Charest, Jean J.

Jean J. Charest, lawyer, politician, premier of Québec from 2003 to 2012 (born at Sherbrooke, Qué, 24 June 1958). Charest received both his undergraduate degree and a degree in law at Sherbrooke University. He was first elected as Member of Parliament for Sherbrooke in 1984. He was almost immediately appointed the assistant deputy speaker of the House of Commons, a position he held from November 1984 to June 1986. Prime Minister Brian MULRONEY then made Charest Minister of State (Youth) and the youngest person ever to serve in the federal Cabinet. Mulroney added the responsibilities of Fitness and Amateur Sport in March 1988 and deputy leader of the House of Commons on 30 January 1989. While in New Zealand for the Commonwealth Games in January 1990, Charest resigned from Cabinet for having improperly spoken to a judge in a case regarding the Canadian Track and Field Association.

Charest remained a Mulroney favourite and in 1990 the prime minister appointed him chair of a special committee to study a companion resolution to the MEECH LAKE ACCORD. The Charest report, with its proposed modifications to the Meech Lake deal, was the pretext for the departure of Lucien BOUCHARD from the Mulroney Cabinet. Though Charest and Bouchard had been close until then, they have scarcely spoken since.

Charest returned to the Cabinet as Minister of the Environment on 21 April 1991, leading the Canadian delegation to the Earth Summit in Brazil. He also sat on the Cabinet Committees on Priorities and Planning and on Canadian Unity and Constitutional Negotiations.

Charest ran for the leadership of the federal CONSERVATIVES in 1993, and finished a strong second to Kim CAMPBELL at the June convention in Ottawa. He was deputy prime minister and Minister of Industry and Science in the short-lived Campbell government. He was then one of only two Conservative Members of Parliament elected in the disastrous campaign lost by Campbell in 1993.

Charest became interim chief of the party on 14 December 1993 and was confirmed as leader in 1995 (the first French Canadian ever to head the Conservatives). He spent the next two years rebuilding the party, fundraising, and creating a consensus for a new platform that heavily emphasized conservative economic themes. In the 1997 election, the Charest Conservatives secured 18% of the national vote and 20 seats overall. Reform, with the same percentage of the vote but concentrated in the West, managed three times the number of seats.

Charest was a powerful, and perhaps the decisive voice, in the 1995 QUÉBEC REFERENDUM. His popularity in the province increased thereafter with the polls taken in the summer of 1997 showing him ahead of premier Lucien Bouchard. When Daniel Johnson resigned as leader of the Québec Liberal Party in early 1998, Charest was prevailed upon to accept the leadership. He resigned as Conservative leader on 3 April and became Québec Liberal leader in May.

Charest, a Quebec nationalist whose agenda asserts Quebec's interests within Canada rather than separation or sovereignty, defeated the Parti Québécois led by Bernard LANDRY on 14 April 2003. During his first administration, he sought to effect sweeping reforms to the provision of services by privatizing in some areas.

In the general election of 21 Feb 2007, the Liberals, campaigning on a platform of tax cuts, health care and educational reforms, were returned with a minority. Charest only narrowly won his own seat in Sherbrooke against his Parti Québécois opponent. In November 2008 Charest called a snap election, arguing that he needed a majority to respond to the economic crisis. The resulting 8 Dec 2008 election saw the Liberals returned with a majority. Their slogan, L'économie d'abord, oui (the economy first, yes), summarized the party's platform, which focused on achieving economic stability in Quebec; this resonated with voters during one of the most turbulent economic times in recent memory. Jean Charest's 2008 win rendered him the first Quebec premier since Maurice DUPLESSIS to win three successive mandates in the province. On 2 February, 2009, Jean Charest was made a commander of the Legion of Honour by President Sarkozy of France.

By the Québec general election of 2012, public support for Charest and the Liberal party had declined. Several government policies were unpopular, including the proposed tuition increases for post-secondary education. Masses of students protested, boycotting classes in response to the government’s plans to increase tuition by over $300 per year for five years. Hundreds of thousands of students went on strike, joined by members of unions and opposition political parties, among other supporters. In May 2012 the Charest government passed Bill 78, an emergency measure whose stated purpose was to ensure that students had access to their educational institutions; the legislation placed significant restrictions on protests. While the bill was praised by some, it was also criticized by many organizations, including the Quebec Human Rights Commission.

In the 2012 general election, Charest lost his riding and the Québec Liberal Party fell to second place. Pauline Marois, leader of the Parti Québécois, became the first female premier of Québec, at the head of a minority government. Charest resigned as party leader shortly after the election, ending a 28-year career in politics. In January 2013, Charest returned to the practice of law, joining the firm McCarthy Tétrault LLP as a full equity partner.