Jean Charest Exits on Top

The headlines haven’t been kind to the outgoing Premier this morning: Jean Charest’s luck finally runs out, Charest’s Gamble Costs Liberals, Charest Has Only Himself To Blame For Quebec Election Defeat. I suspect many of these post-mortems were written before the votes rolled in last night, because the end result tells a far different tale – the Liberals finished within 1 percentage point and 4 seats of the PQ.

This wasn’t simply a case of “sauver les meubles” – a few votes here and there, and the Liberals could have pulled it off. Had Charest held his own riding, we’d be speculating about him trying to cut a deal with the CAQ to stay on as Premier. That he came so close is remarkable, and not just because most polls and seat projections had the Liberals going down in flames.

The reality is, few governments are given a fourth term – especially governments at the center of a public inquiry into corruption. The conditions were ripe for a crushing PQ victory, or for the CAQ to relegate the Liberals to third party status. Instead, Charest has left his party well positioned for a return to power in a few years, should be PQ flounder. Admitedly, the Charbonneau inquiry could taint the Liberals, but by punishing Charest yesterday, the electorate might be more willing to give his successor a clean slate.

I won’t pretend Charest’s record as Premier is spotless. On most issues, he’s been a disappointment, and he leaves the province in a financial mess. However, he was drafted as PLQ leader with a mission statement to “save Canada” and, on that score, he fullfilled his mandate. The proof of this is that the PQ victory that swept him out of office has been met not with the usual national panic, but with a giant shrug. A CROP poll last week showed support for separation at 28%, and Marois doesn’t have the votes in the House or in the streets to call a referendum.

While Charest lost the election and lost his seat last night, he still exits a winner, having secured his legacy.

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Quebec Politics

About CalgaryGrit

A former Calgary Liberal, now living in Toronto. My writings on politics can be found at www.calgarygrit.ca and online at the National Post.

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15 Responses to Jean Charest Exits on Top

  1. daveberta

    One personal electoral defeat in 28 years? Not a bad track record.

    • The Invisible Hand

      He also lost the 1998 Quebec election, and the 1993 federal PC leadership.

  2. Sean C.

    I basically agree with your assessment. On matters of economic policy he ended up not doing much of anything to alter the course past governments had set Quebec on. On a national level, he represented a decade of tranquility on national unity, and as he leaves office the prospect of a return to the chaos of 1995 seems distant.

  3. Andrew MacPherson

    I was a Charest delegate at the 1993 Tory leadership convention. I you’d told me the night of his loss to Kim Campbell or the night of the big PC election loss that fall that his career would turn out this well I’d have been shocked. I met him in the mid-90s and found him to be a very personable guy, very down to earth. Just an ordinary guy trying to get by every day.

  4. Say hello

    The reality is, few governments are given a fourth term – especially governments at the center of a public inquiry into corruption.

    Yet, isn’t that why he “has only himself to blame”, as the headline you dispute claims? He was obviously always a long shot to win this time around.

    he was drafted as PLQ leader with a mission statement to “save Canada” and, on that score, he fullfilled his mandate.

    Oh? In what way did he fulfill this mandate? Twisting Harper’s arm to declare a Quebec nation? Signing the Constitution? Appealing to hurt separatists to leave the past behind and examine the new Canada? I consider him a failure on this ‘mandate’.

    He’s been lazy and aimless, and asked for a fourth shot.

    Sure, he came close.

    If he’d quit and, say, coaxed Trudeau to run in his stead, maybe Legault might have come in a close second.

    He exits on top in terms of the generous government pensions, sure. But he totally fumbled this election.

    Trudeau should run for the Quebec Liberals, do Premier, then run for the Canadian Liberals.

    he represented a decade of tranquility on national unity, and as he leaves office the prospect of a return to the chaos of 1995 seems distant.

    Yeah… what with Montréal merchants pleading with students to let up on the manifestations and clashes with police and a hardline nationalist campaign carrying the day for a separatist government, can we really credit Charest with “creating and fostering tranquility”? More like “lazy and rocked few boats”, which could be read as tranquility.

    • Sean C.

      Provincial leadership is not a road to federal leadership in Canada. The demands of those jurisdictions are too at odds too often.

    • CalgaryGrit

      I don’t think it’s obvious Charest’s succesor would have done any better this election. It’s not like Gordon Campbell leaving helped the BC Libs (or, since we’ve been talking about it, Campbell replacing Mulroney).

      And I cannot fathom a scenario would Justin Trudeau would run to be PLQ leader or win the job.

      • say hello

        I don’t think it’s obvious Charest’s succesor would have done any better this election.

        Please. As obvioos as imaginary scenarios can be, it was obvious Charest was going to lose. Maybe — maybe — he’d pull off a miracle, but know as well as I. do that the electorate was personally fed up with him and ready for someone new.

        Trudeau is a quick example; there are better examples, sure.

        Charest ran and lost on ego. He was warmly invited on Tout Le Monde En Parle last year to retire for “a well earned rest and retirement”. People were warm yett clear that they didn’t want to see him for another term. Another Liberal plainly could have outperformed his election result.

  5. Party of One

    One thing I really LIKE about the Quebec electorate is that they keep their politicians’ feet to the fire by not electing the same party over and over again, no matter what they do or don’t do. I wish Albertans would learn that lesson; our politicians wouldn’t be quite so complacent and/or arrogant.

    • CalgaryGrit

      Quebecers are actually quite pragmatic voters. Both federally and provincially, they’ll shift their votes en masse to whoever benefits them the most.

  6. icky

    Charest saved a lot of his MNAs jobs Tuesday night… this was one of those elections where the PLQ had no business of winning – barely a sliver of hope through any rational analysis at the outset – yet he almost pulled it off. The vote showed you can never count out Charest, and while he went down to defeat, he has proven himself a capable man over nearly three decades of service.

  7. Ed

    Maybe he got thrown out of provincial politics just in time to make a run for the federal Liberal leadership.

  8. Party of One

    Ed, I would be curious to know how many people have run first for the PC leadership, as Charest did, then served as PLQ leader(or any other provincial Liberal leader), and then successfully run for federal leadership.

    As noted elsewhere, provincial leadership is VERY rarely a successful springboard to federal party leadership.

    I think it’s far more likely that Charest is being groomed for a Senate seat, where he can resume his duties as “Captain Canada” when Harper’s policies provoke another referendum.

  9. CalgaryGrit

    Charest as LPC leader makes some sense, and I’d definitely consider supporting him, but I suspect he’ll go sit on some boards and make a ton of money now.

  10. Pingback: Charest’s Loss May Be Harper’s Gain | Calgary Grit

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