Two years ago, Jean Charest suggested the Conservative Party had changed from what he once knew.
Today, he’s seeking to lead it. In an interview with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson, Charest remained adamant he can win the party’s leadership race, despite claims from his rivals that they have signed up hundreds of thousands of members.
“Well, the answer is yes, and I will win this,” Charest said after being asked about polling that puts him behind presumptive frontrunner Pierre Poilievre.
“I think the key question is: Are you tired of losing? We’ve lost three consecutive election campaigns and it isn’t so much that Mr. Trudeau won the last campaign, the Conservatives actually lost the last campaign. I will make this party win and I will win a national government.”
The former Progressive Conservative has his work cut out for him, first to overtake Poilievre, the Carleton MP who has spent his entire political career being the sharp end of the party’s spear, and then to figure out how to assemble a voter coalition strong enough to defeat Justin Trudeau’s Liberals.
Global News reported that Charest believes he has a path to victory, despite the number of eligible voters his rivals claim to have locked up. Poilievre’s camp has suggested they’ve signed up more than 311,00 members – more than the total number of members eligible to vote in the 2020 leadership contest. Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown has claimed to sign up another 150,000.
According to the party, leadership campaigns should expect roughly 600,000 eligible members, meaning Poilievre and Brown’s claimed membership sales account for 75 per cent of the leadership contest voters.
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“I mean, it is relevant,” Charest said of the membership sales.
“But if you have 10,000 members in one riding, it’s worth 100 points (in the Conservatives’ leadership system) and if you have 100 members in one riding it’s worth 100 points.”
If Charest manages to pull off an upset victory over Poilievre, the more daunting task might be winning over the party’s caucus, which has overwhelmingly supported Poilievre.
Former Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole was undone by a slow-burning caucus revolt after reneging on his pledge not to endorse a carbon tax and losing the 2021 election. O’Toole has been making the rounds recently, suggesting that foreign interference hurt the party during that election, but the fault lines within the Conservative caucus run deeper.
O’Toole followed Andrew Scheer, who stepped aside after losing the 2019 general election, despite caucus support.
Charest has made it central to his pitch to Conservative voters that he can break the cycle of party losses — appealing to centrist voters in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. But that was part of O’Toole’s pitch, and it wasn’t enough to save him.
“The history of the last two leadership races has been very clear. The frontrunner has lost,” Charest said.
“And the reason for that is that they top out on the first ballot, (and) they’re no one’s second choice, which is very much the story for Mr. Poilievre, and whoever is the strongest ends up winning the race. That’s how Erin O’Toole became leader, and that’s how Andrew Scheer became leader.”
“And that’s how I will become leader of this party,” Charest added.