Jean Charest is one of Canada’s best known political figures. Charest is the 29th Premier of Québec, serving from 2003 to 2012, and is a former Deputy Prime Minister. With stirring eloquence, he speaks about his career in public service, which has touched on practically every social, political, economic, and environmental issue of note over the past three decades.
Charest was only 26 years old when first elected to the House of Commons in 1984, with the Progressive Conservative government. He was immediately appointed deputy speaker of the House of Commons. In 1986, he became the youngest Canadian ever to become a cabinet minister, as Minister of State for Youth. He also served variously as Minister of the Environment, Minister of Industry, and Deputy Prime Minister of Canada. In 1993, Charest became leader of the Progressive Conservative Party.
Then, in 1998, Jean Charest was drafted to become the Leader of federalist Québec Liberal Party. Starting in 2003, Charest broke a 50-year record by winning three consecutive election campaigns, acting as the Premier of Quebec until his retirement in 2012. Under his leadership, the relationship of Québec with the rest of Canada improved greatly. His political adversaries and the media reproached him for being the “most federalist premier” in Québec history—a term he happens to agree with.
Thanks to a major infrastructure investment program in both the public and private sectors, Québec experienced stronger economic growth from 2008 to 2012 than the US, Europe, Canada, and Ontario—despite a global economic crisis. Charest’s government implemented some of the most progressive family policies in the world: it continued development of universal day care, tax reductions for the middle class, and flexible parental leave. Poverty in Québec was reduced to the lowest level in Canada for families and children, and women in Québec now have the strongest labour market participation rate in the country. Education funding was increased and the high-school drop-out rate was reduced. Jean Charest’s government also made unprecedented investments in health care infrastructure.
The Charest government has also been a world leader on the environment and climate change. His legacy includes a major initiative for the sustainable development of Northern Québec called “Plan Nord,” described by The New York Times as “one of the largest land conservation initiatives in history.” In the area of energy, Charest pushed ahead with major hydro-electric and wind power projects that will maintain Québec’s position as the 4th biggest producer of clean and renewable hydro-electric power in the world, after only China, Brazil and the US.
On the international stage, the Charest government has been the most active administration in the history of Québec. His most noteworthy initiative on this front has been to convince Canada and the European Union to negotiate a broad economic partnership that may be the most important this country has negotiated since NAFTA. Born in the Eastern Townships of Québec, Jean Charest graduated in law from Sherbrooke University and started practicing as a criminal defence lawyer at the age of 23. Charest left office in 2012, after 28 years of public service.