Jean Charest

John James "Jean" Charest PC (French pronunciation: [ʒɑ̃ ʃɑʁɛ]; born June 24, 1958) is a Canadian politician who briefly served as the fifth Deputy Prime Minister of Canada in 1993 and, thereafter, as 29th premier of Quebec, from 2003 to 2012; the leader of the federal Progressive Conservative Party of Canada from 1993 to 1998; and the leader of the Quebec Liberal Party from 1998 to 2012. He became Premier after winning the 2003 election; after he lost the 2012 election he announced that he would be resigning as Quebec Liberal Leader and leaving politics.[1] Charest sits as an advisor to Canada's Ecofiscal Commission. Charest is currently a consultant for Huawei on the Meng Wanzhou case and for its 5G network plans in Canada.[2]

Jean Charest

Charest in 2010
5th Deputy Prime Minister of Canada
In office
June 25, 1993  November 4, 1993
Prime MinisterKim Campbell
Preceded byDon Mazankowski
Succeeded bySheila Copps
29th Premier of Quebec
In office
April 29, 2003  September 19, 2012
MonarchElizabeth II
Lieutenant GovernorLise Thibault
Pierre Duchesne
DeputyMonique Gagnon-Tremblay
Jacques Dupuis
Nathalie Normandeau
Line Beachaump
Michelle Courschene
Preceded byBernard Landry
Succeeded byPauline Marois
Minister of the Environment
In office
April 21, 1991  June 24, 1993
Prime MinisterBrian Mulroney
Preceded byRobert de Cotret
Succeeded byPierre H. Vincent
Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada
In office
December 14, 1993  April 2, 1998
Preceded byKim Campbell
Succeeded byElsie Wayne (Interim)
Leader of the Opposition of Quebec
In office
April 30, 1998  April 29, 2003
Preceded byMonique Gagnon-Tremblay
Succeeded byBernard Landry
Member of Parliament
for Sherbrooke
In office
September 4, 1984  November 30, 1998
Preceded byIrénée Pelletier
Succeeded bySerge Cardin
Member of the National Assembly of Quebec for Sherbrooke
In office
November 30, 1998  September 17, 2012
Preceded byMarie Malavoy
Succeeded bySerge Cardin
Personal details
John James Charest

(1958-06-24) June 24, 1958
Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada
Political partyConservative (Federal)
Quebec Liberal Party (Provincial)
Other political
Progressive Conservative Party of Canada (before 2003)
Michèle Dionne
(m. 1980)
ResidenceMontreal, Quebec, Canada
Alma materUniversité de Sherbrooke

Early life and education

Charest was born on June 24, 1958, in Sherbrooke, in the Eastern Townships. His parents are Rita (born Leonard), an Irish Quebecer, and Claude "Red" Charest, a French Canadian.[3] He obtained a law degree from the Université de Sherbrooke and was admitted to the Barreau du Québec in 1981. He is married to Michèle Dionne (since June 21, 1980) and they have three children, Amélie, Antoine, and Alexandra.[4] Charest is fully bilingual in French and English.

In the 1980 sovereignty referendum, Charest failed to vote, stating he was too busy.[5]

Some have claimed that Charest downplays his legal first name John by presenting himself in French as Jean so as to appeal more to francophone Quebecers. For example, in the 1997 federal election, Bloc Québécois MP Suzanne Tremblay attacked Charest by saying, "First, let's recall who Jean Charest really is ... his real name is John, that's what's on his birth certificate, not Jean."[6] Charest responded that, his mother being an Irish Quebecer, it was the Irish priest who baptized him that wrote John on the baptism certificate, but that he was always known as Jean in his family and with his peers as well. He also went to French schools.

Federal politics

Charest worked as a lawyer until he was elected Progressive Conservative member of the Parliament of Canada for the riding (electoral district) of Sherbrooke in the 1984 election. From 1984 to 1986, Charest served as Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole of the House of Commons. In 1986, at age 28, he was appointed to the Cabinet of then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney as Minister of State for Youth. He was thus the "youngest cabinet minister in Canadian history".[7] He was appointed Minister of State for Fitness and Amateur Sport in 1988, but had to resign from cabinet in 1990 after improperly speaking to a judge about a case regarding the Canadian Track and Field Association.[8] He returned to cabinet as Minister of the Environment in 1991.

