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Former Quebec's Premier Jean Charest looks on while announcing that he will be stepping down as the Liberal party leader during a news conference at the National Assembly in Quebec City, Sept. 5, 2012. (Mathieu Belanger/Reuters)
Former Quebec's Premier Jean Charest looks on while announcing that he will be stepping down as the Liberal party leader during a news conference at the National Assembly in Quebec City, Sept. 5, 2012. (Mathieu Belanger/Reuters)

With 'no regrets,' Quebec's Jean Charest to leave politics after defeat Add to ...

Premier Jean Charest announced on Wednesday he will leave politics after 28 years as a strong voice for federalism within Quebec.

Stung by defeat, including the loss of his hometown seat for the first time in 28 years, Mr. Charest said he and his family reached the conclusion shortly after his defeat.

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"The decision was unanimous. I will leave my post as leader of the Liberal Party of Quebec in a few days, once a new government is formed," said Mr. Charest as he spoke in the grand entrance of the Quebec National Assembly.

"I have no regrets."

Mr. Charest, 54, leaves behind a Liberal Party with no obvious successor, but a strong opposition contingent of 50 members of the National Assembly. Mr. Charest may have lost in Sherbrooke, where he has been a member of Parliament or an MNA since 1984, but biggest stars of his government were re-elected.

Mr. Charest, a lawyer who practised briefly before entering federal politics, was vague about his immediate plans. Many of the recent premiers and prime ministers who have hailed from Quebec ended up with jobs in blue-chip law firms, where they often act as consultants and goodwill ambassadors as much as lawyers.

During the election campaign, he described how his three grown children and wife, Michèle Dionne, urged him to step down instead of running for a fourth term.

The Liberal leader entered provincial politics from the federal scene in 1998, three years after federalists nearly lost the referendum on Quebec independence. Mr. Charest was often less popular in Quebec than in the rest of Canada, where he was seen as a shining hope for federalism.

Mr. Charest’s time in provincial politics brought relative calm to the national unity file for nearly 15 years. He won the popular vote in his first election in 1998, depriving Parti Québécois premier Lucien Bouchard of the clear mandate that would have allowed him to attempt another referendum.

Mr. Charest then trounced Mr. Bouchard’s replacement, Bernard Landry, in the 2003 election. Though the national unity cause lay dormant, Mr. Charest clashed from the start with unions and other Quebec interest groups that enjoyed a favoured status under the PQ.

Mr. Charest often ended up backing down from plans in the face of opposition, whether the project involved trimming government spending or drilling for gas.

The era of Liberal rule was marked by economic prosperity and a balanced budget, but also a substantial amount of tumult. During Mr. Charest’s years in office, environmentalists blocked his plans to sell off a ski hill and build a natural gas power plant.

The province became embroiled in a series of controversies, many of them manufactured in Quebec’s hothouse media, over the accommodation of minorities in a wide variety of public spheres. An inquiry turned into a televised road show, often tinged with bigotry, where grievances were aired for the television cameras.

The now-defunct Action démocratique du Québec used the issue to edge enough popular support from the two older parties to diminish the Liberals to a minority in 2007.

Mr. Charest’s final mandate was marked by a long series of allegations of unethical behaviour by some of his cabinet ministers and even bigger scandals at the hearts of a dozen of Quebec’s bigger cities, including Montreal. Rich government contracts were often at the centre of huge rigging and fraud allegations. Mr. Charest was not accused of personal wrongdoing, but it all happened under his watch.

Simmering social tension boiled over this spring after Mr. Charest decided to raise university tuition, and he stood steadfast against waves of sometimes violent protest. At least a half dozen times during his time in office, Mr. Charest had backed down in the face of far less turmoil than that caused by Quebec’s Red Square protests. But against the students, he finally found resolve.

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