A gracious and emotional Jean Charest announced his resignation as the leader of Quebec's Liberal Party Wednesday, saying he "loved every single day" of his nine years as premier, and conceding that voters have chosen a new government with the Parti Québécois.
Charest, who was leader of Quebec's Liberals for 14 years, told reporters he has decided to leave politics in the coming days, after consulting with his family.
Known as a staunch federalist, Charest said he was proud of the way he led the Liberal party and also proud to live in Canada.
"We are all blessed to have been born in this country, to share its wealth, and we're blessed to have each other," he said. "I wish that every day, each and every one of us could feel and understand how much of an opportunity it is for us to live here."
The outgoing premier lost his home riding of Sherbrooke, Que., in Tuesday's provincial election, exactly 28 years to the day he entered politics on the national stage as a young Tory MP.
He said he steps down without regrets.
"I tell all Quebecers thank you from the bottom of my heart, you're just marvelous. The greatest dreams are there to be had by all of you," Charest said.
"I'm going home now. I thank you for the privilege that you gave me to enable me to be your premier."
The 54-year-old Charest's defeat to Pauline Marois and the Parti Québécois capped a nine-year tenure as premier, but his work as a public servant stretches back nearly three decades. Here's a look at some of the major dates in his political career:
Sept. 4, 2012: On the 28th anniversary of his debut as a federal MP, Jean Charest, the country's longest-serving premier, loses the 2012 Quebec election to the Parti Québécois, which will form the next minority government. He also loses his long-held seat as MLA in the riding of Sherbrooke.
August 2012: Having taken a dive in popularity amid unresolved tensions over proposed student tuition hikes, Premier and Liberal Party leader Charest takes a gamble and calls an election for Sept. 4. Adding to his political woes is the Charbonneau commission, a provincial inquiry into allegations of corruption in the construction industry. Opinion polls don't favour the Liberals.
May 2012: Charest announces a special emergency law aimed at quelling student protests. Bill 78 would suspend the semester for many CEGEP college and university students and set restrictions on street demonstrations. Passage of the bill creates further outrage and is criticized for suppressing freedom of expression.
November 2011: More than 20,000 Quebec students march to Charest's Montreal office to protest a proposed Liberal budget that would raise post-secondary tuition from $2,200 to $3,800 over the next five years. Anger grows over the next few months and student strikes become pervasive, leading to clashes with riot police, mass arrests and several injuries.
March 26, 2007: Trumpeting a platform that promises tax relief, the Liberals return to power and form a minority government. Charest introduces Quebec's first gender-balanced cabinet, with nine male and nine female members.
April 14, 2003: Quebec voters elect Charest's Liberals to form a new government, knocking out the Parti Québécois, which failed to win a third straight term after nine years in power. Charest campaigned under the slogan "We're ready." The Liberal victory puts the sovereignty question into a state of hibernation.
Jan. 19, 1999: Charest becomes the official Opposition critic for youth matters, a post he will hold until 2003.
April 30, 1998: Charest is elected leader of the Quebec Liberal Party, a post he holds for 14 years. He goes on to make his debut at the Quebec National Assembly as the leader of the Official Opposition, facing off with then-Parti Québécois leader Lucien Bouchard.
April 3, 1998: Charest departs as leader of the Progressive Conservative party, leaving the Tories in a pinch as he crosses into provincial politics to announce his candidacy as the new leader of the Quebec Liberal Party. "I am responding to a call and, after listening to the people of Quebec, I decided … to listen to my heart," he says from the Commons floor, explaining his decision to leave Ottawa.
Jean Charest: Bio
Born: June 24, 1958, in Sherbrooke, Que.
Education: Law degree, Université de Sherbrooke, 1980.
Political career: Elected to House of Commons as a Progressive Conservative MP in 1984. Became youngest-ever cabinet minister in 1986. Federal PC leader from 1995-98. Named Quebec Liberal leader in 1998. Elected premier in 2003, re-elected in 2007 and 2008.
1995: At a national-unity rally during the 1995 Quebec referendum, the image of a fiery Charest waving his Canadian passport in the air crystallizes the idea of him as a devoted federalist. Charest serves as vice-chair of the National Committee of Quebecers for the "No" side during the referendum.
Dec. 14, 1993: After Kim Campbell’s bruising loss in the Oct. 25 federal election, Charest becomes the interim leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, a post he holds until 1998. He also makes history by becoming the party's first ever francophone-born chief.
1993: Charest is appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Minister Designate for Industry and Science. That same year, he announces he will join the race to succeed Brian Mulroney as a candidate for the Progressive Conservative party leadership. Charest loses to Kim Campbell at the June convention, but finishes a strong second.
April 21, 1991: Charest is appointed Minister of the Environment, where he presents his Green Plan, pushing laws to curb the smuggling and poaching of wild animals and plants, as well as tougher regulations on the dumping of waste in the ocean. Charest would lead Canada's delegation to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
1990: Alleging political interference, the Liberals call for Charest's resignation after Charest, then sports minister, admits to making an improper phone call to a Quebec Superior Court judge who was about to rule on an athletics case. Mulroney reluctantly accepts Charest's resignation in late January, saying in Question Period that he nevertheless expects his protégé to have a "brilliant future" in politics.
1988-1991: Charest takes on a number of different posts, serving as Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and chairing a special committee to study a proposed companion resolution to the Meech Lake Accord. Mulroney also appoints him Minister of State for Fitness and Amateur Sport.
1986: Less than a week after celebrating his 28th birthday, Charest is sworn in at Rideau Hall, thus becoming the youngest federal cabinet minister in Canadian history. Charest is appointed Minister of State for Youth, and lists employment and the eradication of illiteracy as key priorities.
Sept. 18, 1984: Charest begins his tenure as Assistant Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, a post he holds for two years.
Sept. 4, 1984: Fresh-faced and fluently bilingual, the University of Sherbrooke grad and civil-liberties lawyer is elected to the House of Commons as a Progressive Conservative MP representing the riding of Sherbrooke. He serves with Brian Mulroney's Tories.