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They do things differently in the Beauce: Liveblogging MaxBernierStock


 

“Fin des voies rapides,” a street sign said beside the Autoroute Robert-Cliche south of Quebec City on the way to Saint-Georges de Beauce. End of the fast lane.

Boy, ain’t that the truth. Maxime Bernier may yet have a brilliant political future ahead of him — Jean Charest got fired from cabinet once too, everyone hits a speed bump now and then — but after the whole I-forgot-my-briefing-book-at-the-biker-black-widow-who-had-been-trolling-for-real-estate-contracts’-house thing, there are no more fast lanes for Bernier. From now on, the comeback trail is going to be a milk run.

Tonight it stops at the Hôtel-Centre-de-Congrès-Centre-détente-santé Le Georgesville, across the street from the city hall of Saint-Georges de Beauce. “Maxime Bernier Parlera aux Beaucerons,” posters all over town have said for two weeks. “A snack will be served,” a note at the bottom of the posters adds helpfully.

“What’s the celebration here?” an American at the checkin desk asked (Maine is only 50 km south of here). “It’s the Minister Bernier”s conference,” the clerk replied gamely. “The what conference?” “The minister Bernier. The minister of national defence. Well, he was a minister.” Indeed, although not of that. “Oh,” the hotel guest replied, mystified and unconcerned.

That makes one of him. The locals are already rolling in, including Bernier’s father, the former Tory minister, independent MP, and Chrétien-appointed ambassador Gilles Bernier. In the Beauce-Centre ballroom on the main floor, snacks are indeed ready. Potato chips, two flavours, plus pretzels, on each of 15 tables adorned with white tablecloths. I have tested the BBQ chips. They’re definitely up to snuff. ”

5:40 PM
Just yesterday I was gathering new intelligence about Bernier in Ottawa. The danger for him is not his shaky taste in Rideau Hall dates, it is that when things went sideways the buzz on him very quickly shifted from rising-star-laid-low to he-was-overrated-anyway. “You were generous,” somebody who used to work with Bernier on Industry files said to me, referring to my Bernier cover profile of a few issues back.

Bernier brought a kind of kindergarten enthusiasm to his born-again libertarian shtick, this person said. He refused to wear seatbelts and would arrive in Ottawa from a weekend in the riding clutching a handful of speeding tickets, having adjudged the traffic police the illegitimate cutting edge of the jackboot state. He was traumatized to learn his portfolio made him responsible for Statistics Canada, which, as he saw it, asks nosy questions and uses the answers to design nosy programs like speed limits and seatbelt laws.

But here in the Beauce he’s a star, baby. The lady from CTV told me she stopped at a local shop to ask about tonight’s festivities and the clerk there said, “Yes, I’ll be there. M. Bernier telephoned to ask me to attend.” In person? “Yes, it was M. Bernier calling.”

“Have you seen the event room?” The lady from CTV asked. I hadn’t. “It’s very…Beauce.” That turns out to mean blue spotlights which can rotate, and probably will at strategic moments, to give the room a Disco Night ambience. At the front of the room, a podium with Quebec and Canadian flags. On the tables, yummy chips. Cash bar.

Gilles Bernier scrummed a few minutes ago. My son will come back, he said.

For now there is only milling.

5:46 PM
Milling and scrumming. “He’s an excellent minister for Quebec,” a man whose top shirt buttons are open to reveal an astrological-themed chest tattoo tells a Radio-Canada reporter.

“But he’s not a minister any more,” she corrects him.

“He will be again one day,” Star-Chest Man insists.

5:49 PM
The school buses have started arriving. From Ste Marie, a few kilometres up the road, apparently.

6:05 PM
Downstairs the Relaxarium spa (“An Incomparable Sensory Experience”) is getting no extra business from the crowd. Neither is the Point-Virgule resto-lounge (“Quite Simply…Different”), which advertises happy hour with a picture of a smiling waitress pouring an absolutely honking shot of rum.

