5 questions with Jean Charest

Three-term premier and Liberal Party leader Jean Charest spoke to Daybreak host Mike Finnerty about anglophone voter apathy, supporting asbestos production and the aftermath of the student crisis.
Charest stressed that he wants to unite Quebecers around the issue his party feels is the most important to voters: the economy. (CBC)

Three-term premier and Liberal Party leader Jean Charest spoke to Daybreak host Mike Finnerty about anglophone voter apathy, supporting asbestos production and the aftermath of the student crisis.

Do you think you’ve solved the students crisis now that all of the CEGEP students that boycotted classes are voting to go back?

I think it’s a very good sign. We’re delighted for the students.

And 70 per cent of the students stayed in class, by the way. We forget. We tend to generalize.

One thing I do know is the day after the campaign, our door will remain open. This isn’t a thing of trying to say a day after, well everything is solved.

We did a lot last spring. We extended our hand many times to the student leaders. But, frankly what we were facing was intransigence, supported by Mme. Marois, which was totally irresponsible.

We have to continue to maintain a discussion and we will and we’ll work very hard so we can keep everyone focused on the right priority, which is getting university financing at the right level in a fair way.

Are you worried anglophones are tempted to vote for François Legault?


I’m convinced the anglophone community and the broader communities are going to be very supportive of the Liberal Party because after seeing what they’ve seen from Mr. Legault and Mme. Marois…they will want to support a political party that’s always been supportive of the community.

Furthermore, Mr. Legault is proposing to dismantle the school boards. If there’s one place where the anglophone community, I think, would feel strongly about the institutions they have, it’s school boards. Can it get any simpler than that?  

Voter turnout in west Montreal ridings was very low in 2008, with six out of 10 people not even going to vote in places like Westmount and NDG. Some people think that they have been taken for granted in the anglophone community. Voters are asking, what have you done for us lately?

That’s something I hear from time to time and I want to say that we do not take the community for granted. I can understand that would be a feeling some people would have.

Low voter turnout, by the way, is also a symptom that, in these ridings, a lot of people felt that the outcome was something that was fairly sure, which is something we should never take for granted in any election campaign, in any circumstances.

So going out and voting this time will be important. What have we done with this community? We’ve worked very hard, for example, in supporting its most important and cherished institutions. . .  

Look at the construction of the McGill University hospital. Visually you can see something happening in this community that is extremely important to its future. I think that speaks to the how committed we are to the whole community. 

Your government has approved a loan, $58 million of taxpayers’ money, to an asbestos mine. It’s "exporting death" according to Stephen Lewis. Why put taxpayers' money into that particular industry?

We actually deal with a lot of substances that are dangerous in our society, not just asbestos or chrysotile…We imposed a certain number of conditions when we took the decision to support the project – that there be audits and that there be controls in regards to the treatment of the substance.  

We’ve also debated this in our assembly through different governments over the last few years, how we treat a substance that may have consequences on health.

I support this decision, certainly I support this decision and in my heart and conscience, if I didn’t think it was the right decision I would not have supported it…

We have done something that we believe is right, with the right conditions and the right controls, to avoid a situation where anyone’s health can be affected by this.

There are a lot of products in the world that we handle every day that may have consequences on our health. The issue isn’t whether they exist or not, the issue is do we control them, do we do what we need to protect the health of people.

If your party does win a fourth term and you lose in Sherbrooke, will you stay on and run in a byelection like Robert Bourassa did?

I’m going to win in Sherbrooke. I had this question yesterday because some people thought maybe I’d run somewhere else than Sherbrooke.

I’m from Sherbrooke. I’m from the Eastern Townships. I love the townships. I met my wife there, grew up there, studied there. It’s where I’m from. It’s home.

So that’s where my future is and I don’t see myself running anywhere else than Sherbrooke.

I’m very confident about the decision in Sherbrooke. I’m very confident the people will support me. I have a great record and I’m facing a pequiste candidate that has zero record as a past member of the [national assembly].

What do we want and why do I want a new mandate?

A big part of it is so we can continue to live in a society where we can focus on common issues and not be divided either by François Legault or Mme. Marois and we can focus on the Plan Nord… I look at what happened last spring and, frankly, I think there’s a real reason for everyone to go out and vote on the fourth of September and say,' You know what? I want to live in a society where we respect each other.'