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Could Jean Charest Become The Next Prime Minister of Canada?

B.A. Political Science, Member of®
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Canada has one of the most flourishing economies in the World. The nation is the 10th largest economy with $1.7 trillion in GDP. Canada is a member of the G7; therefore, Canada has some influence on the World stage. Canada is considered as a middle power with powerful close allies like: the United State, the United Kingdom, and France. As a result, the roles and responsibilities of the Prime Minister of Canada are substantial. Canada is a multicultural nation with two official languages and the nation is the second largest country in the World. One of the most important political groups has been the Conservative movement that formed several governments on the national level and in many provinces. Nowadays, the Conservative Party is looking for the right leader to win a general election and to form a national government. Jean Charest might be one of the contenders of the 2020 Conservative leadership contest. The former Premier of Quebec is seen by many as the right person to lead the nation. They think he could defeat Trudeau`s Liberals and he could form a government that responds to the needs of Canadians. Jean Charest is fluent in English and French; he has been a head of a provincial government for 9 years between 2003 and 2012. Nevertheless, he led a government with very low approval ratings and his provincial government triggered the largest student strikes in Canadian history. Nevertheless, he is a master in the art of winning elections; he is an outstanding performer in TV debates and he won most of his elections. Therefore, he could be the right candidate to get a Conservative government in power. Jean Charest has more experience in election campaigns and TV debates than Prime Minister Trudeau. In sum, Charest is a great political manager and an expert in winning elections.

            To begin with, Jean Charest is from Sherbrooke in the Eastern Townships of the province of Quebec. He graduated in Law from the University of Sherbrooke. Charest is fully bilingual in English and French. He was Canadian Deputy Prime Minister in the Kim Campbell cabinet. In the 1993 national election, Jean Charest was one of the two only PC candidates to get elected. In sum, the 1993 election was a disaster for the Tories. On the other hand, Jean Charest was Leader of the Progressive Conservative of Canada between 1993 and 1998. He had been federal MP for Sherbrooke for 14 years. Besides, he was the Sherbrooke member of the provincial legislature for almost 14 years. As well, he was the Premier of the province of Quebec between 1993 and 2012. Therefore, Jean Charest has significant experience in politics and government affairs.

            In addition, he had been so popular during the campaign of the No side in the 1995 Quebec Referendum that he was seen as a saviour of Canadian unity. Many people hoped that Charest could strengthen Canadian pride in Quebec by providing a federalist government for the province. There was a lot of pressure on Charest to become the Leader of the Quebec Liberals in order to get a federalist party in power in his home province. Yet, Charest dreamed of becoming the national prime minister, not a provincial premier; nevertheless, he felt that national interests demanded his leadership skills to get a government supporting the national unity in the Canadian province of Quebec. Federalists were hopeful that Charest would defeat the separatist Parti Quebecois and provide a federalist government. As a result, he got a mandate in 2003 to reform healthcare, cut taxes and reduce public spending.       

            Even though, Jean Charest remained in power for 9 years; nevertheless, he was a premier with very low approval ratings throughout his term in office. Charest lost the 2012 provincial elections; however, he outperformed expectations by nearly winning more seats than the Parti Quebecois. Jonathan Montpetit wrote on September 5th, 2012 in the Vancouver Sun that: ¨The Liberals finished a surprise second in the Quebec election, defying pundits and pollsters who had predicted a meltdown.¨ Therefore, Jean Charest ran an outstanding political campaign during the largest student protests in Canadian history; he almost won the election despite popular  disapproval of his government. This was almost a miracle that Jean Charest won three consecutive provincial governments because he has had record low ratings throughout much of his tenure as premier. There was massive civil unrest in 2012 due to his plan to drastically increase university tuition fees. Charest`s decision to increase university tuition fees by 75% was inspired by British Prime Minister Cameron`s 2010 policy to triple higher education tuition fees. This decision from the Charest government was highly unpopular in the province. Despite all the student anger, Jean Charest almost won the 2012 provincial election.

            Furthermore, there has been some hope that he would join the Liberal Party to defeat the Harper government on the national level. Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae hoped that Charest join run for the Liberal leadership: ¨There’s always a home for Mr. Charest in the federal Liberal party.¨ this was because Charest is an outstanding politician; he is talented in winning elections; he often outperforms expectations in political campaign, and he is skillful at getting political parties in power.

