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Maclean's under fire for 'Quebec-bashing'

A national news magazine is making headlines of a different sort in Quebec.

There are several demands for an apology from Maclean's - with those requests coming from everyone from politicians of various stripes to the Quebec City winter carnival.

The weekly publication is calling Quebec "the most corrupt province in Canada." On the cover, the province's beloved Bonhomme Carnaval snowman is seen clutching a briefcase stuffed with cash.

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The Maclean's cover was the No. 2 item on Quebec newscasts Friday. The No. 1 item? That was Premier Jean Charest testifying before a public inquiry into allegations of influence-peddling and cronyism.

Two articles in the magazine's Oct. 4 edition aim to answer the question of why so many political scandals originate from Quebec - looking at a lengthy list of issues that have dogged the Charest government in recent years and also examining provincial scandals since the 1930s.

The article makes brief references to the three B.C. premiers who were turfed by scandal within a decade, and the dozen members of Saskatchewan's Devine government who were charged in an expense-account scam.

But it offers a far more detailed exploration of Quebec's various scandals and ponders the question of why corruption should be so ingrained in one political culture.

"The slew of dodgy business is only the most recent in a long line of made-in-Quebec corruption that has affected the province's political culture at every level," Maclean's Martin Patriquin writes.

"It raises an uncomfortable question: why is it that politics in Canada's bete noire province seem perpetually rife with scandal?"

Quebec politicians reacted angrily to the cover, with one provincial Liberal calling it "Quebec-bashing" while the opposition PQ calls it anti-francophone.

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Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier said he'd been made aware of the article and he dismissed it.

"I haven't read it, I've only heard about it but I've been told its only insinuation with no real facts," Mr. Fournier said. "So I'll leave it for what it is, a bunch of allegations and inventions."

Quebec politicians in Ottawa were also quick to dismiss the story as over-the-top - and unfair for singling out Quebec.

"It's exaggerating to say Quebec is more subjected to corruption than other regions in Canada or in the West," Bloc Quebecois MP Pierre Paquette said.

Organizers of the Quebec carnival have sent a letter of protest to the magazine, saying they were duped into providing a logo of the tuque-wearing snowman that was later altered for the cover.

The story by Mr. Patriquin, and the accompanying column by Andrew Coyne, examine a number of hypotheses to explain the alleged preponderance of corruption in Quebec.

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One theory is that, according to the rules of the bitter sovereignty-vs.-Canada debate, politics is war and politicians are willing to win by any means necessary - as witnessed by the infamous sponsorship program.

Another suggestion takes aim at Quebec's interventionist model of government. The theory goes that because the Quebec government is larger and spends more per capita than those in other provinces, on things like construction projects for instance, business interests are eager to corrupt politicians.

The magazine also suggests that because Quebeckers see themselves as an aggrieved minority, any constructive criticism of the province is inevitably dismissed as "Quebec-bashing." Mr. Coyne's column actually concludes with a prediction that the magazine will face that familiar accusations because of its latest issue.

It's not the first time Maclean's has made waves in Quebec.

Just before last year's Montreal municipal election, a headline splashed across the cover read: "Montreal is a corrupt, crumbling, Mob-ridden disgrace."

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