OTTAWA — It was May 2012 and Jean Charest had a problem.
The then-premier of Quebec had watched student protests over proposed tuition increases persist for months, despite overtures and concessions from his Liberal government. Public opinion polls were not looking good.
Charest turned to a man who had been his chief of staff once before, but had been out of politics for three years. He hoped Dan Gagnier could stanch the bleeding.
Gagnier came in with a mandate to kick-start negotiations with student groups and seek a resolution to the unrest plaguing the province before tourists flocked to Montreal for festival season.
Charest lost his job in a provincial election that fall. But Gagnier is credited with helping the party finish second.
The episode became another line in Gagnier's impressive political resume.
The list of jobs Gagnier has held is long: He has been a senior civil servant in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Ottawa, including time in the Privy Council Office, the central bureaucracy that aides the prime minister and cabinet.
He held foreign postings between 1972 and 1982, including in Mexico, Yugoslavia and the United Kingdom. He was chief of staff to former Ontario Liberal premier David Peterson.
He was also twice Charest's chief of staff, first from 2007 to 2009 and then again in 2012 at the end of Charest's career in provincial politics. During that first stint, Gagnier was credited with stabilizing Charest's minority government and helping the party to a majority in 2008, spending each day in the party's election war room. He left a senior executive position at Rio Tinto Alcan, Inc. to join Charest's office in 2007, then went back to the private sector in 2009.
"He was a really fine person. Very kind person. I really appreciated working with him," said former Charest cabinet minister Benoit Pelletier, who worked with Gagnier during the first year Gagnier was with Charest.
"He did an honest job and I don't remember him as having been someone who does things in the back with others. He was, to what I recall, an astute person, but at the same time a respectful person."
Gagnier joined Justin Trudeau's team in 2012 when Trudeau was running for the party's leadership. And this year he became co-chairman of the national campaign, hoping to make Trudeau prime minister and put the federal Liberals back in power.
In between those political stints, Gagnier worked in the private sector for Alcan for 13 years, was at one time a member of the board of governors at McGill University, and was president of the Brewers Association of Canada from 1992 until 1994.
He is also known for being president of the Energy Policy Institute of Canada (EPIC), a not-for-profit think tank created by a group of energy companies.
Gagnier's organization came under scrutiny last year when RCMP court documents laid out allegations that Bruce Carson, a former senior aide to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, had lobbied on behalf of EPIC in violation of federal lobbying rules. The RCMP court documents include emails where Carson is in touch with Gagnier as Carson is trying to arrange meetings with federal officials so EPIC could push its national energy plan.
The lobbying allegations have not been proven in court.
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