Corruption Perceptions Index from Transparency International

25 09 2010

The Canadian media have been abuzz about a story in Maclean’s Magazine that alleges that Quebec is the most corrupt province in the country. The lightly researched Maclean’s story includes some anecdotal data about corruption in Quebec and some speculations about why Quebec is corrupt. Alas, no hard data to prove that Quebec is more corrupt is provided. Se here too.

What explains Quebec’s unusual susceptibility to money politics? Deeply entrenched deference to authority? A worldly Catholic tolerance of official vice? There is no grand unified theory: at different times and in different situations, different forces have come into play.

There was even a bit of pseudo-historical analysis in the article:

The roots of corruption run deep in the province. Scrounging for funds to carry him through the 1872 election, the eminently corruptible Sir John A. Macdonald didn’t have far to look: Montrealer Sir Hugh Allan, said to be the richest man in Canada, was even then angling for the contract to build the CPR. Fifty years later, with Prohibition in force and Montreal a flourishing centre of the cross-border smuggling business, Mackenzie King saw fit to put Jacques Bureau in charge of the customs department, with comically debauched results: the scandal that ultimately led to the King-Byng affair.

I hesitate to even dignify this passage with a reply. However, I should point out that both of these examples relate to the federal government. In the case of the Pacific Scandal, all of the major players were Anglophones. Macdonald was from Kingston, Ontario, not Quebec. Upper Canada’s Family Compact and the ruling clique of pre-Responsible Government Nova Scotia were also pretty corrupt as well.

Among other things, Maclean’s suggests that Quebec is corrupt because its people incline towards social democratic values and believe in an activist government.  This argument seems odd because Scandinavian countries are demonstrably among the least corrupt in the world, at least according to Transparency International.

At no point in the Maclean’s article is “corruption” defined, which is odd because before you can measure something you need a definition.

The Maclean’s story would be laughable for its poor research, except that this isn’t a laughing matter any more. Many people in Quebec have taken offense at this article, perceiving it as an xenophobic  attack on Quebec by English Canada. Given that the separatist PQ is in the lead in polls in Quebec, this article seems somewhat irresponsible. It is almost calculated to throw fuel on the fire of French-English discord in Canada.

Corruption is a serious issue, of course, but it is not one that is confined to Quebec. However, we need to put Canada’s level of corruption into perspective. According to the Corruptions Perceptions Index compiled by Transparency International, a respected think tank, Canada is one of the least corrupt states in the world.

I’ve stolen this image of the 2008 rankings from an Irish blogger. There wasn’t that much change between 2008 and 2009.

Canadians needs to ask themselves what the top 10 countries on this list have on common, aside from fairly high incomes. (The countries at the wrong end of the list are mostly African). Most of the least-corrupt countries  are Western and, more precisely, Protestant. However, Singapore, a largely Confucian country, is also in the top 10. Switzerland is part Catholic and part Protestant. Some of the countries in the top 10 are ethnically homogeneous, while others are culturally diverse and have large populations of immigrants and their children. Australia, Canada, and Switzerland are among the most diverse large countries in the world.

The United States consistently appears well below Canada in these rankings. I suspect that this have to do with the enormous expenses of running for office in the United States, which leaves politicians feeling indebted to the individuals and firms that finance their campaigns. Perhaps another factor is the absence of a national police force in the United States has sometime to do with this, in part because the British ethos of being a “gentleman” became part of our policing culture.

We need to ask ourselves what makes some countries more corrupt than others before we can even begin to measure, compare, and debate relative levels of corruption within federal nation states.

Sadly, a Canadian magazine desperate to boost circulation and compete with glossy US magazines is not the place for this debate to take place.


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