OTTAWA — Jean Charest has had a long career in Canadian politics. He was a cabinet minister under Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, one of the leading ‘no’ campaigners in the 1995 Quebec referendum and later a longtime premier. After 10 years in the private sector, Charest is back and struggling to lead a changed federal Conservative party.
Born: June 24, 1958.
Early Years: Charest was born in Sherbrooke, Quebec, in the eastern part of the province. He studied to become a lawyer and obtained a law degree from the University of Sherbrooke.
Before Politics: Called to the Quebec Bar in 1981 and practiced law for a few years, but Charest entered politics early. Shortly after turning 26, he was elected to represent Sherbrooke for the Progressive Conservatives in the 1984 federal election.
Political record: Charest became the youngest cabinet minister in history at 28 when he was named Mulroney’s youth minister. He became sports minister in 1988, a post he resigned two years later amid a judicial interference scandal. He returned to Cabinet in 1991 as Minister of the Environment. In 1993, he was Kim Campbell’s runner-up in a leadership contest and briefly served as her Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Industry. He took over the leadership of the party shortly after its electoral defeat. In the mid-1990s, the focus shifted to Quebec’s efforts for sovereignty, with Charest serving as vice-president of the successful “No” campaign in the 1995 referendum. In 1998, Charest was courted to lead the Quebec Liberals, whom he led to a majority government in 2003. He served as premier for nine years, hailed as a tax reformer, but with his government and party embroiled in corruption scandals. A provincial anti-corruption unit investigation into his government’s dealings concluded in early 2022 and found no wrongdoing.
Private sector: Charest is a partner at McCarthy Tétrault LLP and was briefly a consultant for Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications company banned earlier this year from participating in Canada’s 5G networks due to cyber espionage concerns.
Family: Charest married Michèle Dionne in 1980. They have three children.
Quote: “Am I willing to stand up for the things I believe in even if they are unpopular? The answer is yes. Because at the end of the day, for me, it’s all about doing the right thing. Otherwise what is the use of politics? What’s the point? Just read the polls and follow them? Politics is not some cheap parade where you just throw yourself in front of the crowd and try to lead it. It is about change. It’s about the country. It is about the idea that we have of Canada.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 4, 2022.
Marie-Danielle Smith, The Canadian Press