The ballroom has a capacity of 500 and with not quite a half hour to go before… whatever’s going to happen… happens, it’s quite full. So am I. Too many chips.

6:23 PM
Ladies and gentlemen, I can announce the end of In-and-Out. No, not the Conservative campaign-finance shuttling scheme, which is perfectly legitimate and the Liberals did it too and what’s Elections Canada’s problem? No, I mean I have stopped moving in and out of the Beauce-Centre ballroom, as I am afraid the fire department might ban further entry soon. So I’m squatting my place. In principle, Max Bernier will show up in 10 minutes. But can a man who refuses to be bound by seatbelts, speed limits and the standard protocols of briefing-book management allow himself to be enslaved to mere clocks? I think you know the answer to that.

6:25 PM
Steven Blainey is here. The excitement is almost unbearable.

6:29 PM
Michel Kelly-Gagnon, president of the Conseil du Patronat du Québec, is here to warm up the crowd. He calls Bernier “one of the best, if not the best Industry Ministers of the last 30 years,” quoting the same chapter of How Ottawa Spends that everyone quotes when they say so. “I love Beaucerons,” Kelly-Gagnon says. “And that’s not cheap flattery.”

6:32 PM
ITQ’s Kady wants to know if it’s as blue here as it is on TV, because on TV “it’s throbbingly blue.” No, no, I’d say it’s not that blue. It’s more soothingly blue.

The evening’s emcee, whose name escapes but in whose mouth butter would surely not melt, notes the presence of several federal and provincial politicians, without naming them. Emcee guy says Maxime will be replying to “a certain sensationalist press which prefers rumour to fact,” which tickles me because the paper that’s led the coverage of this affair for the last two months is that noted rag Le Devoir.

6:34 PM
Bernier arrives, to the strains of tromb one-heavy fight-night disco music. The blue lights are — I called it!!! — rotating. The applause is not, I must say, passionate.

Bernier is taking some time to get to the stage, so they’ve started the Trombone Fight Night theme song from the start again.

6:36 PM
He’s tanned and, you will be shocked to hear, in blue.

“This is a night I’ve waited for with impatience,” he says. “I’ve lived through difficult times.”

“We’re here with you,” a guy shouts.

Bernier seems genuinely emotional. His voice not quite catching as he says many many thanks.

6:39 PM
“I thought, as you know, it would be good to withdraw for some time to …reflect on my future.”

But…”Today my engagement to the people of the Beauce still has all its meaning.”

He wants to defend Beauceron values in Ottawa: “Freedom, the spirit of enterprise…integrity.” Not only Beauceron values, “but universal values.”

“My personal responsibility in this affair, I bear it entirely.”

He quotes from his resignation letter on the circumstances of the briefing book leave-behind.

6:44 PM
“I can respond to certain” questions, he says. “But I will always refuse to put my private life before the public.”

Did “Mme Couillard” tell him about her former biker associates? “No.” He only heard “rumours” about her past on April 28, a few weeks before they became public, “and at that point I was no longer seeing her.”

The missing briefing books were indeed NATO Bucarest preppers. Not numbered and logged, because not important enough, so their disappearance wasn’t noticed. He had no memory of leaving them behind.

The only time he was in her home with the books was April 4.

He told all of this to DFAIT investigators last Monday “and by the way, the results of their investigation will be made public.” Sorry, Wajid Khan.

6:48 PM
He says sorry to his family, his voice again thickening with emotion. But at every point he kept his integrity, he says.

Resumé-reciting: he was great in Industry, great at Foreign Affairs (he spends more time on this, sensitive no doubt to accusations that his second portfolio was his weaker one).

What do Beaucerons do when dealt a setback? “We roll up our sleeves, and we get back to work.”

He can’t promise he’ll be perfect. “But I believe I’ve learned enough from this to become a better person.”

Together we’ll all be more prosperous. Thank you very much. And he’s off, to the sound of Trombone Fight Theme and the glare of rotating blue disco lights.

