, 01.09.2020 08:58 AM

Ten reasons why Jean Charest should run

Will he? Won’t he? Postmedia muse John Ivison says he will. I think he will, too.

Here’s ten reasons why I think he should seek the Tory leadership, and why he could win – both the leadership and the country.

  1. The Big One.  The Rest of Canada mostly doesn’t know what’s in the Quebec Referendum Act.  The Act stipulates that referenda are strictly governed by the provincial actors alone – and the leaders of the “No” side have always been provincial federalists.  In the mid-1990s, one was a guy named Jean Charest.  In that too-close contest, my guy Chrétien played a huge role. (Bill Clinton helped, too.)  But the guy who saved the country? It was Jean Charest. Period.
  2. His policy record.  When you’ve literally kept a country together, that should be enough: you don’t need to have much else on your C.V.  But Charest has had other achievements: the first significant Minister of the Environment, winning for Canada at the Rio Summit; before that, he was (appropriately) the youngest cabinet minister in Canadian history, when he was named Minister of State for Youth.  As Premier of Quebec, he opposed withdrawing from the Kyoto Accord, and had myriad other environmental achievements – for which he won an international award.  He facilitated municipal demergers, he won in 2007 on a platform of tax cuts, and he held the separatists at bay for years.
  3. His political record.  When my boss Chrétien wiped out the Conservatives in 1993, only two were left – Elsie Wayne and Jean Charest.  All the others – big names – were defeated.  Not Charest: he was re-elected handily in Sherbrooke. He became party leader and brought the party back from exile, winning 20 per cent of the popular vote in 1997.  That, plus his referendum performance, resulted in folks pressuring him to run as Quebec Liberal leader – effectively, back then, the “conservative” option in Quebec politics. In 2003, he led his federalist party to a massive majority, ending a decade of separatist rule.  He’d be Premier for  decade.
  4. He is nice guy.  He is.  Through family, friends and direct exposure, I can attest: Charest is just an exceptionally decent guy.  Family man, thoughtful, not a bully (but tough when he needs to be – ask the separatists).  You don’t win as many times as Charest has – in the difficult circumstances he’s been in (cf., 1984, 1995, etc.) – by being a dick.  Jean Charest: not a dick.
  5. He’s lacks weaknesses.  All of the previous Conservative leaders had glaring faults.  Kim Campbell was regarded as erratic and ineffective; Stockwell Day was seen as a SoCon loon; Preston Manning was dismissed as remarkably unremarkable; Andrew Scheer was running to be Prime Minister in 1919, not 2019; Stephen Harper was widely believed to dislike people – in a business where you need to like people, and be liked to succeed.  Charest doesn’t have any of that baggage. He’s a normal guy – who knows how to win.
  6. He creates a problem for the Liberal Party.  The Liberal Party of Canada has become the most successful political machine in Western democracy because of three constituencies – women, new Canadians and young people.  Regionally, the Grits have become more attractive to the urban and urbane voters in Quebec and Ontario, too.  Charest, however, has won in both of those provinces – and he has captured support with all of those named demographics. He poses an existential threat to federal Liberals where it counts.
  7. He creates a problem for Justin Trudeau.  Trudeau – despite blackface, despite LavScam, despite Aga Khan, despite Griswolds in India, despite the selfie solipsism – won in 2019.  He won, despite his documented weaknesses, because his main opponent was weaker.  Scheer had never run nationally before – but Charest has.  Scheer didn’t know how to appeal to female voters – but Charest does.  Scheer had no policy achievements to point to – but Charest has plenty.  Having seen Charest debate many times, I think he would present a big, big problem for an increasingly-tired-and-sad-looking Justin Trudeau on the hustings.
  8. He has Mulroney.  As I said to young and smart Conservative friend this week, too many Conservatives (a) think the battle is won and lost on Twitter and (b) don’t understand you win majorities by capturing the swing voters you don’t have – not the committed voters you already do.  Charest wouldn’t be running without Muldoon’s support – which means they already own Montreal and environs, swaths of Quebec, Bay Street money, key parts of the Atlantic, and tons of ex officio types who owe Mulroney (and Charest) plenty.
  9. He has the best advisors.  Nick Kouvalis is one of my best friends, and Michael Diamond is a longtime friend, too.  I am biased about them.  But guys like Nick and Michael know how to win.  They helped get John Tory and Doug Ford elected when plenty of people thought no one could.  Other highly-effective strategic types have already come on board, I am told.  They are people who know how to win leaderships – and, beyond that, elections.
  10. His timing is right.  Senior Conservatives tell me they are simply sick and tired of losing when they should win.  They are fed up with those who choose ideological purity over compromise.  They want a smart, decent, modern leader who knows how to win.

They think that guy may be Jean Charest.  I do, too.


