Pierre Poilievre’s crushing win for the Conservative leadership on Sunday couldn’t occur without simultaneously yielding a crushing loss. Former Quebec premier Jean Charest entered the leadership race pitching himself as a moderate alternative to the “radical” Poilievre, and in the end he received a mere 11 per cent of the popular vote; a result roughly on par with the support received by Leslyn Lewis, who ran a relatively fringe campaign championing the causes of social conservatism and the Freedom Convoy.
In Dear Diary, the National Post satirically re-imagines a week in the life of a newsmaker. This week, Tristin Hopper takes a journey inside the thoughts of Jean Charest.
If I could sum up last night’s results in a single word, it would be this: “Mistake.” The Conservative Party of Canada had a brief, shining chance to align behind a man whose resume virtually screams “prime ministerial material,” but in the end, I could not save them from themselves. I literally have experience running a conservative party before; I’d like to see Pierre Poilievre go from two to 20 seats in the 1997 election — that’s a literally 1,000 per cent increase. I represented a provincial party with the word “Liberal” in the title and had Tom Mulcair in my cabinet; I am the living representation of electable centrism. And need I mention my Quebec roots? Sure, Quebec has basically refused to vote conservative in every election for the last 40 years, but all that would change once they saw my face on the election signage. I’m not saying it would be like Napoleon’s return to Paris from Elba, but … let’s just say you don’t understand Quebecers like I do.
The cynic might say there were signs from the start that I was a “yesterday’s man” fated to a doomed candidacy. I was constantly booed at leadership debates. Stephen Harper emerged from political retirement to vow my destruction. Poilievre attracted record-breaking crowds in all 10 provinces, while I struggled to get more than my immediate social circle to follow me on Twitter.
But I contended that my movement was always far deeper than anything which could be measured by “retweets,” “endorsements” or “votes.” There is a great silent majority of moderate Conservatives who balk at this neo-Reform prairie-fried nonsense and pine for the days of Robert Stanfield and Joseph R. Clark. Only with the long passage of time will we discover what unseemly subterfuge from the Poilievre camp caused them to eschew my rallies, refuse to cast leadership votes and generally fail to acknowledge my campaign in any way.
I just don’t recognize this Conservative Party anymore. Sure, I’ve never been an active member and I spent years campaigning against the party’s very inception, but the point stands: This has become a movement that is utterly alien to the ideas that first drew me to the conservative banner.
Interminable national debates about the distinct role of Quebec within Canada. An explicit unwillingness to counter Liberal actions on gun control. A general indifference towards tax reform. When did these stop being the animating principles of Canadian conservatism? Instead, the party has sold its soul to some slick-haired grifter pitching abstract notions of “freedom,” “taming inflation” and “affording a home.”
I knew this race was going to be vicious, and the night before I announced my candidacy I made a list of all the slurs I expected would be coming my way: “Double Chin Jean,” “Gray Charest,” etc. These I could take, but even I was shocked by the scurrilous allegations that I was some totem of political corruption. That my Quebec government somehow had something to do with the near-ubiquitous political bribery that defined the era. That I took a consulting contract with Huawei at the same time the company was linked to the arbitrary detention of two Canadian nationals. That I had to resign from my first federal cabinet post over the political meddling. That I accepted five-figure contributions from the notorious influence peddler Karlheinz Schreiber? Well, I would only ask my defamers how they plan to obtain power while magically avoiding a record. “Dur, I’m Pierre Poilievre, I’m going to become prime minister of Canada without ever accepting a single sketchy donation or contract.” Now who’s the out-of-touch Boomer?
“Jean,” one of my top aides told me last night, “if the dead could make endorsements, it would have been you in Stornoway right now.” Immediately, I conjured visions of the great Progressive Conservative titans of the 1980s who in different circumstances would have no doubt been championing my great mission. These were people who understood the meaning of winning elections by selling an approachable not-literally-conservative conservatism to central Canadians who were briefly tired of voting for Liberals. Poilievre may have captured the Conservative Party’s votes, loyalty, money and enthusiasm, but he will never capture their soul.
Jean Charest’s campaign co-chair: Poilievre won handily
André Pratte: The gloomy end of Charest’s political life