6:50 PM
A voice warns everyone not to leave. They’re serving the snacks! Hot snacks, on trays, largely of the pastry-pocket variety. How could I ever have doubted it?

6:52 PM
Well, that’s probably my cue to call it a night. I’m heading back toward Ottawa… may file an update later. Wasn’t this fun?


 

They do things differently in the Beauce: Liveblogging MaxBernierStock

  1. What a wise move to go see this. Thanks for the liveblogging. This is pure gold.

  2. Oh Man I can’t wait to get home and crank up CPAC on TV – this is kiling me. Maybe soemone out there knows the answer to this question? Awhile back I listened to A. Coyne and Chantal (I think might have been some other pundits) talking about various wild scenarions and then they started talking about staff and them ” Fragging ” their Ministers – is this true are there examples of some ministry employees accidentally filing something important in a inbox rather than outbox and getting their boss fired becuase they didn’t like him ????? say oops the NATO briefing notes are still out ? DOH!

  3. Can we get over the “Quebeckers are French-speaking white trash” descriptions please? What? Torontonians don’t have absurd tattoos? No discos? They don’t eat bar-b-q chips? Or, God forbid, ketchup chips? How about less Mordecai Richler and more Don Gillmor?

  4. Every court needs a jester, I guess.
    Maxime Bernier comes across as being high on hubris and low on impulse control.

  5. Micheal, he isn’t saying “Quebeckers are French speaking white trash,” he’s saying Beaucerons are! Don’t be so sensitive! I say this as someone originally from deepest whitest Southwestern Ontario…

  6. I was nearly weeping myself, as I read along. Thank God there is still somebody out there who stands up for the Beauce.

  7. I sure hope the Liberals sent a camera crew.

  8. How interesting that blah as cold porridge Wells is trying to imitate Kady’s fabulous blogging style, even to copying her junkfood fetish. Try to find your own style,Wells,

  9. Why on earth would I not steal from the best? Still, anyone who’s seen both me and Kady would never doubt which one of us discovered potato chips first.

  10. Now, now Christy… Monsieur Wells coverage of this final chapter of the Conservatives In and Out scandal was tip top.

  11. Imitating? What imitating? There was no mention of datesquares, and pw presumably wore sensible footwear.

  12. And please note, no photo of an autographed nameplate, either. Imitating, shmimitating…

  13. mmmm…. ketchup chips…

  14. I can say that I was entirely satiated by this liveblog; the television coverage was vaguely infuriating, what with the constant breaks for long, studied analysis, although Don Newman and Don Martin – the Double Dons – did a fabulous job on Newsworld, and Craig Oliver reached new heights of oratory during his wrap-up.

    I think what struck me most – and again, maybe this played just to the cameras, and even so, inadvertently – was the sense that the former minister still didn’t seem to have any real appreciation of what he did wrong. Sure, there was lip service, but his buoyancy on arrival, and his sang froid, didn’t suggest stick-to-itness so much as utter delusion. Also, I couldn’t help myself thinking that he had actually submitted his speech to PMO before delivering it (which was apparently the case). Somehow, that was the saddest part of the whole exerise; that somehow, he really believed, deep down, that if he did the right thing, even after bringing down such a storm of ill luck on the Prime Minister, he would somehow redeem himself.

    The blue did work very well on television, though. The whole place was vibrating with it.

  15. Well done. Squeezing into this 1980s greed-is-good dress rehearsal for the gov’ts ‘Style over Substance’ election meme. My guess is that it will, if successful in ‘tweaking’ the local media, be trotted out in about 90 or so ridings come the federal election (if any). Uniting the downtrodden who defend their lottery winning MPs in Nepean, Calgary West, Durham, Saanich, Provencher and Regina-Lumsden with the scent of ‘underdog’. I’m just shocked that they didn’t have plate fulls of Jos. Louis, but i guess they clash with the b-bq chips. I wholeheartedly recommend you try creamy dill.

