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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.