Charest could oversee a strong Tory reboot

By Roderick Benns

Roderick Benns is the publisher of The Advocate. An award-winning author and journalist who grew up in Lindsay, he has written several books including Basic Income: How a Canadian Movement Could Change the World.

Jean Charest, former leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.

Even before Jean Charest had made it official that he was entering the Conservative leadership race, Pierre Poilievre, the party’s most adroit malcontent, had already become unglued at the prospect of the former Progressive Conservative Party leader running to regain his old job.

Poilievre, representing both the unhinged and the merely unsatisfied far right wing, is the kind of politician who animates conservative discourse in 2022. A sharp but intemperate politician, he is the heir apparent to all things narrow and mean-spirited within the Conservative Party of Canada. That is, unless someone of a more moderate touch can restore it, which is of course to Poilievere’s disadvantage. After all, Skippy, as he is known, is a man who has never doubted himself —  always the most dangerous kind of person.  

Enter Jean Charest, who caused quite the buzz when he announced his intention to run, given his impressive political pedigree. The youngest MP ever to be sworn into cabinet, Charest, in a memorable stint as environment minister, would later help Brian Mulroney cement his reputation as the greenest prime minister in Canadian history.

When it came time to run for the leadership of what was then the Progressive Conservative Party, and even though Kim Campbell had a massive lead, Charest made it highly competitive, even though he was just 35 at the time.

After the near annihilation of the party in 1993, Charest worked assiduously to rebuild it, taking the PCs to 20 seats in the next election at a time when Reform was siphoning conservative voter support.

In 1998 he was practically drafted by the nation to stop then-Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard and the nationalist Parti Québecois from winning an election and gaining a sovereignty mandate. To do so, Charest had to work within the Liberal Party, since there was no Conservative equivalent in the province. Coming from behind, Charest won the popular vote, although not the election, and helped to arrest the sovereignty movement.

Aside from Poilievre, other social conservatives may look to Leslyn Lewis. (As someone who has long supported strong women to run for office, and certainly strong women of colour, I consider it a shame Lewis is the “wrong and strong” type, as a friend once remarked to me.)

In 2022, after so many fits and starts, it’s time for the Conservatives to field a true leader in waiting – someone with the gravitas and the political acumen to go toe to toe with Justin Trudeau and offer an alternative.

It is delightful to consider that the Conservative Party could once again find its moderate roots and help change this toxic political culture. These roots stretch all the way back to John A. Macdonald, Robert Borden and John Diefenbaker and were still being nurtured by Brian Mulroney before the drought of common sense prevailed in this party.

Charest is the best way to see a Tory reboot succeed.

1 Comment

  1. John Cullen says:

    Only a far-left socialist (but I repeat myself) would unabashedly suggest Canada needs Jean Charest as a third Party Leader to join the NDP/Liberal coalition.

    Standard Liberal/Socialist rhetoric is designed to strike fear among Canadians by describing anyone who disagrees with them as being “adroit malcontents”, “unglued”, or “a fringe minority with unacceptable views”.

    Even though true Conservatives like Pierre Poilievre still adhere to basic Conservative principals, Conservatives are only prefixed with “far right” today because Liberals have been racing so far away to the Left that even the NDP are having trouble hanging onto their coattails.

    I do agree with your statement “it’s time for the Conservatives to field a true leader in waiting – someone with the gravitas and the political acumen to go toe to toe with Justin Trudeau and offer an alternative”.

    We already have. Pierre Poilievre has proven so on multiple occasions in the House of Commons, and made it quite clear to a large cheering crowd on Sunday afternoon in Lindsay.

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