Charest, Jean


Charest, Jean
▪ 1999

      In March 1998 charismatic Canadian politician Jean Charest abandoned the federal government and the Progressive Conservative Party (PCP) to assume the leadership of the Quebec Liberal Party (QLP). His move into provincial politics was made in an effort to wrest political control of Quebec from the separatist Parti Québécois (PQ), headed by Lucien Bouchard, prior to a referendum on Quebec independence. Although Charest's popularity in Quebec had been expected to propel the QLP to a victory in the November 30 provincial election, his party won only 48 seats in the Quebec National Assembly, compared with 75 seats for the PQ. The QLP gained a slight majority (44%) over the PQ (43%) in the popular vote, however, an outcome that would delay the referendum on independence.

      John James Charest was born June 24, 1958, in Sherbrooke, Que., and grew up speaking both English and French. He earned a law degree from the University of Sherbrooke and was called to the Quebec bar in 1980. He practiced criminal law in Sherbrooke before entering politics. He was elected to the House of Commons in 1984 and represented the riding of Sherbrooke for 14 years.

      His rise in federal politics was meteoric. The same year that he was elected to the Commons, Charest was named assistant deputy speaker. In 1986 he made Canadian history when he assumed the portfolio of minister of state for youth—he became the youngest MP to be named to the Cabinet. He was appointed minister of state for fitness and amateur sport in 1988 and deputy leader of the government in 1989. In 1990, however, his career suffered a setback. He was cited for interfering with the judicial process after he telephoned a judge about a case. Although forced to resign from the Cabinet, Charest did not remain a backbencher for long. In 1991 he returned to the Cabinet as minister of the environment and a member of the Priorities and Planning Committee. When Prime Minister Brian Mulroney retired in 1993, Charest made an unsuccessful bid for leadership of the PCP. Thereafter, he served in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Kim Campbell as deputy prime minister until the 1993 election, which swept the PCP from power; Charest was one of only two PCP candidates to be elected to Parliament. After succeeding Kim Campbell as PCP leader in December 1993, he worked to rebuild the party and achieved some success. In the 1997 general election, the PCP won 20 seats in the House of Commons.

      Charest rose to national prominence as chairman of the parliamentary Special Committee to Study the Proposed Companion Resolution to the Meech Lake Accord 1990, a proposed constitutional amendment that would have given Quebec special status. After the 1993 election he campaigned vigorously in Quebec against separation and was credited with helping to defeat the proposition in the October 1995 vote.

DIANE LOIS WAY

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Universalium. 2010.

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