In an interview with Global News Thursday, Charest said the Conservative Party has a “responsibility to the country and to Canadians to be a national political party.”
“And that’s not happening now. The party is divided,” Charest said.
“This (leadership race) is really a moment that’s important not just for the party, but for the country, to unite and to bring into our party members and to offer a national alternative, a national vision of the country.”
Charest did not specify where the “division” in the party lies, although he emphasized repeatedly the need for a “national” alternative to the Liberals.
Charest confirmed his candidacy for the leadership Thursday, and is scheduled to travel to Calgary for the official campaign launch.
Choosing Calgary for the campaign kickoff was no coincidence. Charest’s team acknowledged this week that the former Quebec premier and one-time Progressive Conservative leader has work to do in the Conservative heartland to win over current party members.
Pierre Poilievre, the purported frontrunner for the party’s top job, was born in Calgary. And while the 42-year-old politician has represented a rural Ottawa riding for 18 years, he’s got a strong following among the Conservatives’ western MPs and base.
Polievre’s camp has taken preemptive aim at Charest’s conservative credentials – emphasizing his time as the Liberal premier of Quebec, despite the Quebec Liberals being the main federalist party at a time when the province had no serious conservative party – and highlighting his fight for the long-gun registry and embrace of carbon pricing.
“We have to repudiate conservatives like Jean Charest, who have an inferiority complex and want to always act like liberals in the pursuit of trying to win power,” Sen. Leo Housakos, a senior member of Poilievre’s leadership team, told Global News this week.
“I think consensus politicians, there’s no more room for them in 2022. I think it’s time for conviction politics.”
Charest brushed aside the criticism Thursday, saying he considers it a “compliment” his candidacy has got their attention. He also predicted he would get “massive” attacks from the Bloc Québécois, currently the third-largest party in the House of Commons.
“And why? Because if I lead this party, the difference between me and the other candidates is that I will win. I’ve done it in the past against great odds,” Charest said.
“There’ll be plenty of time for me during the campaign to speak to my record, and my record speaks for itself.”
Early Conservative leadership polling by Abacus Data suggests while Charest has a positive or neutral perception among 42 per cent of Quebec voters surveyed, 47 per cent had a negative perception of their former premier.