Some years ago I was given the Maclean’s 100th anniversary commemorative edition as a Christmas present. It is big, a glossy coffee table styled anachronism in our disposable post- modern literary world, but it is a great book. It is the type of gift that tells someone what you think of them, too, somewhere between an LCBO gift certificate and dark socks. You can open the Maclean’s text at any place and read something interesting. Maclean’s has chronicled the Canadian story since the magazine was founded in 1905. It is the one national organ, as they say, that “One hundred years after the ink has dried on its first issue, Maclean’s remains committed to providing Canadians with a distinct and intelligent voice on the topics they care about most deeply.”
The distinct and intelligent voice was muted in yesterday’s pathetic climb down by Maclean’s publisher Rogers over the tempest caused by its cover that described Quebec as ‘The Most Corrupt Province in Canada’. The apology for publishing what it asserted only one week ago as accurate was as sad as it was craven. The jolly graphic of the Big Bonhomme, beaming as he strides with his brief case overflowing with green, lent a certain zip to the featured article that endeavoured to analyze the murky, subterranean world of politics and business in La Belle Province. “On behalf of the company, we sincerely regret any offence that the cover may have caused” – weasel words to live by from Rogers president Brian Segal, lines that must have Maclean’s dead legends burning their subscriptions in the great Beyond. Pierre Berton, Mordecai Richler, the still with us Alan Fotheringham and other lions of the craft who have graced Maclean’s pages – how would they respond to this furor? Getting out the knee pads would not be their first option.
Quebec, we are breathlessly told, has once again been bashed by the pernicious Anglo media. The poor misunderstood Quebecois, run roughshod by the merdite Anglais. Apologize! That was the message from Premier Jean Charest to Maclean’s, fresh from his session in front of a provincial inquiry investigating whether his Liberal government appointed provincial judges through improper influence exerted by Quebec Liberal donors / construction industry magnates. The Premier has been accused of (ahem) corruption.
It is hard to imagine a darker pot calling out the Maclean’s kettle. The good Premier began his political life as a Conservative Boy Blunder in the Mulroney years, cutting his ministerial chops on the high profile Amateur Sport portfolio. Good Jean decided that his people needed him, and he made the familiar Quebec metamorphosis from federal Tory caterpillar to provincial Liberal butterfly. Good gig if you can get it, being Premier and all – especially when the Liberal party, true to Quebec form, secretly top up the good old premierly stipend by $75,000 per annum. The nobility of Premier Charest is unquestioned. Just accidents of geography that the Premier’s beloved Quebec is the common denominator for the Adscam sponsorship frauds that fleeced Canadian taxpayers for millions, Prime Minister Chretien’s shady investment in a Shawinigan golf course, and the Mulroney manila envelopes stuffed with cash and stashed in a safe, courtesy of a convicted German arms dealing influence peddler. No wonder Maclean’s showed the Big Bonhomme grinning like a rat.
Is Quebec any more or less corrupt than any other Canadian province? Who knows! What goes on in the backrooms of any provincial capital is likely unfit for prime time. It is Maclean’s, and its Rogers masters pandering so shamelessly to this tired and oh so predictable outrage from the Quebec nation that provokes laughter and tears in equal measures. Journalism 101 gives way to the mewling of corporate bum boys afraid of backlash and lost market share across the mighty Rogers national empire. If you ran the cover because you believed in your story – defend it! If your story was not as weighty as your cover foretold – why run it all? Thank you, Maclean’s…. the courageous champion of all that is good about the fourth estate.