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Jean Charest speaks to supporters on March 24, 2022, as he launches the Quebec part of his campaign for the Conservative Party leadership in Laval, Que.Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Jean Charest is escalating his attacks on Pierre Poilievre in the Conservative Party leadership race, saying the Conservative MP’s ardent support of this year’s trucker convoy should disqualify him as a candidate for national leadership.

Mr. Charest’s stronger words coincide with clear signs of momentum in the Poilievre campaign, which is frequently attracting large crowds at stops throughout the country.

In a nationally televised interview on Sunday, Mr. Charest took direct aim at Mr. Poilievre.

“Everyone knows that Pierre Poilievre supported the blockade. … Well, I’m sorry, if you want to be a leader of a party, if you want to sit in the House of Commons and make laws, you have to obey them,” he said. “That’s not just a failure in leadership. It disqualifies you, as far as I’m concerned, as being someone who thinks, or aspires to be, a leader of a party.”

The level of open hostility between the main candidates is unusually high for a leadership race of a major national party, which usually feature minor policy disagreements and avoid personal attacks.

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Mr. Poilievre’s social-media accounts sharply criticize Mr. Charest, claiming he supports higher taxes and is no different than the governing Liberals. Mr. Poilievre’s team has also frequently clashed with Patrick Brown, the former Conservative MP and current mayor of Brampton, Ont., who is also running for the party leadership.

In response to a request for comment, Mr. Poilievre said in a statement that Mr. Charest is “repeating Liberal lies about truckers” and attacking Canadians who oppose “unfair and unscientific vaccine mandates,” carbon taxes and Canadians who support cryptocurrency.

“Jean Charest should be excluded from becoming prime minister after he sold out Canada’s security for a quick buck by working to get Huawei technology on Canada’s communications networks,” he said.

The comment is in reference to Mr. Charest’s previous work as a consultant to China’s Huawei in the Meng Wanzhou extradition case and the company’s efforts to participate in Canada’s 5G wireless networks.

Mr. Poilievre, who represents a suburban and rural riding on the southwestern edge of Ottawa, was an early and ardent supporter of the trucker convoy that blocked key streets in the city’s downtown core for three weeks.

The protesters raised a range of grievances, but generally opposed government restrictions related to COVID-19.

“I’m proud of the truckers and I stand with them,” Mr. Poilievre said in a podcast recorded on Feb. 10, as the protesters who had arrived in late January were settled in and showing no signs of leaving.

Several other Conservative MPs also clearly supported the protests, including former Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, who posed for a photo in early February with his thumb up in front of a transport truck parked in Ottawa.

The federal government invoked the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14, and the following weekend a major police presence cleared the streets and towed away trucks. Some of the key organizers were arrested and face serious criminal charges.

“He supported the blockade. There’s consequences to those decisions, and one of the consequences is that he should not be a leader of a party, even less a prime minister,” Mr. Charest told CTV.

He also criticized Mr. Poilievre’s support for cryptocurrency as a response to inflation.

“Not only is it wrong, it’s just simply bizarre,” said Mr. Charest. “You know what worries me? There’s people who are going to listen to him and put a lot of money into cryptocurrency and are going to be wiped out.”

Mr. Charest, a former Quebec premier and former leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, formally launched his campaign a month ago in Calgary at an event with a much smaller crowd than typically has turned out for Mr. Poilievre’s events.

Mr. Charest was scheduled to appear Sunday on the popular Quebec talk show Tout le monde en parle.

Mr. Poilievre is in the midst of a tour of British Columbia and Alberta. His campaign events have frequently included crowds in excess of 1,000 people and lineups for the opportunity to meet the candidate, who is a former finance critic and was a cabinet minister under former prime minister Stephen Harper.

The cutoff for signing up new members who can vote in the leadership race is June 3. The new leader will be announced on Sept. 10.

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