Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Silence on Quebec corruption deafening

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QUEBEC CITY -- Is anyone listening? Three mayors have resigned in disgrace and a former CEO from one of Canada's biggest companies has been arrested for fraud.

Did your stocks nudge up this morning? Were you surprised by the low turnout in the latest by-elections? Our democratic institutions are rotting from within, and all kinds of worms are crawling out of the woodwork.

Quebec's Charbonneau Commission has dredged up some spectacular accounts of collusion and corruption involving municipal governments, construction contracts and organized crime, and yet, for some reason, English-speaking Canadians seem more interested in Justin Bieber's lack of fashion sense.

"This is the way the world ends," wrote T.S. Eliot. "Not with a bang but a whimper."

Thus far the revelations by witnesses at the commission include:

An elaborate system of collusion for government contracts in which construction firms took turns staging bids for a pre-determined price, all organized by the Mafia, which received a cut of the profits.

Municipal party organizations that had so much dirty money from construction companies that they were unable to close the doors to their strong box.

Government officials, once they had been identified as "buyable," received free renovation of their homes, vacations, and prostitutes.

And this is just the beginning.

The latest twist in the plot is that mob boss Vito Rizzuto has been summoned to testify. Meanwhile, other members with connections to organized crime are turning up dead in their suburban Montreal driveways.

This would be more appropriate as the setting for Martin Scorsese's next screenplay rather than how public funds are dispensed in Canada's second most populous province.

Why isn't anyone talking about this?

What if it had been the mayors of Toronto and Oshawa, Ont., who stepped down? Would the rest of Canada be reacting the same way if this were happening in Ontario?

The answer is probably not. But that doesn't necessarily mean what you think it does.

As Jonathan Kay recently pointed out in the National Post, when Maclean's magazine dared to publish an article alleging that corruption existed in Quebec, the House of Commons passed a motion to express "its profound sadness at the prejudice displayed and the stereotypes employed by Maclean's magazine to denigrate the Quebec nation, its history, and its institutions."

In other words, stating a perfectly legitimate concern regarding the abuse of public funds was viewed by our elected officials as an attack on Quebec's unique culture.

Indeed, while Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is crucified for exercising poor judgment over a few thousand dollars for a junior football team, Quebec municipalities are being robbed blind. And yet, to criticize this is somehow culturally insensitive.

And so, once again we return to that worn-out theme of relations between English and French Canada, in which Quebec plays the victim and the Rest of Canada lines up to apologize. Although this time the so-called ROC seems to prefer just ignoring the entire situation.

For too long Quebec has laid the blame for whatever ills it suffered on being misunderstood by its clumsy, incomprehensible anglophone neighbours, or hostile foreign elites, that somehow prosperity would be guaranteed by gaining control over its own destiny.

On the contrary, the Charbonneau Commission has clearly demonstrated that when French-speaking Quebecers are indeed "masters of their own house," they are just as likely to descend into corruption and abuse as any English-speaking bogeymen of yesteryear.

Columnist Nelson Peters is originally from Manitoba. He has spent much of the last five years in Quebec, where he completed a degree in civil law at Université Laval and served as editor-in-chief of the faculty student law review from 2010-2011.

--Troy Media

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 12, 2012 A10

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