ST-GEORGES, Que. – Quebecers and the “extremely strong” lobby of the province’s professional farmers’ union are to blame for Maxime Bernier’s defeat in the Conservative leadership race, according to an ex-mayor in Bernier’s hometown in Quebec’s Beauce region.
Roger Carette, a Bernier supporter who served as mayor of St-Georges from 1994 to 2009, says he can’t understand how Quebec let the candidate down.
“It’s Quebec that took him out of there,” he said, moments after learning Bernier had lost the race to Andrew Scheer. “If you look at the difference of one per cent of votes, that’s the difference in Quebec.”
According to Conservative party data, Bernier was beaten by Scheer in his home riding of Beauce, collecting 48.89 per cent of support compared to 51.11 per cent for the Saskatchewan native.
With the support of farmers, Scheer campaigned in Beauce against Bernier’s plan to gradually abolish supply management, the quota and price control system that ensures a stable income to dairy and poultry farmers despite market fluctuations.
Bernier wanted to liberalize the system, arguing it keeps prices artificially high and limits competition. He suggested a transition period with compensation.
Carette blames the “undue intervention of the farmers’ movement” for sabotaging the campaign of “a guy from home.”
“I’m disappointed. I recognize that Quebec decided it wanted a guy from Saskatchewan to lead the party and, maybe one day, the country,” he said.
“It’s a bit distressing to see we’ve been a part of that,” said Carette, who believes Bernier’s proposal to abolish supply management would not have passed easily and would have been the subject of vigorous debate within the party.
At “Chez Gerard” restaurant in St-Georges, the 40 or so Bernier supporters who had gathered to watch the results were feeling the same letdown.
Swear words rang out as Scheer’s victory was confirmed, with many of the partisans getting up to leave soon after.
A party atmosphere had reigned for much of the evening, as supporters paused between bites of sausage and breaded mozzarella sticks to express their confidence in Bernier, who they described as generous, sincere, and “close to his people.”
By the tenth tour, that confidence began to evaporate.
“Maxime had a split vote in Beauce, but he had a lot of support in Alberta. It’s incomprehensible,” said Johanne Maheu, a Bernier volunteer.
The Beauce riding has one of the country’s largest concentrations of farmers under supply management.
Several dairy farmers in the region, including Frederic Marcoux, had set out to block Bernier’s campaign and damage his campaign co-president, Jacques Gourde.
A Facebook page whose title translates as “friends of supply management and the regions” got almost 10,000 members.
On Saturday, Marcoux said farmers didn’t just beat Bernier -they’ve also made the entire political class take notice of them.
“Everyone saw us, everyone heard us…everyone saw the final result,” he said in a phone interview. “For me, we won’t see anyone attacking supply management for a damned long time.”
Marcoux said it was “easy” to blame the professional farmers’ union — the Union des Producteurs Agricoles — but believes the grumbling against Bernier was in fact more widespread.
“Maxime Bernier held himself back,” he said. “Supply management, just in his riding is a half-billion, what did he think would happen?”