Politics

Jean Charest considering Conservative leadership run: sources

Jean Charest, the former Quebec premier and ex-leader of the federal Progressive Conservative Party, is preparing to run for the leadership of the Conservative Party, according to party sources who spoke with Radio-Canada.

Former Quebec premier is fine-tuning his plan but may still change his mind, sources within party say

Jean Charest, former Quebec premier and ex-leader of the federal Progressive Conservative Party, is interested in running for the leadership of the Conservative Party, sources have told Radio-Canada. Erin O'Toole stepped down as leader of the party earlier this month following a vote by the party caucus (Ivanhoe Demers/Radio-Canada)

Jean Charest, the former Quebec premier and ex-leader of the federal Progressive Conservative Party, is preparing to run for the leadership of the Conservative Party, according to party sources who spoke with Radio-Canada.

Charest is fine-tuning a plan for his leadership bid, according to Conservative sources familiar with his plans.

"We have support in all the provinces. People will be surprised by the support we receive, even in Western Canada," a supporter of Charest's candidacy said.

All the sources spoke to Radio-Canada, CBC's French-language service, on condition they not be named because they were not authorized to confirm candidates' plans or to speak about internal party matters.

Former Conservative leader Erin O'Toole stepped down from the position earlier this month following a vote by the party caucus. Candice Bergen replaced him as interim leader.

Pierre Poilievre, the member of Parliament for Carleton and a former cabinet minister under Stephen Harper, is so far the only candidate to have confirmed he will run for the leadership but others have expressed interest.

The rumoured leadership bid by National Post columnist and political consultant Tasha Kheiriddin, for example, is no longer an if but a when, according to several Conservative sources, including within her campaign.

"We are organizing ourselves. We are setting up the campaign structure in each province," a senior source in Kheiriddin's campaign said.

"We are ready to go. But the final decision will depend a lot on the rules that will be chosen by the party."

Charest's camp said it is still reserving the right to change its mind about a run.

"As long as it is not announced, anything can happen," stressed the Charest supporter. 

In the last Conservative leadership race two years ago, Charest recorded a campaign-launch video but ended up not running.

Charest's executive assistant at McCarthy-Tétreault, the law firm at which he is currently a partner, told Radio-Canada he is not giving interviews.

Other candidates

Patrick Brown, mayor of Brampton, Ont., and former leader of Ontario's Progressive Conservative Party, is also considering throwing his hat in, according to sources. But looming Ontario municipal elections in November could complicate his decision. 

If he doesn't run, Brown could still lend his political organization to a candidate, as he did for Peter MacKay in 2020.

Brampton mayor Patrick Brown is one of a number of potential candidates considering a bid for the leadership. (CBC)

MacKay, who came second to Erin O'Toole in 2020, hasn't ruled out running again. 

Leslyn Lewis, who is seen as aligned with the socially conservative wing of the party and is the member of Parliament for Haldimand—Norfolk in southwestern Ontario, finished third in the last leadership race, is also preparing her team.

Charest, the former Liberal premier of Quebec from 2003 to 2012 who was a cabinet minister in Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservative government and led the party from 1995 to 1998, has been courted by both centrist conservatives and right-leaning liberals.

"With his international experience in the business world and in politics, he is a must," said another source who supports his possible candidacy.

"And in addition, he is a formidable debater who would give Justin Trudeau a hard time."

The argument in favour of Kheiriddin's bid, according to another one of her supporters, is that she is a "blank canvas, without political baggage."

Charest, in contrast, could be hurt by his past as a provincial Liberal and by the fact that he and his law firm were advising Huawei when two Canadians were detained in China.

Charest's consultancy work with Chinese company Huawei could hamper his leadership ambitions. He is currently a partner at the law firm McCarthy-Tétreault. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

The source within Kheiriddin's campaign said her team has been contacted "by former members who would return to the party and non-members who would consider voting Conservative if Tasha were the leader."

Poilievre's populism faces opposition within party

The Conservative Party leadership committee will soon announce rules for candidates, such as the registration fee, the number of signatures required to enter the race and campaign spending limits.

The shorter the race and the higher the number of signatures required, the harder it will be for new candidates.

A June vote could deter potential new candidates and give Poilievre an advantage, the Conservative source said. 

Sources say an "Anyone but Pierre" movement to oppose Poilievre is organizing within the more centrist wing of the party.

Conservatives say his right-wing brand of conservatism and his support for the recent convoy protests make him a tough sell in urban Quebec and Ontario.

"People are sick of Republican-style populism. It can't go on if we want to win," one of the Conservative sources who supports Charest said.

"Faced with the crisis of national unity and the problem of social cohesion in the country, we need a leader who unites, not who polarizes."

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre is the only candidate to have officially announced a leadership bid. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

A number of candidates who lean more to the party's centre are considering running against Poilievre, but their supporters don't seem worried about that spreading financing and votes too thin.

"It will help us present a positive image to the population," a Conservative member of Parliament said. 

"And if we go to the second or third round, the more progressive candidates we have, the more votes we have to elect one."

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