Jean Charest joined the federal Conservative leadership race on Mar. 10. His campaign team immediately began to tout his experience as a former Progressive Conservative leader and cabinet minister, and former Quebec Liberal premier.
That’s a predictable strategy. What’s also predictable is that Charest and his team initiated the long, arduous process of attempting to rewrite history and create a new identity.
Here’s an example:
Charest told the Globe and Mail on Mar. 3: “I am going to be running as a Conservative. I am not trying to run as a Red Tory.” He touted his record as a fiscally conservative Liberal premier, stating Quebec had an $8-billion surplus when he left politics after losing the 2012 election.
He left out plenty of information.
Charest is a longtime Red Tory or left-leaning Conservative. He’s never been regarded as fiscally prudent. During his time as Quebec premier, he raised hydroelectricity rates and auto insurance premiums, imposed a carbon tax on businesses, opposed the abolition of the federal gun registry and contemplated setting up a costly provincial one, launched a demerger process for cities, hiked university tuition fees, and set provincial Kyoto-Accord-like targets.
What about the provincial surplus?
You need to dig deeper into his overall economic performance to get a clearer picture.
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Let’s examine the Fraser Institute’s December 2012 report measuring the fiscal performance of provincial premiers. Charest’s entire tenure in office (2003-04 to 2011-12) was studied. He ranked seventh out of 10 premiers, placing fifth for Government Spending, eighth for Taxes and sixth for Debt and Deficits. His low rankings meant he performed inadequately in each category.
How could Charest have performed so poorly with respect to fiscal responsibility and economic management yet leave his province with a surplus?
The Fraser Institute correctly explains this financial dichotomy in this fashion: “Jean Charest recorded a deficit, on average, but still managed to reduce net debt as a share of the economy. It is possible for a premier to incur a deficit while at the same time reducing net debt. A deficit (or surplus) is the difference between total revenue and total spending, while net debt is gross debt minus financial assets. So changes in net debt can occur due to changes in gross debt or changes in financial assets, or both.”
What does this mean?
If the phrase “a Conservative is a Conservative is a Conservative” is an inaccurate way to measure ideological purity, then the phrase “a surplus is a surplus is a surplus” is an inaccurate way to measure economic success.
Here’s another example of Charest attempting to rewrite history:
“It’s very clear, we’re going to ban Huawei,” he told CBC’s Power and Politics during a Mar. 19 interview. “That’s the position of the party, that’s the position I’m going to defend and I’m going to represent the interest of Canada.”
While this statement seems fine on the surface, one giant albatross is hanging around Charest’s neck. He was a consultant to Huawei Technologies during the height of the controversial Meng Wanzhou affair.
Meng is Huawei’s deputy chairwoman and chief financial officer. Huawei is one of the world’s largest 5G network providers, but its close ties to China’s communist government have led to long-standing security concerns among North American-based surveillance and intelligence agencies. The company was placed on a trade blacklist by the United States in 2018, and U.S. authorities later requested Meng’s arrest in Vancouver. She was charged with violating trade sanctions against Iran and “conspiracy to defraud multiple international institutions.”
Meng lived in a large gated home during the extradition process. In contrast, two Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, were arrested in China shortly after her detainment, charged with endangering state security by officials, and held in a Chinese prison for more than 1,000 days. The U.S. Department of Justice eventually reached a deal with Meng on a deferred prosecution agreement. She boarded a plane to China on Sept. 24, 2021, and Spavor and Kovrig boarded a plane back to Canada.
What was Charest’s actual role as a Huawei consultant?
He claims it was to help free Spavor and Kovrig. Huawei retorted that he and his law firm, McCarthy Tetrault, focused on the company’s participation in Canada’s 5G network – and Charest provided “limited assistance” with Meng’s extradition case.
Here’s what we do know:
Charest consulted with Huawei during the height of its reputation as a national and international security threat. He’s never expressed an ounce of regret for taking on this role (whatever it exactly entailed), which he and McCarthy Tetrault could have declined. And now, he wants to ban Huawei, the company he worked with for several years, because that’s the official position of the party he’s running to become the leader of.
Sorry, Jean. Much like your claim of being a fiscal conservative, your about-face on Huawei doesn’t fly.
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.
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