35% and 40% more to build roads in Quebec than in Ontario."
On and on it goes....

Three out of four Quebeckers are demanding that a commission look into the corruption and tens of thousands have signed an online petition.
Premier Charest's attempt to quell the rage hasn't exactly worked out.
He hired ex-Montreal police chief Jacques Duchesneau to head a team to investigate the 15,000 yearly contracts given out by the Ministry of Transport.

But it seems even that has turned sour.
Ethical questions have been raised over Mr. Duchesneau's departure as head of CATSA,  the government organization that screens passengers in federal airports. 
Apparently, he was pushed out as president.
"His abrupt exit came a day after a CATSA board meeting. Directors talked for 40 minutes by telephone before passing a resolution -- now kept secret by the government -- and just six months after his contract was renewed until 2010, the documents show." LINK
Here's a full account explaining why he was let go in a LCN report in French.
Here's a somewhat more abbreviated version in English.
In another blow to Mr. Duchesneau's reputation, an investigative report in June, claims irregularities in the campaign financing of his unsuccessful 1998 run for the mayorship of Montreal. LINK
At any rate, it seems that the Premier was unaware of all this at the time of the hiring  and now insiders tell me that he has completely lost confidence in Duchesneau. Suffice to say that things are not going well.

All these public revelations, as well as the Maclean's article. have contributed to the impression that Quebeckers are more dishonest than other Canadians, a perception that despite the prima facie evidence, I contend is not true.

I shall write about that in another post, but if you visit Quebec and get stopped by a cop for speeding, I wouldn't recommend offering him a bribe. You'll be sadly surprised at his reaction and might even find yourself behind bars.


  1. Cop-on-the-take corruption ≠ institutionalized corruption though. Most people realize this.

  2. Mississauga Guy said...

    So Editor, on the one hand you admonish MacLean's for their article, then the next thing you're doing is proving them right. The "prima facie" evidence, to use your term, seems not to be untrue.

    It's not as if the real Canada is immune to corruption. Far from it, but let's face it, the so-called federalist Premier Goldilocks suddenly discloses he has had his nest feathered with $75,000 a year from his own party...AFTER TEN YEARS (or more)? Obviously somebody dug up the dirt on the guy, and/or was about to tell it to the world à la David Letterman's stealing his blackmailer's thunder and telling all about his sexual escapades right on his own talk show. This was all done to beat the blackmailers to the kill and avoid third party disclosure. If it smells like a skunk and it looks like a skunk...

  3. Mississauga Guy further said...

    Editor, you're disturbed about the Bonhomme Carnival being used by MacLean's the way is was. How about the recent La Presse cartoon and it's portrayal of the Star of David on the Peace Tower insinuating parliament is controlled by the Jewish community?

    See the link:

    While one Jewish organization does not see the cartoon as anti-Semitic, many others, including yours truly, do.

    So Editor, are you now going to devote equal time and space to admonish La Presse as you just did MacLean's? I await your response, and by ignoring to answer my question, you will have spoken volumes!

  4. In addition to my last comment, here is the link on Cyberpresse discussing the parliamentary cartoon:

  5. Mississauga, c'est drôle mais insulter tous les Québécois et les francophones en général, ça c'est permis par le Congrès juif qui ne s'élève pas. Deux poids, deux mesures ? Et votre sens de l'humour dans tout ça ?

  6. One has to kind of feel sorry for the honest people in Quebec who are being broadbrushed by the abundant political corruption committed by those who are supposed to look after the peoples interests. Sad state of affairs and it is not confined within the borders of Quebec.

    In general politicains are "shit birds"

  7. Mississauga Guy responded...

    Sorry, 9:48AM, but I don't know what you're writing about. The Canadian Jewish Congress did not insult anyone, it was THEY who were insulted by that parliamentary cartoon. Perhaps explain.

