Former Quebec premier Jean Charest says he’s returning to the private sector after his lopsided loss to MP Pierre Poilievre in the Conservative leadership election.
Charest, who campaigned as a more moderate Tory compared to the right-wing and populist Poilievre, congratulated his opponent on his win in a video message Sunday, saying he ran “a very energetic campaign.” Charest was not effusive in his praise.
While the two frontrunners traded jabs throughout the months-long campaign, Charest said it’s now time to unite around the party’s pick in order to defeat their common enemy: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals.
The 64-year-old Charest suggested his time in electoral politics is over and he won’t pursue a seat in the House of Commons now that he’s lost the leadership.
But, Charest said, he’ll continue to be a card-carrying Conservative with an interest in the party’s success.
“I will continue to be a member of the party and I’ll continue to fight for the ideas I put forward during this leadership race,” Charest said.
“Now is the time for us to prepare for the next election campaign and unite behind the new leader.”
In the end, it appears the Conservative party isn’t all that divided.
Poilievre cruised to an easy victory, winning a commanding 68.15 per cent of the available points on the first ballot. Charest finished a distant second and captured 16.07 per cent of the points allocated in this preferential ballot election.
Under the party’s leadership rules, the election is conducted through a points system that gives all ridings equal weight.
Points are allotted proportionally according to the vote in each electoral district, with each riding eligible to cast 100 points (provided there are at least 100 accepted votes cast from that riding).
“It was a crushing win. I think that will be very worrying to the Liberals — they were counting on some sort of division, so it’s a great start for Pierre,” said Kory Teneycke, an ex-staffer in former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper’s office and Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s former campaign manager.
Poilievre won 70 per cent of the popular vote
While the outcome is ultimately decided by the points, the raw popular vote figures also reveal just how much Poilievre was the favoured candidate.
His skills as a retail politician and the clarity of his campaign message helped him trounce Charest and the three other candidates in the running. Poilievre focused his energies on Trudeau, who is despised by the party base, and his perceived failings in government.
As the party’s past finance critic, Poilievre also lambasted the government’s handling of the federal deficit — which he blames for the sky-high inflation and the resulting Bank of Canada interest rate hikes.
He also sought the support of millennials and other young people who have been locked out of Canada’s housing market amid eye-popping home prices. Indeed, housing and affordability were central to his campaign message.
In the end, Poilievre won 70.70 per cent of the popular vote — 295,283 of the 417,635 votes that were cast in this election.
“It’s a very decisive victory. It’s a victory for all the people who wanted freedom and hope,” said Saskatchewan Sen. Denise Batters, a Poilievre supporter.
“We’re going to show Canadians we’re a united party with a strong mandate and we’re going to show them that we’re talking about the kind of things they care about.”
Charest won 48,651 votes or 11.65 per cent of the popular vote which was only marginally more than what MP Leslyn Lewis won.
Lewis, the only avowedly social conservative candidate in this race, got 46,374 votes nationwide or 11.10 per cent of the vote — just 2,277 less than Charest, who was widely seen as the only contender who could possibly stop Poilievre’s march to the top job.
The massive spread suggests the Conservative party of today is quite different from the Progressive Conservative party Charest led in the 1990s.
The 2003 merger of the PC and Canadian Alliance parties has resulted in a modern Conservative party that is decidedly right-wing.
Saturday’s results — and former cabinet minister Peter MacKay’s loss in the 2020 leadership election to Erin O’Toole, who ran as a “true blue” Conservative — suggest the moderate and centrist elements of the party are now quite marginal.
Charest also couldn’t replicate his past success in Quebec to win over party members in that province in this leadership race.
Charest, who led that province for nine years after winning three elections, won only six of the province’s seats: Brossard–Saint-Lambert, Chicoutimi–Le Fjord, Louis-Hébert, Notre-Dame-de-Grâce–Westmount, Sherbrooke and Ville-Marie–Le Sud-Ouest–Île-des-Soeurs.
Poilievre, who leaned on the organizational skills of Quebec Sen. Leo Housakos to help run his campaign in the province, won the other 72 seats — many of them by a wide margin.
His efforts to paint Charest as yesterday’s man out of step with the current Conservative zeitgeist ultimately resonated with the party’s base in Quebec and across the country.