Jean Charest calls it quits as Quebec Liberal leader after 14 years
Quebec Premier Jean Charest officially resigned Wednesday, less than 24 hours after he lost his own seat in a provincial election which relegated his Liberal party to opposition status.
The defeated premier told reporters in Quebec City that he will leave his position as the province’s Liberal leader in a few days – a position he has held for 14 years, including nine as premier.
“I am announcing a unanimous decision today. I will leave as leader of the Liberal Party of Quebec in a few days, as soon as the next government is formed” he said.
Charest said that after 28 years of public service, the time has come for him “to turn a page,” and that serving his Sherbrooke riding has given him his life’s greatest honour.
Charest said he’s always fought for Quebec and while he did not always succeed, he always acted in the interest of the province.
“For more than nine years I burned a constant fire and I battled for the success of Quebec,” he said. “I did it in the respect of my convictions. I did not succeed in all of my efforts, but some decisions I made were always in the interest of Quebec.”
Charest said he leaves office proud of his party’s accomplishments on the economic front, particularly during the 2008 economic crisis that devastated other regions of the world.
He said his party worked to keep the province’s public finances in order and increase Quebec’s presence in international markets.
He also said he is proud of the work his party has done in health care, education, the environment and reducing poverty.
“I announce my departure without any regrets,” he said.
Charest came to the Quebec Liberals in 1998 after serving as leader of the federal Progressive Conservatives.
Under Charest’s leadership, the provincial Liberals won 50 seats in Tuesday’s election – far from the meltdown pollsters were predicting for the party.
The Parti Quebecois won 54 of the province’s 125 seats and will form the next minority government.
The ten-month-old Coalition for Quebec's Future (CAQ) won 19 seats and Quebec Solidaire won two seats.
Following news of Charest’s resignation, politicians representing all parties took time to praise his dedication to public service.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said the 56-year-old Charest is still young and has "a full career" ahead of him. Mulcair once served in Charest’s cabinet, but left after a falling out.
Interim federal Liberal leader Bob Rae released a statement thanking Charest for always defending national unity.
“The contribution and dedication of Jean Charest to Quebec and Canada, after 28 years in political life, is undeniable. He has always been a great defender of Canadian unity, all the while passionately championing his values as a proud Quebecer,” read the statement.
After the press conference, a teary-eyed Charest -- who for 14 years waved a federalist flag in the National Assembly, earning him the nickname ‘Captain Canada’ -- reiterated his love for the province and for the country.
“We are all blessed to have been born in this country, to share its wealth and we’re blessed to have each other,” he said. “I wish that every day each and every one of us could feel and understand how much of an opportunity it is for us to live here and to do our lives here. There’s no other place that I would want to be.”
With files from The Canadian Press