  8. To me the real question is what is the root cause of Quebec society having so much corruption? A legacy of the all powerful hold the Catholic church once held on the province? It was common in years past for Francophones in Quebec to be given phony receipts from their parish priests for non-donations. Ottawa knew all about it but never said anything for fear of losing votes in Quebec. Maybe it is due to the Francophone penchant for big government? Government by controlling so much money has the most corruption. More government, more corruption. Francophones everywhere seem to favour big activist governments. It is no accident NATO, the E.U. etc, are all headquartered in Brussels, a French speaking city. Perhaps it is due to the nationalist question? The federal government is always shoving so much money on Quebec in a false bid to win it over that this may have corrupted the province. Maybe the federal reluctance to criticize Quebec for fear of empowering the separatists has created a wild west environment there? Maybe it is just a correlation of French-Canadian culture? Who knows for sure. But just playing the victim card and yelling "Quebec-bashing" does no real good. The Toronto guy.

  9. To Mississauga Guy:

    I object to Maclean's making unsupported and speculative conclusions as to why Quebec is so corrupt. That part of the article was as journalisticlly responsible as Jan Wong's conclusion that Bill 101 was responsible for the Dawson shooting. The gratuitous use of Bonhomme was also wrong. One commentator mentioned that it's no worse than a portrayal of Ronald McDonald holding a suitcase of cash to denote that America is corrupt.
    Yea, I'd like to see the idiot magazine that would go up against MacDonald's. Think they'd sued? I do....
    That being said the charges of corruption are unassailable, so I have a mixed reaction.

    As for the Peace Tower and the Star of David, I was going to pass on it, but since you insist, I'll do a piece on it next week. You won't like it.

  10. "Montreal is a disaster - The once-glamorous city is now a corrupt, crumbling, mob-ridden disgrace. What went wrong?"

  11. Mississauga Guy,

    I honestly do not understand why you and some members of the Jewish community is offended by the Peace Tower caricature. If you look at the dial of the Peace Tower clock closely, the six-pointed-star is indeed depicted on the face of the dial.

    So why is it so wrong drawing the Peace Tower with the six-pointed-star if such star is really part of the facade?

  12. I want to pile on adski's link, a feature on the Globe & Mail regarding Montreal's crumbling.

  13. I agree with Mississauga Guy, what about racist cartoons published in Quebec that are anti-Semitic? There are countless other examples, including articles in mainstream French newspapers, newscasts and other sources of media.

    Apparently that is OK in Quebec. The Quebecois are free to spew hate and racism towards other cultures publicly and no one blinks an eye. After all, their culture and language is threatened, so attacks on others is just protecting it, right? Or maybe they're entitled to it because of what happened some 400 years ago on the Plains of Abraham. Phht.

    Quebec as the most corrupt province in Canada is FACT. Printing straight facts should not a problem, anymore than printing an article saying Quebecers are the heaviest smokers in North America. Or Quebecers are the most overweight and eat the most unhealthiest foods in Canada. Or Quebecers have the highest drop out rate. Or Quebecers have the high suicide rate. Or Quebecers abandon animals more than any other district in North America. Etc, etc. Nothing to be proud of, but sometimes the only way to get someone or something to CHANGE is to point out the problem, even if it hurts.

  14. Mississauga Guy to Troy:

    You're right about the "symbol" on the clock, but I think it actually represents the symbol adopted for our centennial celebrations back in 1967.

    The "face" on the caricature clock is only the Star of David, and the "slippery when wet" road sign can easily be construed as an insinuation.

    The Mormon, i.e., the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints also have a six-point star on some of their churches. Many years ago a couple of friends and I, when we were still university students, toured around North America and we ended up walking through a beautiful church square in Salt Lake City, Utah. Their gardens of flowers were impeccably kept and there were a few churches there including that Mormon church. I was surprised to see the "star" as a symbol on the church, so that was my lesson learned that day.

    The Bonhomme picture in MacLean's doesn't bother me all that much, but it sure bothers others a whole lot more. It's all in how you look at it.

