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Jean Charest

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Jean Charest

The Honourable
Jean Charest
29th Premier of Quebec
In office
April 29, 2003 – September 19, 2012
Monarch Elizabeth II
Lieutenant Governor Lise Thibault
Pierre Duchesne
Preceded by Bernard Landry
Succeeded by Pauline Marois
MNA for Sherbrooke
In office
November 30, 1998 – September 17, 2012
Preceded by Marie Malavoy
Succeeded by Serge Cardin
Leader of the Opposition
In office
April 30, 1998 – April 29, 2003
Preceded by Monique Gagnon-Tremblay
Succeeded by Bernard Landry
5th Deputy Prime Minister of Canada
In office
June 25, 1993 – November 4, 1993
Preceded by Don Mazankowski
Succeeded by Sheila Copps
MP for Sherbrooke
In office
September 4, 1984 – November 30, 1998
Preceded by Irénée Pelletier
Succeeded by Serge Cardin
Minister of the Environment
In office
April 21, 1991 – June 24, 1993
Preceded by Robert de Cotret
Succeeded by Pierre H. Vincent
Personal details
Born John James Charest
(1958-06-24) June 24, 1958
Sherbrooke, Quebec
Political party Quebec Liberal Party (1998–present)
Other political
Progressive Conservative Party of Canada (Before 1998)
Spouse(s) Michèle Dionne
Residence Montreal, Quebec (personal)
Alma mater University of Sherbrooke

Jean James Charest, PC (pronounced: ; born June 24, 1958) was the 29th Premier of Quebec, from 2003 to 2012. He lost the provincial election held September 4, 2012, and resigned as Premier on September 19. He was the Deputy Prime Minister of Canada from June 25, 1993, until November 4, 1993. Charest was the leader of the federal Progressive Conservative Party of Canada from 1993 to 1998, and was the leader of the Quebec Liberal Party from 1998 to 2012. On September 5, 2012, Jean Charest announced that he would be resigning as Quebec Liberal Leader and leaving politics.[1]


Jean 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.[2] 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. Charest is fully bilingual in French and English.

Some have wrongfully claimed that Jean 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."[3] 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

He worked as a lawyer until he was elected Progressive Conservative member of the Canadian Parliament 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."[4] 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.[5] 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 Jean Charest's campaign for the Tory leadership in 1993. However Charest himself says it was only $10,000, though federal leadership election rules did permit such cash donations.[6] As of 2007, rules against such donations for provincial party leadership campaigns still do not exist in Québec.[7]

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 reelected 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) leader of francophone descent of the Progressive Conservative Party.[8]

In the 1997 election, the Tories received 19% 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 Tory stronghold where Reform had made significant inroads.

Quebec Liberal Party leadership

In April 1998, Charest gave in to considerable public and political pressure,[9] 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.

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.[10]

In the March 2007 election, his government won re-election but was reduced to a minority government, the first minority government in Quebec in 129 years. It also gained the lowest percentage of the popular vote in 26 years.

In the December 2008 election, his government won 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.

In the September 2012 election his government lost the general election and the Parti Québécois became the new government, following this he lost his own seat and with this outcome announced September 5 that will be resigning as Quebec Liberal Leader.

Premier of Quebec

United States Consul General Peter O’Donohue meets with Quebec Premier Jean Charest in November 2010.
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%. 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 is widely expected to address this issue through increased equalization payments, while falling short of Quebec's overall demands.[11]

Charest also attempted to distinguish himself on the issue of the environment, with mixed success. 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. But the decision of his government to allow private condominium development in the existing parking lot of Mont Orford became a flashpoint for environmental groups, and was widely criticized by the media and by his own former environment minister, Thomas Mulcair.

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. Municipalitites were allowed to hold demerger referendums, if at least 10 per cent of the electorate signed a petition calling for them, and only if more than 35 per cent participated in the voting process.[12] In some former municipalities, such as Saint Laurent on the Island of Montreal, the turnout of the vote was of 75.2 per cent in favour of a demerger, but it was invalidated because the voter turnout was just 28.6 per cent.[13]

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.

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 Seguin, Justice Minister Marc Bellemare, and Environment Minister Thomas Mulcair.

On December 6, 2007, the Opposition urged Charest to testify to the Canadian House of Commons 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.[14]

2007 Quebec election

On February 21, 2007, he 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;[15] 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).[16] 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.[17]

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.[18] 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 majority of seats in the election.

2012 student protests

In 2012, the Charest government faced major challenges when students protested and went on strike by boycotting classes to protest planned tuition increases. After this continued for several months, 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.

Status of Quebec

In the 1980 sovereignty referendum, Charest failed to vote, stating he was too busy.[19]

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 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."[20]

During the debate in the Canadian Parliament 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.

Elections as party leader

In the 1997 Canadian federal election, the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada won 20 seats under Charest's leadership, an improvement on its previous two.