  16. Just for the record…
    Joe Louis and BBQ chips go well together…always have

  17. I’m a huge ITQ fan, and I thought that PW’s liveblogging of this event was terrific. And he was not in any way copying Kady. For example, he didn’t invent a single new word in his posting, and his tags weren’t even amusing, let alone hilarious.

    Clearly, with Kady and Paul and the rest of the maclean’s shop thumbing away on their blackberries, Macleans is now well positioned to become the world’s premier liveblogging site.

    All they’d have to do to make this happen is to stop wasting so much time and talent on that tree-based magazine I still receive every week.

    Maybe they could make this transition and call it “the Macleans Green Shift” — a snappy title I thought up on my own, and offer up for free.

    – JV

  18. I’ll talk to Ted about it.

  19. What’s wrong? Conservative supporters have no sense of humour?

    Either Harper has told Bernier what to say – or the guy just doesn’t get it.

    After 9/11 – don’t you think it’s important to know exactly who’s hands documents reach? Hey, expecially when an NDP’r is around – they do snoop you know.

  20. Can you actually tap out a message on a Blackberry? How long does it take to tap out: ‘Now is the time for all good people to come to the aid of the Party.’ We have so many innovations but none which address the real problems facing us! That, to me, is significant… Oh yes, Bernier. Well, he left secret documents at the place of a woman whose past was a mystery to him. That too is a mystery. And at such a late stage in their relationship. If national security hasn’t been compromised, Harper’s chances in Quebec (and elswhere) have been compromised, by this event. I don’t see him doing anything to improve those chances, quite the opposite.

  21. You mean “Beaucerons” isn’t an invented word?

  22. That was probably one of the best throw yourself on the mercy of the coliseum crowd speeches I have seen and heard. What I really enjoyed was the removal of the rug on any outstanding issues. He – She said and unimportant briefing notes – hence another pseudo-scandal bites the dust to be filed later in the Mulroney-Schreiber or the Cadman file 13. As a member of the crowd I look at Ceasar and give my thumbs up as well for the sake of mercy etc. I must say he has a certain presence some day he might surprise and not only be rehabilitated but become the come back kid everyone loves that story – Go Beauce Go!

  23. TobyornotToby is wrong about Beaucerons being an invented word.

    Google advises that it is, well, actually it is the name of a breed of dog!

    But I now see that Paul did invent an excellent new word in his selected headline — MaxBernierStock.

    Our language grows richer, post by post.

    – JV

  24. Brilliant article, Paul. Reading felt much like watching the Christopher Guest movie, “Waiting for Guffman”. Only this was real, which made it all the more hysterical.

  25. Is it safe to assume that the PMO vetted this?

  26. Bernier will get relected. No matter what the haters say. And Bernier speech rocked.

    PS:Mr. Wells you and the rest of the macleans team claims to be so so smart on how to run the country when are you going to run for office?

    Second what have you ever done for this country?

    I know you and your Harper haters no so much more then Harper and are so smarter why are you sitting on the sidelines why not run for office?

    I don’t mean this to be ignorant,I just don’t understand how you and the macleans team can hate on harper say he is the worst thing for canada but yet who the F are you. If you people are so smart starp a pair on and run for office.

    Anyway it’s NBA draft night I am gone.

  27. Paul, I am reading the Books in Canada blurb on your book. It seems to be a great book and congratulations! Two points, though: the effect of the RCMP investigation during the election and Harper’s drive for a big tent party. About the latter point- I don’t see that happening! Will go back to finish reading the amazon link and will look for your book!

  28. Mr. Bernier doesn’t remember how he left a ‘somewhat-sensitive’ document in the home of a woman whose past he knew nothing about. The new info. he provided (perhaps not so sensitive a document) is an important part of his defence. This is still something of a farce. The only thing he seems to know is that the document wasn’t all that sensitive.

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