Jean Charest formally launches Conservative Party leadership bid from Calgary

Jean Charest, the former Quebec premier and federal cabinet minister, has formally announced he's running for leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. 

Former Quebec premier is 4th candidate to enter leadership race

Jean Charest at the launch of his campaign for leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada at Wildrose Brewery in Calgary on Thursday. (Oseremen Irete/CBC)

Jean Charest, a former Quebec premier and federal cabinet minister, has formally announced he's running to be the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. 

Charest launched his bid — which has been anticipated for some time — at a brewery in Calgary Thursday night. It marks the first stop on a tour to kick off his campaign, dubbed "Built to Win." 

The returning politician spoke to the crowded room about a range of issues, including the importance of unity, representing Canadians equally, natural resources and respecting provincial jurisdiction. 

Charest, 63, was the head of the now-defunct Progressive Conservative Party from 1993 to 1998 and was a federal cabinet minister prior to that. He was premier of Quebec from 2003 until 2012, elected under the province's Liberal party.

"I'm here in Alberta tonight because I want to make a point," he said, speaking about the need to restore unity to Canada. 

"If Canadians are not together around the same table, this country is not going to meet its potential."

WATCH | Jean Charest launches Conservative Party leadership bid:

Jean Charest launches Conservative Party leadership bid

4 months ago
Duration 1:54
Jean Charest, former Quebec premier who was head of the now-defunct federal PC Party, launched his run for the leadership of the federal Conservative Party in Calgary on Thursday night. His campaign kickoff speech focused on unity, respecting provincial jurisdiction and what it means to be a Conservative.

Charest told his supporters that the Conservative Party has a responsibility to help Canada meet that potential, but it has been distracted from that goal. 

"As I look at the party today, the party is fractured. And the party needs to look at itself and ask itself what is it that we represent, who is it that we represent." 

He appeared to direct his remarks to those who feel left out of the current federal government's policies, making several comments aimed directly at Alberta conservatives. 

Charest launched his bid in Calgary. While he said the role of Canada's resource sector is key to the country's economy, he also noted climate change must be addressed to show "we can walk and chew gum at the same time." (Oseremen Irete/CBC)

Charest criticized the federal Liberal government for disrespecting provincial jurisdiction and reiterated his general support for pipelines. He also called for the repeal of federal environmental and energy laws, namely C-48 and C-69 — the oil tanker ban off the northern coast of British Columbia and the legislation that changed the environmental assessment process for energy projects, respectively.

Charest said he disagreed with the carbon tax increase planned for April 1. 

And while he said the role of Canada's resource sector is key to the country's economy, he also noted climate change must be addressed to show "we can walk and chew gum at the same time."

Criticism of Charest's ties to Quebec, Liberals

Charest is hosting a meet-and-greet in Calgary Friday morning as well. Former Conservative leader Erin O'Toole, who Charest is running to replace, also launched his leadership campaign in the city two years ago.

Some in the party are questioning how a former Quebec premier will play in Western Canada. His opponent Pierre Poilievre, has been quick to accuse him of being too similar to the Liberals.

Charest's supporters have argued the Quebec provincial Liberal party is a coalition and there was no direct equivalent of the federal Conservatives at the provincial level. 

Lori Williams, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, said Charest has a "reputation for being able to bridge divides within his own province and between and amongst people that are from different parts of the country.

"But that federal experience is fairly long in the past and may not be recognized outside of certain circles."

Williams added those attacks may work in certain segments of the membership. 

"He may not be someone who can really generate the kind of support he needs within the party to win the leadership." 

The Quebec Liberal Party was facing numerous allegations of corruption when Charest left provincial office in 2012 after his defeat at the polls. Late last month, however, an investigation into the party's financing quietly ended without any charges being laid. 

Charest went on to work in the private sector after his time in politics. His work at the law firm, McCarthy Tetrault included providing strategic advice to companies to help them lobby governments.

Says he worked to secure release of 2 Michaels

The Globe and Mail has reported that work included advising Chinese telecom company Huawei on the Meng Wanzhou case and 5G networks.

Charest addressed that connection on Thursday night, saying he worked to secure the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor who were detained by China, widely seen as retaliation for the arrest of Meng, Huawei's chief financial officer.

"I'm very proud of what we did to sort out this situation of Ms. Meng Wanzhou, and I worked with the family of Michael Kovrig so we could free the two Michaels," he said. 

  "I never did anything, and would've never done anything, that would be contrary to the interest of my country."

Poilievre, the Conservative MP for Carleton in the Ottawa area, was the first candidate to formally announce a run and is widely seen as the frontrunner thus far. Conservative MP Leslyn Lewis announced Tuesday that she's taking her second run at the leadership.

Charest threw a jab at his competitors, like Poilievre, during his launch. 

"I have adversaries that spend more time on my campaign than on their campaign," he said. 

Candidates can apply to enter the leadership race until April 19. The party will declare its new leader on September 10.


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