Jean Charest has lived a rare and rich political life, where his great determination, resilience and leadership qualities came to the fore and led to accomplishments that will serve future generations.
Born in Sherbrooke in 1958, he was admitted to the Quebec Bar in 1981 and practiced law in his hometown until 1984. He studied prior to that at the Montcalm school in Sherbrooke, and the Séminaire de Sherbrooke and pursued his post secondary education at l’Université de Sherbrooke.
Elected to the House of Commons at 26, he became the youngest federal Cabinet Minister in Canadian history two years later. In 1995 when he was the leader of the federal Progressive Conservatives, he campaigned alongside Quebec Liberal Party leader Daniel Johnson for the No forces in the second Quebec referendum on sovereignty and played a significant role in keeping Quebec within Canada.
He was 39 when he became leader of the Quebec Liberal Party on April 30, 1998, two months after the departure of Johnson. In the following election, the Liberals garnered more votes than the Parti québécois, but fewer seats. In November he was sworn in as leader of the Official Opposition in the National Assembly, at the head of a caucus of 48 Liberal members.
Between 1998 and 2002, he traveled around Quebec attending a large variety of meetings and conferences and party functions and in the general election of spring 2003, his four years of laying the political groundwork paid off and he became Premier of Quebec.
The PLQ inherited an economically sick Quebec in the midst of the largest economic growth period in decades. Charest launched an ambitious plan of modernization of the State. He refocused Quebec on essential missions.
The economy was at the heart of his priorities throughout three consecutive mandates that Quebeckers accorded him through 2012. Rarely in its history had Quebec attained such records in employment and unemployment levels, concurrently with fewer numbers of citizens on social assistance. Rigorous management and control of public finances, extolled by international rating agencies, due in large part to projects like the Fonds des générations and giant works of modernizing infrastructures, demonstrated and clearly highlighted his preoccupation with the future.
The Charest government also set in place family policies among the most generous in the world.
The elderly benefitted from unprecedented policies that aimed to sustain and protect them. Society’s most vulnerable also enjoyed unfettered access to health care thanks to massive investments in hospitals and the training and development of large numbers of doctors and nurses. Quebec’s youth attended renovated schools that offered more hours of education with fewer students per class. And from Grade One on, students were exposed to the teaching of English as a second language.
For them and Quebec in general, the future must be developed with confidence and openness. This spirit guided Jean Charest in his relationships with other governments. With remarkable efficiency, his government pursued new markets on all continents, signed new trade agreements and forged a new economic space for Quebec everywhere possible.
With a return to new energy sectors, including the emergence of a wind energy network, he drove Quebec to become a world leader in clean energies. As well, his government’s efforts to combat climate change and promote environmental protection became well known outside Quebec’s borders.
The centerpiece of all this was the Plan Nord, in which he foresaw the mining, energy and tourism potential of a durable development plan in this vast territory. The economic fallout would not only benefit the ensemble of regions, but also generations to come.