MONTREAL — An article in Maclean's that described Quebec as a "pathologically alienated and low-trust society" with a glaring absence of solidarity burst into the political sphere Tuesday, with politicians of all stripes denouncing it.
The piece by academic Andrew Potter states the events surrounding the recent massive snowstorm that saw 300 cars stranded overnight on a major Montreal highway reveal a malaise that is "eating away at the foundations of Quebec society."
Philippe Couillard speaks during question period on March 14 at the legislature. (Photo: Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)
"Compared to the rest of the country, Quebec is an almost pathologically alienated and low-trust society, deficient in many of the most basic forms of social capital that other Canadians take for granted," wrote Potter, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.
He said that clashes with the generally held belief that Quebec is a more communitarian place than the rest of Canada and is more committed to the common good and the pursuit of collectivist goals.
"But you don't have to live in a place like Montreal very long to experience the tension between that self-image and the facts on the ground," he wrote. "The absence of solidarity manifests itself in so many different ways that it becomes part of the background hiss of the city."
That prompted Premier Philippe Couillard to lambaste the article.
"Essentially it is based on prejudice and artificial impressions. Some aggressivity, I think even, toward Quebecers."
"It's deplorable, it's very poor quality," he said in Quebec City. "Essentially it is based on prejudice and artificial impressions. Some aggressivity, I think even, toward Quebecers."
Couillard countered Potter's remarks about the absence of solidarity in the province by citing the reaction of Quebecers to the deadly mosque shooting in Quebec City last January and to the fire that killed 32 people in a seniors' home in L'Isle-Verte in 2014.
"They are very good examples of a society that is extremely rich in solidarity," he said.
The premier's comments and the outpouring of indignation from other politicians prompted Potter to then apologize for his "errors and exaggerations."
"An article that I wrote for Maclean's magazine...makes a few assertions that I wish to retract,'' he wrote on his Facebook page. "It also contains some rhetorical flourishes that go beyond what is warranted by either the facts or my own beliefs, for which I wish to apologize."
In Ottawa, federal Heritage Minister Melanie Joly, who represents a Montreal riding, called Potter's article "a shortcut that is totally absurd."
Bloc Quebecois MP Xavier Barsalou-Dorval said he felt ill when he read the story and described it as "intellectual fraud."
"It's Quebec-bashing," he said. "It's Quebecophobia. There's no other way to describe it."
McGill tweeted that the views expressed by Potter in the article do not represent those of the university.
History of controversies
Tuesday's controversy isn't the first time Maclean's has been in the news for articles that ruffled feathers in the province.
In 2010, the publication had a blazing front-page headline that read The Most Corrupt Province in Canada.
That same edition also triggered widespread outrage in Quebec with a photo of the beloved Bonhomme Carnaval snowman clutching a briefcase stuffed with cash.
Quebec's press council blamed the publication in 2011 for the headline and "a lack of journalistic rigour."
The council concluded that Maclean's did not prove Quebec was the most corrupt province and that the article was based on perceptions.