Leadership bids and leadership of the PCs

When Mulroney announced his retirement as PC leader and prime minister, Charest was a candidate for the leadership of the party at the 1993 Progressive Conservative leadership convention.

Karlheinz Schreiber alleged he gave $30,000 in cash to Charest's campaign for the Tory leadership in 1993. However Charest himself says it was only $10,000 although federal leadership election rules permitted such cash donations.[9] As of 2007, rules against such donations for provincial party leadership campaigns still do not exist in Québec.[10]

Charest impressed many observers and party members and placed a strong second to Defence Minister Kim Campbell, who had held a large lead going into the convention. Charest served as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Industry, Science and Technology in Campbell's short-lived cabinet.

In the 1993 election, the PCs suffered the worst defeat for a governing party at the federal level. Only two of the party's 295 candidates were elected, Charest and Elsie Wayne. Charest himself was re-elected fairly handily in Sherbrooke, taking 56 percent of the vote. As the only surviving member of what turned out to be the last PC Cabinet, Charest was appointed interim party leader and confirmed in the post in April 1995. Charest, therefore, became the first (and as it turned out, only) person of francophone descent to lead the Progressive Conservative Party.[11]

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Charest was involved in the constitutional debate that resulted from Quebec's refusal to sign the Canadian Constitution of 1982. He was a special committee member charged with examining the Meech Lake Accord in 1990, which would have given the province of Quebec the status of a "distinct society". The accord ultimately failed.

During the 1995 referendum on Quebec's sovereignty, Charest was vice-president of the "No" campaign (Comité national des Québécoises et des Québécois pour le NON).

In the 1997 federal election, Charest campaigned in favour of Quebec's being constitutionally recognized as a distinct society. During his mandate as Premier, he has made some efforts to expand the place of Québec in the international community. The province was granted representation at UNESCO, the cultural branch of the United Nations. Charest also voiced some support for the Calgary Declaration (1997), which recognized Quebec as "unique."[12]

In the election, the Tories received 19 percent of the vote and won 20 seats, mostly in Atlantic Canada. The party was back from the brink, but Charest considered the result a disappointment. While the Tories finished only a point behind Reform, their support was too dispersed west of Quebec to translate into seats. They were also hampered by vote-splitting with Reform in rural central Ontario, a traditional Tory stronghold where Reform had made significant inroads.

Provincial politics

In April 1998, Charest gave in to considerable public and political pressure,[13] especially among business circles, to leave federal politics and become leader of the Quebec Liberal Party. Charest was considered by many to be the best hope for the federalist QLP to defeat the sovereigntist Parti Québécois government.

In the 1998 election, the Quebec Liberals received more votes than the PQ, but because the Liberal vote was concentrated in fewer ridings, the PQ won enough seats to form another majority government. Charest won his own riding of Sherbrooke with a majority of 907 votes.

In the April 2003 election, Charest led the Quebec Liberals to a majority, ending nine years of PQ rule. He declared he had a mandate to reform health care, cut taxes, reduce spending and reduce the size of government.[14] Charest's Liberals won 76 seats, forming a majority government, and won his own riding of Sherbrooke with a majority of 2597 votes.

Charest with United States Consul General Peter O’Donohue in November 2010

Premier of Quebec

Régis Labeaume (left), Stephen Harper (centre) and Jean Charest at the Forum mondial de la langue française in Quebec City on July 2, 2012.

Charest's first two years as Premier of Quebec were marked by stiff and vocal opposition to his policies by Quebec labour unions. Indeed, the Charest government has consistently sought new sources of revenue, increasing hydro rates, raising auto insurance premiums, increasing fees for various government services, and imposing a carbon tax on businesses. They did, however, refrain from raising the Provincial Sales Tax to make up for the loss of revenue caused by the decision of the federal government to reduce the Goods and Services Tax to 5 per cent. They also continued the Parti Québécois drive to provide subsidies and tax breaks for families with children.