  1. John says:

    From a (i.e. “my”) left perspective the QED of a Charest leadership win is a very electable Tory leader free of any ultra/social right baggage and a problem for the Liberals if they can’t keep a steady ship until the next election.
    However, having made the mistake of reading the comments by the 12 year olds on the linked Postmedia article, I question whether Charest can get the votes of the Con members – seriously one questions if Charest is a Gerald Butts plant. If that is a real Con member that reflects the majority of Cons, I question whether Conservatives can ever get it right.

  2. Gary says:

    For someone of my fundamental convictions, Charest would be the perfect candidate. However, the Huawei thing is giving me pause.

  3. Paige says:

    I can see why someone with a “progressive” mindset would see Charest in a favourable light. As an old white guy from the west coast, I think it would be a disaster in waiting. We put ourselves into political purgatory for a decade while we exorcised the word “Progressive ” from our culture. We shouldn’t go back to Muldoon et cie.
    While I don’t argue that Charest is a ‘nice guy’, that’s not enough. There is too much of the old PC greasyness in his history. Culturally he may be a small c conservative but his fluidity suggests he is big L Liberal.
    There’s a lot of hot air about left right divisions: economics, social issues, pro life, pro choice, etc ant trying to place those issues neatly within Party platforms. These is a red herrings on both sides and weakens our society and our decision making process.
    The essential differences between liberal and conservative thought is as follows:
    When faced with any serious issue, the progressive mindset is ‘Man, this is serious! We should solve this, quick do something!!’.
    The conservative response is more ‘Hmmm, this looks serious. What are the options? If we cant clearly identify any proposed actions will not have negative consequences , we should do nothing as we wait for more analysis.’ Unfortunately because of the way all politicians have to go out and scrape up the uninformed for votes, all parties tend to act so that their actions get on the evening news. Thus the regrettable progressive outlook in all parties

  4. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    God is the Master of Irony what with Normandeau filing today for a Stay of Proceedings in her long delayed trial. See Jordan.

    IMHO, Charest has two problems: The first is a perception problem relating to a PLQ yearly ministerial fundraising objective of $100,000 per year. Nothing illegal has ever been proven against anyone but it’s out there.

    And the big one: Charest is a fellow Red Tory in a party that mostly isn’t. Charest will be a hard-sell for the Alliance plurality. They likely would swallow Ambrose much more easily than Charest. But as Warren said, Charest is a winner with an impressive track record so who really knows.

  5. whyshouldIsellyourwheat says:

    On the other hand. Not really a conservative. In the pocket of the Laurentian establishement. Quebec construction corruption scandal. Huawei.

    I’m not interested in a takeover of the Conservative Party by the Laurentian elites, just because the Laurentian elites need a temporary alternative to the Liberal Party while they get rid of Trudeau and anoint Carney.

    • Robert White says:

      Speaking of Mark Carney…


      And the Quebec Construction Scandal thingy is over the top for a fresh start candidate in the Conservative Party of Canada IMHO. Charest is too entrenched in the old boys network too. Optics of old balding white guy for renewal is lackluster.

      Poilievre & Baird are first-off-the-line in the race, and Bay Street money will flow to them. Ambrose will not run.


    • Ronald O'Dowd says:


      The Liberals, my former party, will never annoint Carney. He hasn’t paid his dues in government and frankly is both vieux jeux and a mini-Ignatieff in the making. The party establishment is quite clearly greasing the skids for Freeland — but they can expect one hell of a fight from certain quarters in the party.

    • Paige says:

      Yes. What I meant to say. Thanks

  6. PJH says:

    I am looking forward to supporting Jean Charest. He kept my party alive after the apocalypse of ’93 with skill and aplomb. He then set aside his ambitions for leadership of a Federal party and possibly becoming PM someday, for the good of the country, when he became the main opponent of the sovereigntists in Quebec. I have much respect and affection for M. Charest.

  7. Steve T says:

    Charest, Ambrose, and Raitt give the Conservatives the best chance of taking back Parliament. Raitt isn’t eligible anymore, so that leaves Charest and Ambrose. WK, what are your thoughts on who should win, if it comes down to those two?

    Also curious as to your thoughts on Pierre P, who is getting a lot of the media attention right now. He clearly would take the CPC down a social conservative path, but some folks are pointing to the Mango Mussolini as evidence that hard-line stances may be more appealing than a middle-of-the-road approach. Thoughts?

  8. A. Voter says:

    Isn’t Charest is still under investigation for corruption from his time as Quebec premier?

  9. the real Sean says:

    A few years back an old poly-sci prof told me that only twice in his career did he recall the entire campus being abuzz about a federal political leader visiting. IE not just the poly-sci and philosophy students… the *entire campus*. The recent example was Justin Trudeau. The first example was Jean Charest in the early 90s.

  10. Paul Williams says:

    Very convincing points. The way it looks/sounds the Liberals should be worried. You should join the Liberal Party Warren, they’re going to need some help in the near future.

  11. Tim says:

    You didn’t really mention the part about him being not very popular in Quebec. If you recall the Maple Spring, he first pissed of the students and then everyone else when he tried to legislate the protests… and then he resigned.

