No surprise libertarian Tory leadership candidate Maxime Bernier comes from Beauce

No surprise libertarian Tory leadership candidate Maxime Bernier comes from Beauce

Back in the early settler days, Quebec City residents would quickly spot the Beauce farmers among them because they were covered in mud from the long trek up the shores of the Chaudiere River — often on foot — to sell their animals and produce.

They were called the “Jarrets Noirs” (muddy legs) and instead of feeling shame, modern-day citizens living along the same river south of the provincial capital have assumed the moniker and wear it with pride.

It is from this region of Canada that Tory leadership contender Maxime Bernier hails, and it is not surprising the race’s most libertarian candidate comes from arguably the most libertarian part of Quebec.

“When we showed up to the city and they saw us all full of mud — they knew exactly who we were,” said Claude Morin, mayor of Saint-Georges, a city whose population of 30,000 belies its influence across the province.

Saint-Georges is the biggest and richest town in Beauce, which stretches from south of Quebec City down to the Maine border.

Its people talk of common values such as solidarity, personal independence, and hard work.

Morin boasts the total property assessment in the town is valued at $3 billion.

“There isn’t another city in Quebec whose property is as valuable as ours with a population this small,” he said.

Bernier, whose hometown is Saint-Georges, has stood out among the 12 other leadership contenders with policies that attack the way the country has been governed for decades.

He wants to abolish the capital gains tax, stop federal payments to big companies such as Bombardier and end the federal government’s role in funding health care by transferring the tax points to the provinces.

Bernier is seeking to end what he calls the “maple syrup cartel” that sets production quotas and price. He has also campaigned to liberalize the egg, poultry and dairy industry, which is also under a supply management system and protected from foreign competition.

“Les Beaucerons” may not believe in all his policies, but locals say they are rooted in the values of the region, which sets itself apart from the rest of the province by a strong aversion to waiting — or asking — for government help.

“We feel responsible for what happens to us,” said Marc Dutil, president and CEO of Canam Group, the multinational company headquartered in the small town and whose steel and other construction products can be found in structures across the continent.

“There is a certain non-dependence here,” he added. “Maybe not full independence, but a non-dependence.”

Canam’s offices are located in possibly the most imposing building in the town, a large, rectangular glass structure horizontally striped with white panels that curve into the shape of a ship’s bow.

The building look likes a glimmering multi-storey cruise ship towering over the Chaudiere River, where the Jarrets Noirs used to begin their voyage to Quebec City.

“We call it the White House,” Morin said with a chuckle, “but yes, it does look like a big boat.”

Statistics back up the locals’ bravado about their entrepreneurial spirit.

The Beauce and surrounding areas have an unemployment rate of 4.6 per cent, the best in Quebec, and almost two full points lower than the national rate of 6.5 per cent.

According to the local economic council, there are 431 manufacturing companies in the region, which produced $4.6 billion worth of products in 2015.

Helene Latulippe, who is head of the council, says roughly 50 per cent of all the region’s manufacturing companies are exporters.

What’s noticeably absent in Saint-Georges is a large number of franchise companies that line the streets of other cities across the country.

“It wouldn’t be seen favourably if a big company installed a branch plant here, with their big salaries,” said Morin. “They can just pick up and leave (if revenues fall). They would have a lot of trouble doing that.”

Instead, Beauce is full of companies and businesspeople from the region who help one another, donate generously to charities and help develop society, he said.

Dutil has done his part, including founding the Beauce Entrepreneurship School, where the province’s most prominent business leaders donate their time to share their experiences running and growing successful companies.

The school has seen roughly 500 people graduate so far, Dutil said.

Another important part of Beauce’s business culture stems from the region’s proximity to the United States.

When entrepreneurs consider exporting, they look to the north-south corridor, Dutil said, adding, “it’s much more natural for a Beauceron to export to New England than to think of Ontario.”

Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press

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