In the 1998 Quebec election, the Quebec Liberal Party won 48 seats in the National Assembly, forming the official opposition to the Parti Québécois government. Charest won his own riding of Sherbrooke with a majority of 907 votes.

In the 2003 election, Charest's Liberals won 76 seats, forming a majority government. Charest won his own riding of Sherbrooke with a majority of 2597 votes.

In the 2007 election, the Liberals won 48 seats, forming a minority government in a near three-way split of votes and seats. (PLQ: 48 seat, ADQ: 41 seats, PQ: 36 seats) Charest won his own riding of Sherbrooke with a majority of 1332 votes.

In the 2008 election, the Liberals won 66 seats, again forming a majority government.

In the 2012 election, the Liberals won 50 seats, allowing the Parti Québécois a minority government. Charest lost his own Sherbrooke riding in the election, and subsequently announced his resignation as party leader the following day.


Ribbon bars of The Honourable Jean Charest

See also


  1. ^ Les Perreaux (September 5, 2012). "With 'no regrets,' Quebec's Jean Charest to leave politics after defeat".  
  2. ^ James, Yolande (June 17, 2007). "Minister breaks age, colour and language barriers". The Gazette (Montreal). 
  3. ^ "Name-calling reaches a new low," Financial Post, May 28, 1997, pg. 14.
  4. ^ Graeme Hamilton, "Charest's bumpy ride to the top," Times-Colonist, Victoria, B.C.: April 20, 2003, pg. D.1.Fro.
  5. ^ "Political scandal: a chronology," The Vancouver Sun, September 24, 1993, pg. A.6.
  6. ^ "Mulroney deal wasn't Airbus kickback, says Schreiber". December 4, 2007. 
  7. ^ "No smoking gun in Schreiber cash for Charest". The Gazette (Montreal). December 8, 2007. 
  8. ^ Terrance Wills, "Farewell to the Commons: MPs bid Charest adieu," The Montreal Gazette, April 3, 1998, pg. A.1.FRO.
  9. ^ The Canadian Press, "Charest takes Liberal reins: New leader heaps scorn on Quebec separatists," Calgary Herald May 1, 1998, pg. A.4.
  10. ^ Kevin Dougherty, "Thousands of Quebecers protest Charest labour plans," Calgary Herald, November 30, 2003, pg. A.8.
  11. ^ "Quebec argues Ottawa shorted province $1B in federal budget". CBC News. January 27, 2009. Retrieved April 2, 2014. 
  12. ^ "03-f009s.pm6" (PDF). Retrieved July 1, 2010. 
  13. ^ "Fusion, défusion. À l'heure des référendums". August 19, 2009. 
  14. ^ "Charest urged to testify before ethics committee". CTV News, December 5, 2007.
  15. ^ (French) "Jean Charest promet 700 M$ en baisses d'impôt". LCN, March 20, 2007.
  16. ^ (French) "Le PLQ présente ses grandes orientations". LCN, February 16, 2007.
  17. ^ (French) "Les étudiants menacent de déclencher une grève". LCN, February 19, 2007.
  18. ^ "Liberal Prime Minister Charest holds on to Sherbrooke seat". CBC News, March 27, 2007.
  19. ^ "Quebec remembers 1st referendum". May 20, 2010. Retrieved April 2, 2014. 
  20. ^ "Quebecers should have a choice, Chevrette says". CBC News, April 8, 1998.
  21. ^ "The Prime Minister of Quebec Jean Charest receives the Bavarian Order of Merit". July 12, 2007. 
  22. ^ Hillmer, Norman; Snyder, Lorraine (2011). "Charest, Jean J.". The Canadian Encyclopedia. The Historica-Dominion Institute. Retrieved June 11, 2011. 

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Monique Gagnon-Tremblay
Leader of the Opposition (Quebec)
Succeeded by
Bernard Landry
Preceded by
Bernard Landry
Premier of Quebec
Succeeded by
Pauline Marois
25th Ministry – Cabinet of Kim Campbell
Cabinet Posts (3)
Predecessor Office Successor
Don Mazankowski Deputy Prime Minister of Canada
June 25–November 4, 1993
Sheila Copps
Michael Wilson Minister of Industry, Science and Technology
June 25–November 4, 1993
styled as Minister of Industry
John Manley
Pierre H. Vincent Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs
June 25–November 4, 1993
styled as Minister of Industry
John Manley
Special Cabinet Responsibilities
Title Successor
position created Minister responsible for the Federal Office
of Regional Development - Quebec

Paul Martin
24th Ministry – Cabinet of Brian Mulroney
Cabinet Posts (3)
Predecessor Office Successor
Robert de Cotret Minister of the Environment
Pierre H. Vincent
' Minister of State (Fitness and Amateur Sport)
' Minister of State (Youth)
Party political offices
Preceded by
Kim Campbell
Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada
Succeeded by
Elsie Wayne
Preceded by
Daniel Johnson, Jr.
Leader of the Quebec Liberal Party
Succeeded by
Jean-Marc Fournier
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