A history of corruption?

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I write regarding Richard Gwyn’s column “Quebec society contemplates the stink of corruption” in The Telegram of June 27.

Mr. Gwyn writes, “Two encouraging signs exist. In the last federal election, Quebecers abandoned the separatist Bloc Quebecois and voted overwhelming for the New Democrats.”

Did they really or did they revert to an old tried and true practice and vote for the federal party with the native son of Quebec — in that election it was Jack Layton — as its leader?

The landslides of Louis Saint-Laurent, Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney and Jean Chretien are examples of Quebec backing the home-grown candidate in his bid to be prime minister.

It will be interesting to see the divvying up of seats in Quebec in the next federal election between the Liberals’ Trudeau fils and the New Democrat’s Thomas Mulcair (an Irish surname, that).

Getting back to Gwyn’s main topic of Quebec and its history of corruption, he missed a few of the more egregious examples.

There was the construction of the stadium for the 1976 Olympics. “The Olympics could no more have a deficit that a man could have a baby?” Who said that? None other than Jean Drapeau, the father (or is it godfather?) of Montreal mayors.

In the last while, there has been the embarrassment of SNC-Lavalin of Montreal, Canada being found to have trampled and despoiled in its lust for profit the beggar’s bowl of the poorest nation on Earth!

Close to home, indeed home, and dear to my heart is this question: was/is the Churchill Falls power contract — and specifically its automatic renewal clause — grossly favouring Hydro-Quebec for an extra unwarranted 25 years an example of Quebec corruption?

You can safely bet your heat and light (those two necessaries of life, not the money to pay the hydro bill) for the coldest, darkest night of the coming winter and all the worst winters’ nights until 2041 (my apologies for mentioning winter during our July) that the advantage was gained by stinking corruption.

How could it have been otherwise? Joe Smallwood was as corrupt as they came in any political arena anywhere. He always appealed to the baser instincts of voters. His stupidity and naiveté were exceeded only by his megalomania.

Yet, the reservoir for the Churchill Falls hydroelectric generating station, our world-class asset and Nalcor’s flagship operation, remains to this day (and forever?) named for him.

Confederation itself was built on a shoddy foundation. Louis Saint-Laurent, as external affairs minister, deputy prime minister and then the prime minister of Canada, keenly desired for Newfoundland to join as the 10th province of Canada. Why? Because of the loss of Labrador.

If the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of the British Empire, acting in their capacity as arbitrators, had decided in 1927 that Labrador was part of Canada and not of Newfoundland, then Canada would not have looked at Newfoundland in the 1940s

This island could have sunk beneath the Atlantic for all Ottawa cared. The cold indifference of Ottawa toward Newfoundland in the 1930s would have continued to be Canadian policy in the 1940s, not Confederation.

In all likelihood, after 1927, the eager province of Quebec would have been deeded the new territory on her northeastern flank and then promptly renamed her coveted prize Nouveau Quebec.

The name Labrador, noted on maps of the New World since before the time of Jacques Cartier, would exist only in musty, outdated atlases.

One of Louis Saint-Laurent’s first acts on assuming the prime ministership of Canada was to bring Newfoundland into Confederation. Shortly after, prime minister Saint-Laurent’s government issued the proclamation making the Canadian Supreme Court Canada’s final appeal tribunal instead of the British Privy Council.

Sometime this fall in a courtroom in the Judicial District Court of Montreal with Churchill Falls (Labrador) Corp. as plaintiff and Hydro-Quebec as defendant, CFLCo will be requesting a judge instruct Hydro-Quebec abide by the Quebec Civil Law principle of good faith (“fair play” and the “spirit of justice”) in the future performance of the Churchill Falls power contract.

If Richard Gwyn is correct about radical change in Quebec’s culture, now is a favourable time for the long-running dispute to be heard. Perhaps lawyers for CFLCo at the upcoming civil trial might enter the findings of professor of economics James P. Feehan and university archivist-historian Melvin Baker in their paper “The Origins of a Coming Crisis: Renewal of the Churchill Falls Contract” as some evidence of chicanery, conflict of interest and the use of insider information on the part of Hydro-Quebec leading up to the signing of the power contract.


Tom Careen


Organizations: Hydro-Quebec, Quebec society, Bloc Quebecois SNC-Lavalin Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of the British Empire Canadian Supreme Court Canada

Geographic location: Province of Quebec, Canada, Montreal Newfoundland Ottawa Jacques Cartier

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Recent comments

  • Ben Turpin
    July 27, 2013 - 14:32

    Tom, I appreciate your more balanced presentation than the "Quebec is strangling us" rhetoric we hear so much of. I reread Gwyn's book, The Unlikely Revolutionary, recently. I picked it up at a Sally-Ann thrift store in Ottawa for 99 cents. I also picked up Gwynne Dyer's War. It was $5.00. Dyer dedicates his book to The Old Firm. In war, and in sports, fortunes are made through sustained rivalry. This corruption you speak of, is in everyone. I wish it was as simple as ousting a few shysters, and agreeing to henceforth play fair. Edward Banfield's The Moral Basis of a Backward Society is also a good read. It is free online.

  • Dli
    July 24, 2013 - 19:51

    You pretty well connected all the dots Tom. Look forward to your observations.