  15. Mississauga Guy to Editor:

    If I don't like your upcoming piece on the Peace Tower, I'll rebut!

    Do realize, however, before you start typing that racist insinuations often start as an "innocent" joke! Happy writing!

  16. The real scary thing is not how corrupt Quebec is, that’s a given, but that a lot of these same people have been in Ottawa since the 1960”s. yes Quebec is definitely corrupt but official Ottawa comes a close second. I have lost track of the billion dollar boondoggles, scandal, corruption that has gone on in Ottawa for decades. Trudeau brought this same mentality to Ottawa and its been rotting and getting worse with every passing decade. Ottawa is very similar to Quebec. A cesspool of slime, corruption, fraud, spin…a complete disaster.

  17. "Ottawa is very similar to Quebec. A cesspool of slime, corruption, fraud, spin…a complete disaster."

    Pfft! This debate of political superlatives is truly a waste of all our time. Corrupt politicians? In our own back yard? Scandalous! Being called out on it? Finger pointing!
    Watching cynically from the sidelines and learning the true definition of the word schadenfreude? Priceless.

    I can't help but recall to mind e.e. cummings' ever-accurate quote: 'A politician is an arse upon which everyone has sat except a man'.

    Seriously people, find me a governing body that's not corrupt. Go ahead. Do it now. I'm timing you.

    It's an arena filled with sleaze no matter where you choose to play. Be sure to grease up before you jump in.

  18. "You're right about the "symbol" on the clock, but I think it actually represents the symbol adopted for our centennial celebrations back in 1967."

    Bullshit. There is a very distinctive difference between a regular star, and the Jewish Star of David. Even as a small child knows the difference, I did when I was growing up. I'm wouldn't be a bit surprised if a Quebecois cartoons "accidentally" draws a Swastika in an upcoming cartoon. Either it'll supposed to be something else, or not meant to be taken seriously they'll say.

    How about this article published, that says there are too many Jews on the bench of the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa? Don't think that Star of David on the peace tower was accidentally....the Quebecois are notoriously xenophobia, foaming at the mouth racists.

  19. How did this discussion suddenly degenerate to the hateful rantings reminiscent of Abbot Groulx?

    "There is a very distinctive difference between a regular star, and the Jewish Star of David."
    Yes. But let's try to understand things in context, at least to the best of our abilities. Let's at the very least admit that if the guy wasn't unaware of the connotation of the hexagram...

    ...that there's a faint possibility that he displayed an honest lapse in judgment.

    Looking closer at the clock face...

    ...Badeaux might have probably also chosen to sketch a compass dial, had he known there would have been the backlash about his cartoon.

    Even when you factor religious and cultural sensibilities into the equation, there's also a serious difference between drawing the prophet Mohammed and clashing with an established culture of iconoclasm in a bit to exercise your right to freedom of expression and drawing a bearded guy wearing a shehada-labeled turban with a bomb sticking out of it...

  20. @Editor: the URLs from my previous post seem to have been removed. What's up with that?

  21. hey editor, you missed the point about the ronald mcdonald comment. you're taking it to literal. you can use another american symbol like apple pie if you like, unless pilsbury has a problem with that.

  22. "...that there's a faint possibility that he displayed an honest lapse in judgment.

    Looking closer at the clock face...

    ...Badeaux might have probably also chosen to sketch a compass dial, had he known there would have been the backlash about his cartoon."

    Once again, I call BULLSHIT. Look at these other Quebecois drawings published in major papers:

    I suppose the OLF, pulling Matzo off the shelves of stores in a Jewish area, to coincide EXACTLY at the start of PASSOVER, was ohh, just "an honest lapse in judgment".

    The dirty little secret of the French Quebecois (at least outside of Quebec) are they are foaming at the mouth with hatred towards the English and Jewish community. Stop defending these racists or making excuses for them.