Jean Charest plans Conservative leadership race: sources

Jean Charest, the former premier of Quebec 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 supporters in all the provinces. People will be surprised at the support we receive, even in Western Canada,” said a supporter of Charest’s candidacy.

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

Former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole resigned from her post earlier this month following a vote by the party’s caucus. Candice Bergen replaced him as interim leader.

Pierre Poilievre, MP 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 shown interest.

The alleged leadership bid of National Post columnist and political consultant Tasha Kheiriddin, for example, is no longer an if but a when, according to multiple conservative sources, including within her campaign.

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

“We are ready to go. But the final decision will very much depend on the rules that will be chosen by the party.”

Charest’s camp said it always reserves the right to change its mind about a race.

“As long as it’s not announced, anything can happen,” said the supporter of Charest.

During 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 of which he is currently a partner, told Radio-Canada that he would not give interviews.

Other candidates

Patrick Brown, mayor of Brampton, Ont., and former leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, is also considering throwing his hat, sources say. But the Ontario municipal elections looming 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 many potential candidates considering a leadership bid. (Radio Canada)

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

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

Charest, the former Liberal premier of Quebec from 2003 to 2012, who served as a minister in Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government and led the party from 1995 to 1998, has been courted by both centrist Conservatives and Liberals of right.

“With his international experience in the business world and in politics, he is essential,” said another source who supports his possible candidacy.

“And what’s more, he’s a formidable debater who would give Justin Trudeau a hard time.”

The argument for Kheiriddin’s candidacy, according to another of his supporters, is that she is a “blank canvas, with no political baggage”.

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

Charest’s consulting work with Chinese company Huawei could hamper his leadership ambitions. He is currently associated with the McCarthy-Tétreault law firm. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

The source within Kheiriddin’s campaign said his team had been contacted “by former members who would return to the party and non-members who would consider voting for the Conservatives if Tasha was the leader”.

Poilievre’s populism faces opposition within the party

The Conservative Party leadership committee will soon announce rules for candidates, such as registration fees, 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 more difficult it will be for new applicants.

A vote in June could deter potential new candidates and give Poilievre an edge, 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 conservatism and support for recent convoy protests make him a tough sell in cities across Quebec and Ontario.

“People are fed up with Republican-style populism. It can’t go on if we want to win,” said one of the conservative sources supporting Charest.

“Faced with the crisis of national unity and the problem of social cohesion in the country, we need a leader who federates, 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 toward the center of the party are considering running against Poilievre, but their supporters don’t seem to be concerned about this distribution of funding and too few votes.

“It will help us present a positive image to the people,” said a Tory MP.

“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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