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John James "Jean" Charest, PC, MNA ( ; born June 24, 1958), a Canadianmarker lawyer and politician, is the 29th and current Premier of Quebec. He is a former leader of the federal Progressive Conservative Party (1993–1998) and the current leader of the Quebec Liberal Party.


Charest was born in the Eastern Townships central city of Sherbrookemarker, Quebecmarker, the son of Rita (née Leonard), an Irish Quebecer, and Claude 'Red' Charest, a French Canadian. He obtained a law degree from the Université de Sherbrookemarker and was admitted to the Barreau du Quebec in 1981. He is married to Michèle Dionne (since June 21, 1980) and they have three children, Amélie, Antoine, and Alexandra.

Conservative Party Minister

He worked as a lawyer until he was elected Progressive Conservative member of the Canadian Parliamentmarker 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." 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. He returned to cabinet as Minister of the Environment in 1991.

1993 and 1995 PC leadership bid and PC leadership

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. It should also be noted that at this time federal leadership election rules did permit such cash donations. Rules against such donations for provincial party leadership still do not exist (to the exception of Quebec).

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 were swept from power. Only two of the party's 295 candidates were elected— Charest and Elsie Wayne. As the only surviving member of what would turn 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 last) leader of francophone descent of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.

In the 1997 election, the Tories received 19% of the vote, winning 20 seats out of 301, mostly in Atlantic Canadamarker. The party was back from the brink, but Charest considered the result a disappointment.

Quebec Liberal Party Leader

In April 1998, Charest gave in to considerable public and political pressure, 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 sovereignist 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. The two parties won almost the same number of seats in the National Assembly of Quebec as they had won in the previous election in 1994, in which the Liberals had been led by Daniel Johnson, Jr.

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.

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.

Quebec Premier

Charest's first two years as premier 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 six 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 is widely expected to address this issue through increased equalization payments, while falling short of Quebec's overall demands.

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 Orfordmarker 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 Longueuilmarker and Quebec Citymarker and the continued support of the Anglophone community in the West Island of Montrealmarker. 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. In some former municipalities, such as Saint Laurentmarker on the Island of Montreal, the turnout of the vote was of 75.2 per cent in favor of a demerger, but it was invalidated because the voter turnout was just 28.6 per cent.

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 riding in the west of Montreal, meaning that the increase in support would not necessarily translate into seats.

Charest has faced no real challenges to his leadership. There has, however, been 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 premier's 1993 leadership bid for the federal Progressive Conservative party.

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 dollars. 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; 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). 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.

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. The resulting minority government is the first since 1878 when Charles Boucher de Boucherville was Premier.

2008 Quebec election

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.

Status of Quebec

In the late 1980s and early 90s, 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. In the 1997 election, Charest campaigned in favour of Quebec being constitutionally recognized as a distinct society. During his mandate as premier, he made efforts to expand the place of Quebec in the international community. The province was granted representation at UNESCOmarker, the cultural branch of the United Nations. Charest also voiced some support for the Calgary Declaration (1997), which recognized Quebec as "unique."

During the debate in the Canadian Parliamentmarker 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.

First name

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." 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.

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.

In the 2003 election, Charest's Liberals won 76 seats, forming a majority government.

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) Mr. Charest won his own riding of Sherbrooke with a majority of 1332 votes. In 2003 he obtained a majority of 2597 votes while in 1998, he received a majority of 907 votes.

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


See also


  1. Graeme Hamilton, "Charest's bumpy ride to the top," Times-Colonist, Victoria, B.C.: April 20, 2003, pg. D.1.Fro.
  2. "Political scandal: a chronology," The Vancouver Sun, September 24, 1993, pg. A.6.
  3. Terrance Wills, "Farewell to the Commons: MPs bid Charest adieu," The Montreal Gazette, April 3, 1998, pg. A.1.FRO.
  4. The Canadian Press, "Charest takes Liberal reins: New leader heaps scorn on Quebec separatists," Calgary Herald May 1, 1998, pg. A.4.
  5. Kevin Dougherty, "Thousands of Quebecers protest Charest labour plans," Calgary Herald, November 30, 2003, pg. A.8.
  7. "Charest urged to testify before ethics committee". CTV News, December 5, 2007.
  8. "Jean Charest promet 700 M$ en baisses d'impĂ´t". LCN, March 20, 2007.
  9. "Le PLQ présente ses grandes orientations". LCN, February 16, 2007.
  10. "Les étudiants menacent de déclencher une grève". LCN, February 19, 2007.
  11. "Liberal Premier Charest holds on to Sherbrooke seat". CBC News, March 27, 2007.
  12. "Quebecers should have a choice, Chevrette says". CBC News, April 8, 1998.
  13. "Name-calling reaches a new low," Financial Post, May 28, 1997, pg. 14.

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