Jean Charest launches Conservative Party leadership bid in Laval

Former Quebec Premier pledges to unite a ‘seriously divided’ country

If oratorical skill and powers of persuasion hold the key to winning the race for the Conservative Party of Canada’s leadership, then Jean Charest may well be correct when he states he’ll be the Tories’ next leader when the decision is made in September.

Bid to lead the CPC

Charest’s talent as a podium speaker, as well as his uncanny ability to massage the senses of supporters and media into believing, were on full display last week when he was at the Château Royal in Laval to announce to Quebecers his bid for the CPC leadership.

More than 500 supporters cheered Charest, who served as Premier of Quebec from 2003 to 2012 while leading the Quebec Liberal Party, and who also served as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada from 1993 to 1998.

Jean Charest says only he can unite the Conservative Party and lead them to forming a government. (Photo: Martin C. Barry, Newsfirst Multimedia)

Wants to heal division

“I am returning because Canada is seriously divided,” said Charest, who served as vice-president of the “No” committee during the campaign leading up to the 1995 provincial referendum on Quebec sovereignty, and whose current leadership campaign is using the slogan “Built to Win.”

Former Quebec Liberal Premier Jean Charest is seeking the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada. (Photo: Martin C. Barry, Newsfirst Multimedia)

“If there is a big distinction to be made between us and the other political parties in the federal parliament – the federal Liberals, the NDP, the Bloc – if there’s a major difference it’s that Canada’s Conservatives know how to make Canadian federalism work, we know how to respect the province’s responsibilities and we know how to make federalism operate to realize major projects for Canada,” he added.

Charests pitch to Alberta

Charest said that if he had chosen to recently launch his bid for the CPC leadership in Alberta, it was because he wanted to emphasize the challenges and ordeals that the people of the western province have been subjected to in recent years, while being largely ignored by the Trudeau government.

“I went to Alberta to give them the following message: I want to be the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada so that you may return into the Canadian fold with honor and enthusiasm, so that we can all be at the same table.”

Charest with his spouse autograph a T-shirt for an admiring supporter during his CPC leadership bid launch at the Château Royal on March 24. (Photo: Martin C. Barry, Newsfirst Multimedia)

Charest argued that, with his extensive knowledge and previous experience in politics, he is in a much better position than anyone to map out strategy for a nation-wide campaign to elect a Conservative government with him as Prime Minister.

Chief rival is Poilievre

“Now, there’s something about which I know a thing or two,” he said, referring to election campaigns. “Because, friends, speaking of election campaigns, I’ve done a few and I’ve won some. And I have more election campaigns to win.”

‘I am returning because Canada is seriously divided’

While former Conservative cabinet minister Pierre Poilievre is still believed to have a significant lead in the intentions of the Tory membership who will be electing their new leader on Sept. 10, Charest made no specific mention of his chief rival, although he alluded to the hard-right style of politics that Poilievre favours.

“The Conservative Party of Canada is going to have a very important choice: Either we go down the road of American politics, or we choose a leader that will bring us together,” he said. “It is the condition by which we can win. If the Conservative Party of Canada is not able to unite, we will not unite Canadians behind us. And we need a national party.

Conservative Party of Canada leadership hopeful Jean Charest is seen here at the Château Royal in Chomedey on March 24 with his wife Michèle Dionne. (Photo: Martin C. Barry, Newsfirst Multimedia)

Eye on winning Montreal seats

“What are Canadians telling us now? They look at the Trudeau government and they say, ‘You [the CPC] are the answer. You’re the national alternative to the Liberals. Get your act together. Get yourself organized. Please be the national party that we want you to be. Live up to your ambitions.’”

Charest maintained that not only would he succeed in uniting the Conservative Party of Canada, but “for those of us here in Quebec, let me share a secret with you: Not only will I lead it into an election campaign, but I will elect members of Parliament on the island of Montreal. I will bring to the table Members of Parliament from every single province in the country.”

Unity and leadership

In his closing remarks, Charest made the following pledge: “I know the road to victory. I have taken this road before. I know the way, so that we Conservatives here in Quebec but also everywhere in Canada may at last govern this country, build it, see it grow, and allow it to take its well-deserved place in the world.

“This journey can be summed up in a few words: strong leadership and unity. I am the leader who will unite the Conservative Party of Canada and I am he who will give the Conservative Party of Canada a national government.”