Much of the fiscal policy of the Charest government has been based upon the expectation that new revenues could be obtained from a resolution of the fiscal imbalance believed to exist between the federal and provincial governments. The Harper government was widely expected to address this issue through increased equalization payments, while falling short of Quebec's overall demands.[15]

Charest also attempted to distinguish himself on the issue of the environment. His vocal opposition to the federal decision to opt out of the Kyoto Accord, and his insistence that Quebec would seek to meet its own Kyoto targets has earned him considerable support. His government set ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets, petroleum royalties, and a 2011-2020 Action Plan for Electric Vehicles.[16] He also established the Sustainable Development Act, which adds to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms the right for every person to live in a healthful environment in which biodiversity is preserved. On May 9, 2011, Charest launched the Plan Nord, the work of a generation that brings together the imperatives of environmental, social and economic growth and sustainability.[17] In 2012, Charest was awarded the Fray International Sustainability Award for is work and advocacy towards sustainable development in politics.[18]

In the 2003 election, Charest had promised to allow the cities that had been forcibly merged by the Parti Québécois government to hold referendums which would allow to demerge and return to their previous situation. This promise was seen as key to his victory in many ridings, such as those in the suburbs around Longueuil and Quebec City and the continued support of the Anglophone community in the West Island of Montreal. In office, however, Charest retreated from his promise. Municipalities were allowed to hold demerger referendums if at least 10 percent of the electorate signed a petition calling for them, and only if more than 35 percent participated in the voting process.[19] In some former municipalities, such as Saint Laurent on the Island of Montreal, the turnout of the vote was of 75.2 percent in favour of a demerger, but it was invalidated because the voter turnout was just 28.6 percent.[20]

The demerger process also resulted in the restructuring of the existing megacities, with both these and the demerged cities handing over massive powers over taxation and local services to the new "agglomeration councils". The makeup of these councils was based on the population of the municipalities involved, with the mayors having the right to unilaterally appoint all of the individuals who would represent their cities on the council. The resulting structure was seen by many to be less democratic than the one which had preceded it, as demerged municipalities were denied an effective voice, and the city councils of the major cities were substantially weakened by the power of the mayors to go over the heads of opposition councillors and exercise power through their appointees to the agglomeration body.

During the debate in the Parliament of Canada over recognizing Quebec as a nation within Canada, Charest stated that Quebec was a "nation" no matter what other parts of Canada said—that this was not up to anyone else to define.

The Charest government was deeply unpopular during its first years in office, enjoying a public approval rating of below 50 per cent in most opinion polls and falling to the low twenties in voter support. In the first few weeks after André Boisclair was elected leader of the PQ, polls showed that Charest and the Liberals would be roundly defeated in the next election. Boisclair did not perform well as Leader of the Opposition, and Charest's numbers recovered somewhat. A poll conducted by Léger Marketing for Le Devoir placed the Liberals at 34 per cent against 32 per cent for the PQ and 24 per cent for the ADQ, with Charest obtaining a higher personal approval rating than the PQ leader. Liberal support, however remained heavily concentrated in Anglophone and Allophone ridings in the west of Montreal, meaning that the increase in support would not necessarily translate into seats.

Charest faced no real challenges to his leadership. There was, however, significant tension between himself and members of the party, most notably the former Bourassa cabinet minister Pierre Paradis (whom Charest excluded from his cabinet) and the resignations of several important members of his cabinet, notably Finance Minister Yves Séguin, Justice Minister Marc Bellemare, and Environment Minister Thomas Mulcair.

On December 6, 2007, the Opposition urged Charest to testify to the House of Commons of Canada Ethics Committee in its investigation of Karlheinz Schreiber. Schreiber told the committee he paid $30,000 in cash to Charest's brother to help fund the current Prime Minister's 1993 leadership bid for the federal Progressive Conservative party.[21]

2007 Quebec election

On February 21, 2007, Charest asked the Lieutenant-Governor to dissolve the National Assembly and call an election on March 26, 2007. Charest conducted an extraordinary session the day before with Finance Minister Michel Audet delivering the 2007 budget.

Prior to his call for an election, Charest revealed his platform which included income tax cuts of about $250 million. In the last week of the campaign, Charest promised an additional $700 million in tax cuts—some of it coming for the additional equalization money from the 2007 federal budget;[22] reduction of hospital wait times; improvement and increase of French courses at school; an increase of the number of daycare spaces; and an increase in tuition fees for university students ($50 per semester until 2012).[23] The last measure was met with criticism from students' associations, and a more-radical student association, the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (formerly known as the CASSEE) had also considered a strike.[24]

Charest won a minority government in the election, and held onto his own seat. On election night, early numbers had showed Charest losing his seat of Sherbrooke to his PQ opponent; however, this situation was reversed once it became apparent that the advanced poll ballot boxes which heavily favoured Charest had not yet been counted.[25] The resulting minority government was the first since 1878 when Charles Boucher de Boucherville was Premier.