    Rona Ambrose would be much more of a Prime Minister in waiting.

    • Tim,

      There was also the matter of Charest losing his seat but that also happened to any number of PMs, most notably Mackenzie King.

    • PJH says:

      Sadly Ms. Ambrose’s French, by her own admission, is not what it should be. Not saying that she couldn’t improve it, her being a quick study….but time is of the essence…and the next Conservative leader will need to hit the rubber chicken/BBQ circuit running this summer-not using valuable time for remedial French lessons(as a certain Joe Clark and Peter McKay did in their summers as freshman MP’s)

      • Ronald O'Dowd says:


        As long as it’s on par with Harper’s in 2003, with the founding of the CPC, it’s not an insurmountable problem. I keep telling politicians in English Canada to run their offices mostly in French but none of them, until now, have actually been bright enough to do it. That’s why they call the brain a sponge that thrives on repetitive linguistic action.

        • PJH says:

          I agree its not insurmountable, but I think Francophones are no longer willing to put up with politicians who have just “passable” French. I understood Mr. Scheer was fully bilingual, but he was destroyed in the French language debate. We need a leader who can move effortlessly from one official language to the other. Now is not the time for on the job language training. It’s the main reason I think Jean Charest is the best person for the job at this time(aside from all of the other great qualities Mr. Kinsella spelled out so succinctly above) https://abacusdata.ca/french-language-debate-poll-canada-2019/

          • lyn says:

            But what about Charest and Huawei 5G he thinks it is a good idea I have read. If we start dealing with China and 5G we as people loss. Sorry but I don’t trust Charest as of yet he has to prove to me he will not sell Canada to China like Trudeau.

  12. Miles Lunn says:

    You are bang on and agree 100%, my concern is not that he cannot win a general election, rather much like UK Labour, party is more concerned about ideological purity than electability. Much of the rabid base in the Prairies falsely thinks Canadians will come around to their viewpoints and no amount of losses can convince them to change. Basically they see old PCs and Liberals as same thing despite being false. That being said if he can sign up lots of new members could pull off a surprise. And as an added bonus the more extreme elements will likely exit as they are a huge anchor around the party much the way Corbynistas and Momentum are for UK Labour. This would show the party has learned from its two defeats.

  13. Terry says:

    Charet won’t win. The con membership base is comprised of agrieved economic illiterates who advocate policies that hurt everyone but the people with all the money. All they want to do is cut taxes and services and push people around. Why anyone in the masses who actually do all the work would vote conservative is beyond me. Charet has balance, ergo he has no chance.

  14. Mike Jeffries says:

    Are any “senior Conservatives” from the West? Does Charest understand or even care for Alberta?
    We don’t need another PM from Quebec!

  15. Chris Sigvaldason says:

    Charest is going to need two jets to carry all of his political baggage.

  16. Douglas W says:

    Charest, on the second ballot.
    Crackerjack team.
    Provide Conservatives with a chance to win 40 Quebec seats in the next federal election.
    For the first time in decades, the Conservatives will be competitive on the island of Montreal.

    • Douglas,

      Don’t necessarily agree with your prediction given Charest’s relative unpopularity in Quebec but you are bang on about Montreal. IF Charest wins, and that’s a big if, the CPC will clean up in La Métropole. But the Quebec wave will largely stop there.

  17. Robert White says:

    Jean Charest is 61.
    Jagmeet Singh is 41.
    Justin Trudeau is 48.
    Pierre Poilievre is 40.
    Rona Ambrose is 50.

    Charest is aged out of the running because of the millennial voter in GTA. That generation will never vote for Charest en masse which is needed to grab the center of politics to win the helm.

    Next election will be decided based upon millennial perspectives for the future in Canada.


  18. Pedro says:

    Met the guy back in the Mulroney days. Yes, a nice guy. I too was impressed by his surviving the kim Campbell devastation. You point out all good points. Just think he is too yesterday. But . . . There are several very good possible other contenders. Will be a VERY INTERESTING leadership contest – I hope.

  19. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Charest needs to pass the Fred Test. If Fred can seriously envision Charest as leader AND be comfortable with that possible outcome, then Charest has a decent shot. If not, Charest is into serious self-delusion and is wasting his time.

    FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m Draft Ambrose.

    • Fred from BC says:

      Thanks, Ron. I think could be comfortable with Jean Charest running for CPC leader, but only if he prints out his ‘gun control’ legislation, rolls it up tightly and *shoves it up his ass* first.

  20. Tim says:

    Kinsella says politicians win by holding on to their core votes and capturing those that swing, and that Charest would know how to capture the swingers. Maybe so, but his problem would me in holding the core voters who largely reside in places like Alberta and Saskatchewan. These voters will have absolutely no patience for a carbon taxing, Paris accord loving, environment over resources king of leader. They will not vote for and if he somehow manages to capture the CPC leadership they will likely schism and form the equivalent of a Western Bloc. Charest is Mr. Yesterday in so many respects and under no circumstances should he win the leadership of the CPC.

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