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Former Quebec premier Jean Charest to launch his Tory leadership campaign in Calgary

Charest re-entering federal politics for the first time in more than 20 years
Former Quebec premier Jean Charest speaks to reporters as he arrives for an event in Ottawa on Wednesday, March 2, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Former Quebec premier Jean Charest will formally launch his campaign for the Conservative leadership campaign in Calgary Thursday,telling party members that he can win an election.

Winning is something Conservatives want to see after three back-to-back losses to Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose minority of seats in the House of Commons means an election could be triggered at any point.

Conservatives will learn who their new leader is Sept. 10, and candidates have until April 19 to declare they’re running and June 3 to submit new membership applications.

Charest’s bid to lead the Tories means he’s re-entering federal politics for the first time in more than 20 years and he has hopped onto social media for the occasion.

“Let’s be proud to be ambitious. Let’s be proud to be united. Let’s be proud to be conservative,” said a message from a newly launched Jean Charest Twitter account Thursday morning.

Charest, 63, is running under the slogan “Built to Win.” A campaign website also launched Thursday highlights points from his career as both a federal political leader and as Quebec’s premier from 2003 to 2012.

“He has governed with a commitment to conservative principles like balanced budgets, smaller government, and championed tax relief and policies for families. This record won him three consecutive elections,” it says.

Charest was first elected as an MP in 1984 in former prime minister Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government and became a cabinet minister before he was 30.

He went on to lead the Tories from 1993 until 1998, when he left federal politics to lead the Quebec Liberal party. Charest served as Quebec’s premier until 2012 before he was defeated in an election that followed massive student protests.

“There is no time for amateur politics,” Charest’s website reads.

“Our democracy is at stake. We need a leader who understands that winning a national government is built through consensus and unity, not through division and alienation. Jean Charest is a conservative leader who is built to win.”

Pierre Poilievre, a high-profile and long-serving Ottawa-area MP who was the first to declare his candidacy for the Conservative leadership, has been dismissing Charest as favouring policies that the Liberals use, such as the federal carbon price that many party members detest.

As Quebec’s premier, Charest ushered in a cap-and-trade program. His website calls him “a credible advocate on resource development coupled with strong environmental performance.”

Charest’s campaign says he informed the party president on Wednesday of his intention to enter the race. He is to make the formal announcement at a Calgary brewery Thursday evening.

The Conservatives hold 30 out of 34 seats in Alberta, considered part of the Tory heartland — and home of the country’s last Conservative prime minster, Stephen Harper—along with neighbouring Saskatchewan, where the party holds every seat.

By launching in Calgary, Charest also hopes to bring a message of national unity and signal support to party members who are concerned about Western alienation. Some Alberta and Saskatchewan MPs who recently attended a reception for Charest in Ottawa acknowledged the former Quebec premier could be in for a tough fight with the region’s grassroots.

After his launch Thursday, Charest is to appear at a meet and greet Friday morning before travelling to Vancouver.

Other declared candidates in the Conservative leadership race include rookie Ontario MP Leslyn Lewis and Independent Ontario MPP Roman Baber.

Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown, once a young supporter of Charest, is also expected to enter therace on Sunday.

—Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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