Former Quebec premier Jean Charest has ruled out a return to politics, bowing out of the federal Conservative leadership race with a warning to the party about its credibility on climate change.
Mr. Charest, who became the federal Progressive Conservative leader after the Tories lost the 1993 election to take the helm of the Quebec Liberal Party, said on Tuesday he decided against a leadership bid because there wasn’t enough time for him to convince Conservative members he was the right choice.
“It takes time to reintroduce yourself,” Mr. Charest said in a brief interview. With only five months available to put together a campaign team, tour the country and meet thousands of party members, Mr. Charest concluded the obstacles were too great, and would have placed too much strain on his family.
Having served almost a decade as Quebec premier, Mr. Charest left politics after losing the 2012 provincial election.
He had been tempted to join the leadership race, he said, because he is worried about national unity, with Western Canadians feeling increasingly alienated from Canada.
“I have a lot of empathy for what’s happening in Alberta, and I felt I could have bridged the gap,” between protecting the environment and developing oil reserves, he said.
Quebec paid a very high economic price for its half-century struggle between sovereigntists and federalists. If he had become Conservative prime minister, Mr. Charest hoped he would have been able to prevent a repeat in Alberta.
Mr. Charest intends to stay neutral during the race. But for the Conservatives to form government, he said, “the party is going to have to broaden its base,” by developing a credible program for fighting climate change. “If they miss that opportunity, not only will they not be able to govern, but the country will suffer for it.”
Prior to his leadership roles, Mr. Charest served in then-prime minister Brian Mulroney’s cabinet.
After leaving public life, Mr. Charest went to work for the law firm McCarthy Tétrault. As speculation about his leadership ramped up, so did the scrutiny of his private-sector work and history in government. The Globe and Mail reported earlier this month that one of his clients was Chinese telecommunications company Huawei and last week police warrants were released that revived allegations of illegal fundraising in the Quebec Liberal Party during Mr. Charest’s tenure as leader.
Mr. Charest faces no charges and his lawyer, Michel Massicotte, told Radio-Canada last week that the ex-premier is innocent of any wrongdoing.
Conservative strategist Tim Powers says Mr. Charest faced a lot of opposition in Conservative circles as he decided whether to run for the leadership.
“It was frustrating to me,” Mr. Powers, who has not backed any leadership contenders, said in an interview Tuesday.
“Some of the tribes in the Conservative Party were out to take him out from Day 1 and that’s damn unfortunate,” he said.
The competition to replace outgoing leader Andrew Scheer officially started last week. Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu and former cabinet minister Peter MacKay were first to throw their hats in the ring.
Ontario Conservative MPs Erin O’Toole and Pierre Poilievre have been preparing campaigns, but neither has formally announced their intentions.
Former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose hasn’t ruled out a run for the leadership.
With Mr. Charest out, the only Quebec candidate, so far, is Richard Décarie, a veteran party organizer who is unknown to the broader public and has never run for office.
With a report from The Canadian Press