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Pierre Poilievre, then running for leadership of the Conservative Party, next to Jean Charest during a debate at the Canada Strong and Free Network conference on May 5, 2022, in Ottawa.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Pierre Poilievre should be offering Canadians more specifics on how he would deal with policy challenges facing the country, says a key rival from the leadership race Mr. Poilievre won last fall to become federal Conservative Leader.

Former Quebec premier Jean Charest, who came second in the race, said in a Thursday interview that he is steering clear of elected politics since returning to work at the Montreal office of the national law firm McCarthy Tétrault LLP.

However, Mr. Charest did cite one challenge he sees for the Leader of the Official Opposition.

“Mr. Poilievre, like every opposition leader, is going to have to offer policy prescriptions,” said Mr. Charest, adding it’s one thing to criticize the government, but there’s also a need to outline positions on the key issues Canadians care about.

The federal cabinet minister under Progressive Conservative prime ministers Brian Mulroney and Kim Campbell was last in the spotlight as the combative race to lead the federal Conservatives ended at Ottawa’s convention centre last September.

Mr. Poilievre, an Ottawa-area MP and cabinet minister under Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, scored an overwhelming victory, with 68.15 per cent of the vote compared with 16 per cent for Mr. Charest. There were five candidates at the finish line.

“The outcome wasn’t what I wanted, but we ran a good race. We were facing an adversary who had been preparing for a very long time, who operated in a world that wasn’t the one I was in,” said Mr. Charest, who added that he had no regrets and no interest in returning to elected politics.

After the race, Mr. Charest said long-COVID forced him to lay low until Christmas. “I wasn’t in great shape,” he recalled. Now he is back at work, and travelling widely in Asia, and elsewhere.

On Thursday night, he was to be honoured in New York City with a medal by the venerable, century-old Foreign Policy Association, an organization that advocates for the discussion of foreign policy. “Jean Charest is one of Canada’s best known political figures,” said a note for the evening program.

He provided a copy of his speech, in advance, to The Globe and Mail, and was set to make a number of points, including the observation that the United States is not only Canada’s neighbour, friend and ally, but a superpower with a single-minded approach to its interests.

That self-interest, he says in the prepared text, can lead to “unintended collateral damage” for Canada, such as the Buy American provisions that limited the ability of Canadian companies to bid for U.S. government contracts.

He was also scheduled to urge Canada and the U.S. to work more urgently together on Arctic sovereignty that would include building a minimum of two military bases in response to Russia and China’s interest in the region.

Mr. Charest called for Canada and the U.S. to each appoint special envoys on the Arctic to work together on the file.

He acknowledged that many Canadians may be oblivious to the subject. “This is why we elect governments so that they anticipate and pay attention to issues that may not resonate in the lives of Canadians today, but may be very important for them in the next few years,” he said.

The speech does not say anything about China’s role in election interference in Canada. The speech does make reference to China’s interest in the Arctic. During the leadership race, Mr. Charest faced questions on his role as a consultant to Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. in the Meng Wanzhou extradition case and the tech giant’s efforts to participate in Canada’s 5G wireless networks.

He has recently been in Singapore and Jakarta as part of travels that have helped inform his views about Chinese-Canadian relations.

Mr. Charest said the Indo-Pacific strategy unveiled by the federal government is playing very well in Asia, but people in the private sector say Canada needs a stronger presence in the region.

Canada can work with China, he said, citing the United Nations biodiversity summit last year that was chaired by China and held in Montreal

Still, he said, Canada can learn from Australia’s approach, which has included a registry for people lobbying on behalf of other countries to register with the government, and rallying police and security agencies in a task force to deal with foreign interference.

He urged the government and opposition to agree on a process to investigate allegations of election interference, while broadening the discussion to focus on Russia and any other involved country.

Mr. Poilievre’s office did not respond to a request for comment.