A man for all reasons
Jean Charest is running for the leadership of the Conservative party. He has been here before, pulling the Party out of the ditch when only he and Elsie Wayne were left in the caucus after the 1993 wipe out of Kim Campbell’s Progressive Conservative Party. He led the Party first as interim leader in 1993, then as leader in 1995. In the following election in 1997, he pulled the Party from the brink, winning 20 seats, but the Reform Party had gained enough support to nullify further efforts. In 1998, he was recruited by the Quebec Liberals (the small c conservative party in Quebec) to become their leader and keep Quebec in Confederation. He chaired a committee leading the “NO” forces against separation. He then won the leadership of the Quebec Liberals and the premiership in 2003 where he served three consecutive terms until 2012.
For the past 10 years, he has been discovering the joys and tribulations of business, returning to the practice of law with the firm of McCarthy Tetreault LLP as part of their business law group. In the announcement of his joining them, the firm wrote, “Mr. Charest broke a 50-year provincial record by winning three consecutive election campaigns in 2003, 2007 and 2008. Under his leadership, Québec experienced a sustained period of economic prosperity, with stronger economic growth from 2008 to 2012 than the U.S., Europe, Canada and Ontario. His legacy includes the creation of the Council of the Federation, the “Plan Nord” as well as major hydro-electric, wind power projects and a significant infrastructure investment program. On the international scene, Jean Charest’s most noteworthy initiatives include initiating an unprecedented labour mobility agreement between France and Québec and convincing Canada and the European Union to negotiate a broad economic partnership that will put Canada in the middle of the world’s largest trading zone.”
All that is background about this man who started out in politics as a kid of 28, becoming the youngest person ever to hold a cabinet position. Despite being a public figure since 1984, he is still only 63 years old, an ideal age and with a vast experience to take on the ultimate leadership job in Canada.
And Canada needs his leadership. No idle dreamer, Jean Charest nevertheless has a dream of the Canada we all used to believe in, a place where we honoured our history and respected each other without label or hyphenation. He understands that when you lead, you must find accommodation for those who did not vote for you while continuing to pursue the agenda you were elected to achieve.
Wise leadership knows that new information, evolving events and a wider vision shifts perceptions and alters plans, but as long as progress is being made in a positive direction, the dream will ultimately come true although perhaps in a subtly transformed way that serves the widest needs.
For the past number of years, Canada has been wallowed in bitterness. While many felt that Stephen Harper did a good fiscal job of leading the country, he was not exactly a ray of Canadian sunshine. His dour style may have contributed to the excited welcome so many afforded his successor, Justin Trudeau, who won the election promising “sunny ways”. Sadly, the sun stopped shining almost immediately and his language has become increasingly divisive and spiteful. It has even affected a member, Joel Lightbound, a Quebec Liberal, who said earlier this year, “I can’t help but notice with regret that both the tone and the policies of my government have changed drastically since the last election campaign. It went from a more positive approach to one that stigmatizes and divides people”. He continued, “It’s time to stop dividing Canadians and pitting one part of the population against another.”
His words could not be more welcome. It is time to stop dividing, to end the politics of personal attack and finding wedges designed to drive Canadians apart. We need to reshape the narrative that allows Canadians of every party to feel well served by their prime minister. Jean Charest has the character and the experience to make this happen.
This is not to detract from any of the others who have their names on the leadership roster. There are some fine people vying for a seat at the head of the table, but right now, Canada needs Jean Charest to get us back on an even footing at home and in the world. There is lots of time for the younger potentials to learn the ropes and prove themselves. And my first advice would be, relax, learn to not take yourselves so seriously, smile, listen and understand that you need to be flexible because we live in a very big country with a lot of diversity.
These are traits that Jean Charest has instinctively. You won’t see him reading from a script – he knows who he is and what he thinks. He cares about this country from coast to coast, and as half Irish (his mother) and half French (his father), he has a foot in both traditional founding nations. He loves western Canada, feeling very comfortable here. He laughs a lot. He answers questions in a forthright way – no waffling or changing his story overnight. He has excellent judgement and good people skills.
We need him. If Jean Charest becomes leader, he will become the next prime minister because he will attract votes from many folks who like the balanced approach and we will all get a breather from the trauma fueled by the pandemic and its politicization over the last few years.