What does it take to make Parliament sad?

Envelopes stuffed with cash, more nastiness and name-calling—and silence from the House?
What does it take to make parliament sad?
Ryan Remiorz/CP

We now update you on the emotional state of the House of Commons.

On Sept. 29, after this magazine ran a cover story calling Quebec the most corrupt province in Canada, the lower house of Parliament voted unanimously, more or less, to express “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.”

This concludes your update on the emotional state of the House of Commons. Your MPs have not passed any motions describing their emotions since. We can only speculate on their mood at Bloc MP Serge Ménard’s claim this week that Gilles Vaillancourt, the mayor of Laval, gave him an envelope with $10,000 cash in it when Ménard was preparing to run for the National Assembly in 2003.

Does this news sadden the Commons, even a little? Does it make the lower house giggly? Your guess is as good as mine.

Parliament remains poker-faced at news that Vincent Auclair, a member of Quebec’s National Assembly, also claims to have been offered an envelope bulging with cash by Vaillancourt. Laval’s mayor vigorously denies these assertions.

The other day somebody hid in the woods outside Nicolo Rizzuto’s house in Montreal’s north end (across the river from Laval, actually) and sent the old man to his maker with a well-placed shot from a sniper rifle. This makes the wizened old crook the second Nick Rizzuto to die by violence in a year. Three days after Christmas last year, Rizzuto’s grandson, also named Nick, was shot dead in Nôtre Dame de Grâce. Vito Rizzuto, son of one dead Nick and father of the other, is in a U.S. prison serving a 10-year sentence for the murder of Alphonse Indelicato, Phillip Giaccone and Dominick Trinchera, whose business interests in life I will leave you to speculate on.

Nicolo Rizzuto lay for a few days in an open casket with his fedora by his side before the surviving non-incarcerated members of his extended family buried him. The newspapers said his mob nickname was Le Vieux, the old guy. This bespeaks an alarming nickname ingenuity deficit at the highest reaches of Montreal organized crime. You will be pleased to learn that before it started dying in hails of gunfire, the Rizzuto family took a keen interest in, and by some accounts a five per cent cut of, the allocation of construction contracts in Montreal. The House of Commons, perhaps exhausted from weeping about our cover, was unmoved by these events.

While all of this was going on, Gérard Deltell, the leader of the microscopic and shattered Action Démocratique du Québec party, called Jean Charest the “Godfather of the Liberal Party.” Tossing the insult while the police tape was still up at the Rizzuto manse gave the accusation a certain piquancy. Whatever Charest’s failings as premier, his party is the first since the Quiet Revolution to win three elections in a row. He is a pure product of Québécois democracy—more so than, say, Bernard Landry, who never won a general election as PQ leader. So a calumny against Charest risks spreading prejudicial stereotypes against an institution, the Liberal party, that has been important to the history of the Quebec nation. That’s one reason Charest is threatening to sue Deltell. The House of Commons, on the other hand, is okay with it all.

(Quebecers are of course free to conclude, based on his performance on the job, that those three consecutive election wins for Charest should now be regretted. It would be hard to blame them. But I hope nobody will put too much stock in an online petition tabled by an opposition member—and posted on the legislature’s website—calling for his resignation. Online petitions are the consummate early-21th-century method for registering political opinion with minimum effort, and if an Internet petition forces a premier from office, it will not be six months before another online petition collects more “signatures” calling for the resignation of his successor. But I digress.)

What else? Let’s see?.?.?.?Ah yes. Say hello to Normand Ouimet, who faces 22 murder charges in relation to all that whacking that took place among Quebec’s motorcycle enthusiasts in the 1990s. Among Ouimet’s many business interests over the years was the construction firm LM Sauvé, which in 2007, two years after he cut his ties to the firm, landed a $9-million contract for the renovation of Parliament’s West Block. It later lost the contract because civil servants decided Sauvé didn’t actually know much about how to renovate a parliamentary annex. I hasten to report that Parliament is damned curious about all of this, and that a parade of witnesses have been hauled before a committee to profess their astonishment at all these nasty surprises. But so far the Commons has not settled on a mood or emotional state about all this that demands unanimous expression.

All the events I describe have happened since our profoundly saddening cover. To sum up: Nick Rizzuto père sleeps with the fishes. The mayor of Laval is threatening to sue two politicians, while the premier of Quebec threatens to sue a third. The construction business in Montreal remains full of surprises. This magazine has still not produced an objective methodology that would prove Quebec’s political culture is in a unique state of disrepair. Call it a hunch.