Here’s what Google thinks of Quebec

When it comes to Quebec-related queries, the search giant’s autocomplete function is telling.


Politicians, civil servants, police, unions — is there any aspect of public life unaffected by corruption or scandals these days? Seriously, how long before we hear that a local librarian has been secretly pocketing fines or that scalpers are selling course credits outside UQAM?

The latest crisis of public confidence comes as four former top brass in the Surêté du Québec are charged with fraud, theft and breach of trust. The accused are alleged to have tapped into a $25-million SQ fund that’s supposed to pay for confidential informants and drug buys.

The same day, we learned that employees and top managers of Bixi were paid $223,000 in bonuses less than a month before the bike-sharing service filed for bankruptcy protection. Bixi boss Michel Philibert, who received a cheque of his own for almost $15,000, says the money was part of a contractual employee-incentive program. But not even mayor Denis Coderre knew about the program until he received an unmarked envelope on Monday. Considering Bixi owes the city $38 million, you’d think Philibert might have mentioned it to the mayor himself.

Then there’s recent testimony at the Charbonneau Commission into how organized crime bosses were calling the shots at the FTQ-Construction labour union and developing a cozy relationship with the FTQ’s hugely influential investment arm, the Fonds de Solidarité.

We’d already discovered, thanks to Charbonneau, that several major Quebec engineering and construction firms were active in collusion involving city and provincial construction contracts.

And let’s not forget the arrest in October of former Montreal police sergeant-detective Benoit Roberge, a veteran of the anti-biker squad, for allegedly selling sensitive info to the Hells Angels. Or the arrest last summer of Montreal mayor Michael Applebaum on charges of fraud, conspiracy and breach of trust. Then Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt was forced to resign, as he, too, was charged with the corruption troika of fraud, conspiracy and breach of trust. A few months earlier, Arthur Porter, the former CEO of the McGill superhospital, had also been charged with corruption offences.

All of these cases were revealed more than two years after Maclean’s magazine caused shockwaves across the province with a cover story that called Quebec the most corrupt province in Canada.

In some political circles, Maclean’s was accused of “Quebec-bashing.” As it turned out, “clairvoyant” might have been a better description.


There’s a map of the United States circulating around social media these days that labels each of the states according to the autocomplete term that Google first suggests when you type in the sentence “Why is (state name) so …”.

Texas, for example, is labelled big. Maine is white, Montana is cold, Hawaii is expensive, Pennsylvania is haunted, Tennessee is racist.

A friend of mine was curious what would happen if you did the same for Canadian provinces, so she created a map of her own. Not surprisingly, cold was the most common adjective (four provinces or territories), followed by poor for New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, foggy for Newfoundland, expensive for B.C., populated for Ontario … .

And corrupt for Quebec.

Quebec 1

Of course I had to verify it for myself, so I typed “Why is Quebec so” into the Google search bar, and, sure enough, I got corrupt. But that wasn’t Google’s first suggestion. Nope, the most common search query in English about Quebec these days seems to be:

“Why is Quebec so racist?”

(Even when the question is posed in French on the Google France page, “est ce que les québécois sont racistes” is the first guess.)

Okay, maybe using “so” in the query is skewing it, I thought. So I tried the less leading “Why is Quebec ….”

This time, the top autocomplete was “not included in contests.” Followed by “so racist,” “French” and “in debt.”

quebec 2

So when English-speaking users start to type in the query Why is Quebec, Google reveals that racism, corruption, French and contest rules are the most common endings of that question.

That can’t be good for business or tourism, no matter how many times Jean-François Lisée writes to the New York Times. ■

Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist and stand-up comic. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear every Wednesday. Follow him on Twitter, or find out about his upcoming stand-up performances here.

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