Early last week, Quebec Liberal Party and Official Opposition Leader Dominique Anglade brought the pleas of beleaguered sugar bush owners to the attention of Legault’s government. After a season of basically no clients to feed, many of these small businesses that represent a staple of Quebecer culture were left reeling, and with no realistic way to make up their losses.
“The message sent to the Legault government by the owners of reception halls and sugar shacks is unequivocal and demonstrates the urgency to act before it is too late,” Anglade said. According to a recent study by the Fédération canadienne de l’entreprise indépendante (FCEI), at least 27 per cent of small business owners in the entertainment, hosting and restaurant sectors, under which sugar bushes are included, are at serious risk of bankruptcy this year. That could mean the closure of 33,750 small businesses province wide.
The Record spoke with Jean-Francois Laplante, owner of Sherbrooke based sugar bush and restaurant Erabilis, to get an idea of how local maple producers fared during the pandemic. Laplante has been the sole operator of Erabilis ever since he was passed the torch by his grandparents in 2002.
Since then, Laplante replaced the sap gathering buckets with a more modern tube system, and built another cabin exclusively to make and serve meals from the ground up. He now passionately runs the bush which makes up a significant amount of his yearly investments alongside his work as a freelance programmer and IT specialist.
When asked how the turbulence of the pandemic and ensuing government mandate to temporarily close businesses affected his year, Laplante said that the outlook was pretty grim. “There are two aspects to the business,” he explained. “One side is the extraction and one side is the meals.” While the syrup extraction and manufacturing side of Erabilis performed fairly average this year, the restaurant side took a nosedive.