            As well, Jean Charest`s vision of Canada is a decentralized system of government. He is from the Mulroney era that negotiated the Meech Lake deal. He believes in some decentralization of national powers towards the provinces. However, he acknowledges that Canada is one of the most decentralized federations in the World. For that reason, Jean Charest thinks that constitutional changes are not really needed because he did not enter in any constitutional talks with the national government during his provincial premiership. He preferred having a constitutional peace in order to avoid any rise in the separatist movement in Quebec. Canadians are satisfied with the 1982 Constitution Act. Besides, modern Canada is different from the 1980s Canada; Canada has evolved towards a multicultural nation in which economy, health, and education are the main priorities of Canadians. For instance, Prime Minister Jean Chretien refused to talk about any constitutional change during his years as a prime minister. He focused on healthcare, balanced budgets, international trade, and foreign affairs during his terms in office. These priorities were in line with the priorities of Quebec Premier Charest.

            In addition, several people think that Jean Charest could be a great asset for the Conservative Party. Jean Charest, as Conservative Leader, could allow the party to appeal to French Canada. John Ivison writes in the National Post in December 2019: ¨He would also…have appeal in French-speaking Canada.¨ Thus, the Conservative Party needs greater support in French Canada in order to defeat the Liberals.  Former Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer could not get much support in French Canada because his French was seen as weak by many people. Nevertheless, Scheer increased the overall number of seats in the 2019 general election. Nevertheless, Andrew Scheer did not have any new vision for Canada; he was not a charismatic leader with new ideas for the country. He could not beat the fresh vision of Canada advocated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. John Envison writes: ¨To beat Trudeau or his successor, the Conservatives should not become carbon copies of the Liberals but they do need to project the same freshness and sense of purpose that the Liberal leader brought to his party.¨ Therefore, Jean Charest might be the right person to give this sense of purpose for the Conservative Party. He could modernize the party to better respond to the needs of a 21st Century Canada. He has some leadership experience in Ottawa as former Progressive Conservative Leader in 1990s. Charest has always considered himself as a true Conservative, not a Liberal. He led the Quebec Liberal Party because Canada needed him to defeat the Parti Quebecois; he won a landslide victory in the 2003 Quebec elections.

            Nevertheless, the new Conservative Party of Canada might not be the one that Jean Charest left in the 1990s. The new party is more similar to the Reform Party advocating for right wing ideas. Therefore, the new party does not have a lot of progressive values and Stephen Harper still greatly influence the party policies. For that reason, this could be very challenging for Charest to win the leadership contest, but this is not impossible for this skilful politician. Above and beyond, Michel C. Auger, a CBC columnist, writes on the CBC website in December 2019 that Charest could be more appealing for voters on issues such as: abortion, same sex marriage, and environmental protection. Jean Charest could bring some clarity on these issues; he would not quickly tell voters where he stands on these issues. This is in contrast to Andrew Scheer who was not really clear on these matters during the 2019 election.

            Finally, Jean Charest will have to appeal to all Canadians from coast to coast. Some Western Canadian Conservatives expect that Jean Charest be in favour of pipelines. Even though Jean Charest was a Quebec Liberal, he must show Tories that he is true Conservative. This would not be too hard for him because during his premiership, he decreased taxes and he tried to drastically increase tuition fees. Even if, the Charest government made some very unpopular decision, Charest could still be the best person to become the next Conservative Leader and he could win against Justin Trudeau. Charest has a lot of experience in both national and provincial politics; he was in the Mulroney cabinet, he was Canadian Deputy Prime Minister under Kim Campbell, and he won three consecutive provincial elections in Quebec. Besides, he knows well the needs of the different regions of the country. Several observers think that he could bring the Conservative Party more to the center point of the political spectrum; therefore, this could greatly help to gather more voters to support the Conservative Party. Likewise, Jean Charest is one of the best campaigners to win elections in the country; he often outperforms expectations in election debates and during the campaign. In sum, if Jean Charest wins the Conservative leadership contest, he has great chances to become the next Prime Minister of Canada. Therefore, Jean Charest could be the Conservative Party`s best bet to win a national election and to form a government.

January 3, 2020

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Yannick B. Vallée
By Yannick B. Vallee

Yannick B. Vallee is a political scientist who recently graduated from Bishop’s University (Quebec, Canada) in the BA program of political science. He also has a college degree of Business Administration with a specialization in marketing. Nowadays,  he specializes in American, Canadian... (Read next)

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