QUEBEC TAKES A CONSTRUCTION VACATION - SERIOUSLY

* If you live along North America's Atlantic coast, you have probably noticed a lot of French being spoken around you in the last few days.

Not suprising. This week and next are Quebec construction vacation, a government imposed holiday that shuts down the construction industry across the province. It does not just include construction workers; every business that has something to do with building or is involved in a construction project shuts down for the last two weeks of July.

"It's impossible to do any work in this period," says Lorne Scott, a builder in Brome, Quebec. "There are government inspectors prowling the roads to make sure no one is working."

About 1 million workers, a third of Quebec's work force of 3.1 million, take a holiday in late July. This bizarre ritual, unknown anywhere else in North America, sends hundreds of thousands of French-speaking vacationers south, from Old Orchard Beach, Maine, to Myrtle Beach, N.C.

The construction vacation started in 1971 when unions and the provincial government agreed workers needed two weeks off. The same two weeks off meant projects were not losing workers to vacations. That was over 20 years ago, when housing starts and commercial construction were booming.

Today, there is a problem with a forced vacation. The last two weeks in July are the best time to work outside in Quebec, where the harsh winter shuts down many construction projects.

" I'm against it. This the time when people are building, even in a recession," says Ron Daoust, a carpenter in South Bolton, Quebec. "If there's going to be a holiday it should be in January when there's no work."

A few rebellious construction workers will be working inside, where the inspectors cannot spot them. Most workers, however, will be coming to a beach near you.

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