Maxime Bernier leaving Conservatives no surprise in Beauce riding after recent controversy

The mayor of Bernier's hometown of Saint-Georges-de-Beauce says the longstanding MP showed "courage" in quitting the Conservatives, but said it remains to be seen whether Bernier will drum up local support for the new party he intends on creating.

Mayor in Bernier's hometown of Saint-Georges-de-Beauce says MP showed 'courage' in quitting the party

Maxime Bernier announced he will leave the Conservative Party during a news conference in Ottawa today. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The mayor of a town in Maxime Bernier's Quebec riding says the now-former Conservative Party MP showed "courage" by deciding to leave the party.

"I think he won the Nobel Prize for courage because it takes courage to do what he did," Claude Morin, the mayor of Saint-Georges-de-Beauce, Que., told Radio-Canada Thursday.

Earlier in the day, Bernier, who represents the Beauce riding, south of Quebec City, announced he would be leaving the Conservatives amid a fury of controversy after he wrote a series of tweets about diversity in Canada.

"I have come to realize over the past year that this party is too intellectually and morally corrupt to be reformed," Bernier said in his announcement.

He also said he planned to form a new party, to run in the next federal election.

Mayor also critical of Bernier, however

Morin has been critical of Bernier, however, since his comments on immigration and diversity came out.

In a series of tweets, Bernier criticized Justin Trudeau for promoting what he called "extreme multiculturalism and cult of diversity" that would divide Canadian society. 

"Having people live among us who reject basic Western values such as freedom, equality, tolerance and openness doesn't make us strong. People who refuse to integrate into our society and want to live apart in their ghetto don't make our society strong," he wrote.

Asked by CBC's Quebec AM last week to comment on Bernier's comments, Morin said: "I haven't seen him in a year."

Morin also said he was proud of the town's efforts to attract and integrate new immigrants and worried that people would think Bernier's comments on immigration represent the local mentality.

He told Radio-Canada Thursday that Bernier took a tough stance toward Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, but ultimately, "he made the right decision" in leaving the party. 

Morin once ran against Bernier: he was the Liberal Party's candidate in the 2011 federal election, when he was defeated by Bernier.

The mayor said people in the Beauce region know Bernier and what he stands for, describing his beliefs as "very, very right-wing."

It remains to be seen whether Bernier will find support for his new political party there, Morin said.

"Of course he still has his strong supporters, [but] there are many others who want to get some distance from him because he was hard to follow."

Residents weigh in

In Saint-Georges-de-Beauce Thursday, resident Jules Brochu said he wasn't surprised Bernier decided to leave the Conservatives.

"The way he tweeted and the way he spoke, I was quite sure," said Brochu, who told CBC News he's never voted for Bernier himself.

Another resident, Lise Jacques, said while she didn't expect him to leave the party, she wished him luck.

"With the controversy he created, I wondered how he would get out of it," she said.

Claude Morin, the mayor of Saint-Georges-de-Beauce, said Maxime Bernier made 'the right decision' in leaving the Conservative Party. (Radio-Canada)

Pier-Anne Tanguay, who lives in the nearby town of Saint-Simon-les-Mines, said the opinions Bernier has been espousing recently may not match the ones held by people in the region.

"There are many businesses [in the area] that need immigrants to work," Tanguay said.

Still, Monique Métivier from Saint-Georges-de-Beauce said Bernier remains well-known in the area. "I think people have affection for him because he's 'one of them,' as we say," she said.

He was born in the town, and his father, Gilles, was a popular radio show host who represented the riding in Ottawa from 1984 to 1997 as a Progressive Conservative and then as an Independent.

Bernier has been elected — and re-elected — in the riding by large margins, and many of his supporters say it's more about him than it is about the party.

All but one member of the local Conservative association resigned on Thursday, too.

"We've always been there more for Maxime than for the party," said president Charles Laflamme.

With files from CBC's Catou MacKinnon, Susan Campbell and Kathleen Harris, and Radio-Canada's Alexandra Duval