Quebec premier lashes out at Maclean's for suggesting province is in state of 'serious dysfunction'

The venerable English-language news magazine Maclean's has provoked the fury of Quebec's political class, once again.

Andrew Potter, who penned the piece, has apologized for certain 'rhetorical flourishes'

The article was the lead story on Maclean's website Tuesday. (CBC)

The venerable English-language news magazine Maclean's has provoked the fury of Quebec's political class, once again. 

Maclean's published an essay on its website Monday that described last week's traffic jam on Montreal's Highway 13, which left hundreds of people stranded in their cars overnight in the midst of a blinding snowstorm, as a "mass breakdown in the social order."

The essay, penned by Andrew Potter, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, goes on to argue that "Quebec is an almost pathologically alienated and low-trust society."

Many restaurants in the province, Potter claimed, offer clients the chance to pay cash to avoid taxes. Local police have been wearing camouflage pants for years as part of collective bargaining tactics. Survey data from Statistics Canada suggests Quebecers have fewer friends than other Canadians and spend less time volunteering. 

It is all evidence, for Potter, that Quebec is in a state of "serious dysfunction" and "deficient in many of the most basic forms of social capital that other Canadians take for granted."

Dozens of drivers were trapped last week on Highway 13 in Quebec. Some of them ran out of gas and had to be towed. (Simon-Marc Charron/Radio-Canada)

'An article of very poor quality'

Premier Philippe Couillard, whose government has been criticized for its response to the snowstorm, lashed out at Potter on Tuesday.  

"As far as I'm concerned, it's an article of very poor quality," Couillard told reporters in Quebec City.  

"It aims to paint a negative portrait of Quebec, based on prejudices."

The head of the Coalition Avenir Québec, François Legault, called Potter's piece a "rag" based on "shortcuts."

Early Tuesday afternoon, Potter issued a statement on Facebook that apologized for the "rhetorical flourishes" contained in the piece.

"To begin with, I generalized from a few minor personal anecdotes about the underground economy in Montreal to portray entire industries in a bad light," Potter wrote. "I also went too far in my description of Quebec society as alienated."

Alison Uncles, Maclean's editor-in-chief, defended Potter's piece. In a statement issued late Tuesday, Uncles said, "Andrew Potter is a superb journalist and thinker. While his opinion piece was controversial, it was legitimate commentary expressing a well-argued point of view. We stand behind both him and his writing."

The cover of Maclean's magazine Oct. 4, 2010 issue. Then premier Jean Charest called the article inside "a twisted form of journalism and ignorance." (The Canadian Press)
In 2010, Maclean's triggered a similar degree of ire from Quebec politicians when it published a cover story that declared it to be the country's most corrupt province. 

The cover of the magazine featured Bonhomme Carnaval with a briefcase stuffed full of cash.

Jean Charest, premier at the time, said the article was "a twisted form of journalism and ignorance." Then-editor Mark Stevenson refused to apologize.