They couldn't agree to disagree on anything without causing an angry squabble on the House of Commons floor, yet all four House leaders huddled in private this week to fix a vote on a matter of extreme parliamentary urgency.
It wasn't to help the jobless, reform pensions or improve health care. Nope, what united every MP into a furious chorus of condemnation was, of all things, a magazine cover.
Yes, a House divided into quadrants of mutual loathing formed a coalition of cowards against freedom of expression on Wednesday night, voting to smite the messenger for an inconvenient truth.
The now-infamous Maclean's magazine edition showing the Quebec Carnival's Bonhomme mascot with a cash-stuffed suitcase to illustrate an article on "Canada's Most Corrupt Province" is now moving from store shelves to the recycling bin, if there are any left unsold.
But while it made sense for Quebec Premier Jean Charest to object, it was surprising to see aftershocks rocking Ottawa all week.
Conservative MP overreaction would have been hilarious if Prime Minister Stephen Harper had not given his tacit approval.
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Josee Verner, the regional minister for Quebec City, harrumphed that "Bonhomme Carnaval is definitely one of our best ambassadors."
Being a Cabinet lightweight, Ms. Verner, I thought, wasgoing rogue again in declaring a mascot to be the province's top representative. But then featherweight Conservative MP Steven Blaney joined in, calling the cover an affront to "a symbol of our identity as Quebecois."
Too funny. Some schmuck overheating in costume defining the Quebecois? Surely, I wrongly figured, such nonsense wouldn't be replicated within the ranks of a Liberal party whose leader, Michael Ignatieff, boasts a resume as a working journalist.
"Completely despicable," howled a "totally disgusted" Liberal MP Denis Coderre, who was joined by others describing it as "hateful," "defamatory" and an example of "Francophobia" on par with a photo of "the Queen of England made up as a prostitute." Good grief.
Then came the motion approved by a quiet murmur on Wednesday night.
Of particular concern is that at least eight MPs list journalist on their resumes, yet only independent Andre Arthur briefly squawked in protest before leaving the Commons to expedite unanimous consent for the motion to pass.
"That this House, while recognizing the importance of vigorous debate on subjects of public interest, expresses 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," it states.
The Quebec nation? Its sordid history? A Carnival clown institution?
For starters, there is no Quebec nation to denigrate. The only parliamentary recognition, before Wednesday's motion, endorsed a "Quebecois nation within Canada." There's a difference between a cultural allegiance and a border-defined geographical unit. Where's MP Michael Chong, who quit Cabinet before agreeing to the initial Quebecois nation concept, when you need him?
Secondly, it's impossible to refute the article on a factual basis.
While the magazine admits it didn't have a scientific yardstick of interprovincial corruption to bolster its claim, "that does not mean we are required to suspend all judgment in the face of a preponderance of evidence --scandal after scandal at every level of government in the province," the magazine argued in an editorial this week.
From the Maurice Duplessis patronage orgy to construction industry price-fixing backed by Hells Angel muscle, years without corruption in Quebec's history are the exception not the rule.
The Liberal sponsorship scandal changed the government of Canada and now there's the inquiry spectacle of former justice minister Marc Bellemare ratting out Premier Jean Charest for arm-twisting his supporters into judicial appointments.
Maclean's should not have to justify its premise and it should not have apologized yesterday for having the gall to state the obvious. If the article had knuckle-wrapped any other province or city, no federal comment, never mind a united parliamentary censuring, would have been forthcoming.
Where were all of the country's MPs when Alberta was getting tarred and feathered by a U.S. campaign urging tourists to boycott the province's pristine mountain resorts to protest the oil sands? Too busy debating a fake lake at the G20 summit, I'm afraid.
The article was not unjustified Quebec bashing. The hysterical response was political sensitivity triumphing over corrupt reality.
dmartin XTp nationalpost.com
Brian Segal, president of Rogers Publishing, which owns Maclean's, issued an apology yesterday for the magazine's cover story last week headlined "Quebec the most corrupt province in Canada." Here is his statement:
"The cover of this issue and the feature story clearly offended some readers, and this has been the subject of much debate. As a company we own a broad range of media properties across the country and editorial independence is an important cornerstone of our management philosophy. While challenging at times, this means we do not interfere with the editorial direction or content of our media properties in any way.
"On behalf of the company, we sincerely regret any offence that the cover may have caused. We value all of our customers and their perspective. Quebec is an important market for the company and we look forward to participating in the dynamic growth of the province and its citizens."
Bonhomme is not the only clown
Secondly, it’s impossible to refute the article on a factual basis.