2008 Quebec election

Jean Charest and his wife, Michèle Dionne, at the Festival Western de Saint-Tite in Saint-Tite, Quebec on September 7, 2008.

In November 2008, arguing that Quebecers needed a majority government during difficult economic times, Charest called a snap election for December 8. His party captured a historic third consecutive term as he brought the Liberals back to majority governance. It was the first time a party has won a third consecutive term in Quebec since the Quiet Revolution.

2012 student protests

In 2011, the Charest government decided to increase the Universities fees in all Quebec Universities. Three major students union began to organise demonstrations in Montreal and in Quebec City. In March 2012, many CEGEPs and Universities voted for a student stike. The government faced major challenges when students protested and went on strike by boycotting classes to protest planned tuition increases. Every month huge demonstration took place in several cities across Quebec. The Premier and his government were accused by some, including the Students Unions, the PQ and Québec Solidaire of being too hard. On May 4, 2012, the Quebec Liberal Party held a party conference in Victoriaville and the demonstration was severely repressed by Sûreté du Québec Police.[26] On May 14, 2012, then Deputy Premier and Education minister, Line Beauchamp resign of her position.[27] Michelle Courchesne was appointed Deputy Premier and Minister of Education.[28] The government passed Bill 78 to impose restrictions on protests; this caused controversy, with the Barreau du Québec among others expressing concern about possible infringement of constitutional rights. Bill 78 was revoked by the Pauline Marois government.

2012 Quebec election

On August 1, 2012, Jean Charest launched his campaign the 2012 Quebec general election on the ground of the Quebec Jean-Lesage International Airport[29] with the slogan For Quebec. The QLP did his campaign focusing on the respect of the law and the civil order, regarding the demonstrations of the past months. They claim to be the party of the silent majority who does not support the students protest movement. This very election is the first with the CAQ of François Legault on the ballot. On the night of September 4, Jean Charest and his party lost the general election. The result was a hung parliament, with the Parti québécois of Pauline Marois being the party with most seats (54). The Quebec Liberal Party became the official opposition with 50 seats.[30] Jean Charest lost his own seat of Sherbrooke, in Eastern Township. A seat that he held since 1984 both at the federal and provincial legislature. Jean Charest with this outcome announced on September 5 in Quebec City that he would resign as Quebec Liberal Leader.[31]


Ribbon bars of The Honourable Jean Charest

See also

  • 1995 Quebec referendum
  • Quebec federalist movement
  • Politics of Quebec
  • Quebec general elections
  • Timeline of Quebec history
  • Politics of Canada
  • List of Canadian federal general elections
  • Nicknames of politicians and personalities in Quebec
  • List of Irish Quebecers
  • Plan Nord



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    3. James, Yolande (June 17, 2007). "Minister breaks age, colour and language barriers". The Gazette (Montreal). Archived from the original on November 20, 2015.
    4. "Taxe sur le carbone : Qu'est-ce qui ne tourne pas rond avec le gouvernement Legault ?". July 11, 2019.
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    8. "Political scandal: a chronology", The Vancouver Sun, September 24, 1993, pg. A.6.
    9. "Mulroney deal wasn't Airbus kickback, says Schreiber". December 4, 2007.
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    14. Kevin Dougherty, "Thousands of Quebecers protest Charest labour plans," Calgary Herald, November 30, 2003, pg. A.8.
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    23. (in French) "Le PLQ présente ses grandes orientations" Archived July 12, 2012, at LCN, February 16, 2007.
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    28. "Michelle Courchesne redevient ministre de l'Éducation". La Tribune. May 14, 2012.
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    30. "Élections générales". Élections Québec.
    31. "Jean Charest démissionne". TVA Nouvelles.
    32. "The Prime Minister of Quebec Jean Charest receives the Bavarian Order of Merit". July 12, 2007. Archived from the original on July 18, 2011.
    33. Hillmer, Norman; Snyder, Lorraine (2011). "Charest, Jean J.". The Canadian Encyclopedia. The Historica-Dominion Institute. Retrieved June 11, 2011.
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