Maxime Bernier fights for political survival in the Beauce home region of Quebec
The leader of the Canadian People's Party, Maxime Bernier, has shaped his political personality into the form of his Beauce home district: fiercely independent, hard-working, enterprising.
But since he opened the door to the Conservatives in 2018 and founded his far-right party, he has been testing the loyalty of this unique part of Quebec.
A mountainous area between small towns along the Chaudiere River along the border of Quebec City and Maine, Beauce has held Bernier and, before that, Father Gilles in the Lower House for 26 years.
Now Bernier is fighting for his political survival. He is accused of doing little to keep racists and conspiracy theorists out of his ranks, and he faces a revenge Tory machine that has buried his political career.
Beauce voters, who call themselves loyal to the candidate and not the party, must decide whether to stick with someone who is unlikely to ever become prime minister and who runs a new party if they have little chance of winning more than one or two seats.
The poll shows Beauce is ready for the raids and Bernier and his conservative rival Richard Lehoux are statistically linked to represent Ottawa's "Beaucerone."
Michelle Buteau owns a florist in Beauce, the largest city in St-Georges. It has a population of only 32,000, but the streets are often clogged with pickups, SUVs and tricycles.
"He's a legend here - like his father," said Buteau of Bernier. “But I don't think he wins what I hear in restaurants. I don't think he will win this year. "
A few minutes drive from the food market, Suzanne Richard, 68, and 75, Remi Lapointe, 75, sat around the round table with fresh fruit and baked goods, chatting with friends.
Richard and Lapointe voted in favor of the Liberals in 2015, but they say Justin Trudeau has been disappointed over the last four years. And after Trudeau suggested his government could challenge Quebec's secular law, Richard said, "It was for us."
Bill 21 prohibits some public employees from wearing religious symbols at work. Richard said he was turning to the Quebecois bloc, a party that strongly supports legislation. The PPC has also pledged to keep Bill 21 out of Quebec, but Lapointe said the Bernier party would win one seat in parliament.
"And we like (Andrew) Scheer," Richard said of the Conservative leader. “But it's hard for us to understand him when he talks. When we speak, we have to focus on the television because it has a difficult accent when speaking French. "
As a Tory leader, Bernier lost less than two percentage points to Scheer in the 2017 race. The PPC leader attributed his loss to a coordinated campaign by Quebec dairy farmers, upset that Bernier proposed ending supply management, a federal system that protects egg, milk and poultry farmers from foreign competition.
Following the battle with Beauce, who elected Torid in the 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2015 elections, Bernier declared the Conservatives "corrupt too intellectually and morally reformed" and launched the PPC in September 2018.
The PPC campaign began in Canada as a movement against the status quo, focusing on wealth creation ideas by cutting taxes and corporate subsidies, and encouraging provinces to develop their natural resources. "I think it's motivating and uplifting to defend the ideas that are at the heart of Western civilization," Bernier told The Canadian Press in late 2018.
But in the months that followed, Bernier seemed to be turning to identity politics. He now promises to end "official multiculturalism" in Canada and "significantly reduce the number of immigrants accepted by Canada - reducing immigration by more than half.
Bernier has repeatedly said that racists are not welcome in his party. But many former members have claimed that the PPC attracts racist and conspiracy theorists, and Bernier has not done enough to summon them.
Lina Lessard, who works at her sister's St-Georges clothing store, said she appreciates Bernier's frankness. He said he would never become prime minister, but he had a backbone. He's an honest man. Other politicians simply say what they think you want to hear. "
Farmland dominates the Beauce landscape, where car dealers can sit next to cow stables. Within a few minutes drive of Lessard's shop are 50 dairy cows owned by Sylvain Bolduc.
The region's slopes and cold weather make agriculture more complex than the plains south of Montreal, he explained. Dairy production has increased in the last 10 years, and Bernni's policy of ending supply management was blatant in the eyes of farmers in the region, he said. "My choice is to vote against Maxime - that's for sure."
Within a 30-minute drive upstream of the Chaudiere River is the city of Ste-Marie, home to about 13,000 people. Ste-Marie was hit hard by last April's spring floods and the local government is demolishing some 200 homes and businesses.
Conservative candidate Richard Lehoux, who was in an apple juice box at his Ste-Marie campaign office near a hunter-selling department store, thought residents would vote for the candidate more than the party.
"I think Beauce is more conservative," he said. Ever since the first settlers settled in the area, the Beauceron residents had separated the thick forests and muddy wetlands from the power center in Quebec City, "and we had to do it ourselves."
In the early days of the French colony, Beauce farmers carried their "jarrets noirs" in easily identifiable capital where they sold their products and other goods. The term "jarrets noirs" has been adopted by the locals and is the official name of their older men's baseball team.
Lehoux, a former dairy farmer who kept Holstein cattle, says he is not only against Bernier but also against the father of the PPC leader. Gilles Bernier, who represented Beauce on behalf of the Progressive Conservatives from 1984 to 1993 and then independent until 1997, continues to be on horseback, Lehoux said.
He said voters were under pressure to stay true to the family. "People have a lot of respect for Gilles," Lehoux said. "But I tell them, 'I trust you _ on polling day. It's only in your booth. Nobody else knows. "