OTTAWA – Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner withdrew from running for leadership of the United Conservative Party of Alberta on Thursday, citing the inhospitable domestic political environment she would inherit and a lack of time to correct it.
But the high-profile lawmaker is also not returning to an overly hospitable federal political environment.
Star has found that some of her fellow Conservative lawmakers have repeatedly threatened to kick her out of the caucus in recent months over how she’s handled everything from her advocacy for LGBTQ rights to the party’s ongoing leadership campaign.
In turn, she raised formal questions about why the conduct of Members of Parliament towards one another is not covered by workplace harassment laws and whether the law that allows MPs to expel one of their members from the caucus actually violates those laws.
And while the internal battle has become increasingly personal, it is also a skirmish in the wider war over the Conservative Party’s future, as it enters the final stage of a leadership race that is circling a key question: in what Which direction do conservatives really want to go?
Rempel Garner’s name has long been in the mix as a potential leader of both the Federal and Conservative parties in Alberta, thanks to a profile she has steadily built on social media and elsewhere of being a voice pushing for a more inclusive conservative movement – and more power for Alberta.
But while she has publicly considered jobs in the past, she has always walked away.
In the current race for federal leadership, she has become campaign co-chair for Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown, citing her ability to make inroads into the multicultural and multifaith communities that conservatives have had a hard time reaching.
That decision, however, was seen as a direct criticism of her main rival, Pierre Poilievre, a longtime colleague of hers who has most of the support of Conservative lawmakers.
Some also saw a longer move — she would be helping Brown build grassroots support in Alberta that she could later leverage for her own bid to lead the province’s United Conservative Party.
Except the opportunity for this move came faster than expected. After Alberta Prime Minister Jason Kenney barely survived a leadership review last month, he announced he would step down once a new leader was chosen. His announcement followed months of brutal infighting within the UCP over his leadership style and how he ruled during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This prompted Rempel Garner to ditch Brown – taking the campaign team with her – to focus on her prospects as a UCP leader. Two other Conservative lawmakers had also withdrawn their support for Brown, leading to questions about whether his departure signaled a lack of confidence in the Brampton mayor’s prospects.
In a statement on Thursday, Brown said he is not taking Rempel Garner back.
“The campaign has been tweaked and restarted after his departure and we have the team ready that will take us to September 10th and we will not be making any more formal changes to that,” he said.
“But I am pleased that we can continue to rely on his experience and vision as we go forward.”
In a lengthy essay laying out the reasons for his decision not to run for UCP leadership, Rempel Garner made no mention of the race for federal leadership — but alluded to the toxic nature of provincial and federal politics.
“In both parties there were also disputes that erupted in the pages of the national media, public meltdowns, near-missed physical fights, scams, defamation works, leaked recordings and confidential emails, lack of consensus on critical issues, caucus disputes, people harassed to the point of resigning from office and hour meetings where members were subjected to hours of public punishment,” she wrote.
“There were heated exchanges to address basic concerns, unwarranted insularity in decision-making, rejections, exclusionary cliques and more.”
That kind of conduct in the workplace crosses the line, she said.
“In virtually every other workplace, many of the things that happened would be treated as a violation of labor codes, but in politics it is considered Human Resources 101,” she wrote.
It’s not the first time she’s made this comparison.
Earlier this month, Rempel Garner discreetly placed a question on the order paper, a House of Commons procedure that allows lawmakers to submit written questions for more detailed answers than they would get during daily question time.
In it, she asked the government whether, in recent changes to labor laws to tighten workplace harassment regulations, it had considered whether the Reform Act was potentially a violation.
The law, passed in 2014, gives lawmakers the right – if they so choose – to vote for their own leader, as well as any member of their caucus.
In his question, Rempel Garner asked whether any analysis had been done “to review whether the processes used during the application of any provision of the Reform Act of 2014, particularly the provision on the expulsion of bench members, could contradict the law”. , the House of Commons harassment policy or any other federal or provincial legislation on harassment in the workplace.”
The government must respond within 45 days.
The act was the tool Conservative lawmakers used to remove Erin O’Toole as party leader earlier this year, a process Rempel Garner disagreed with at the time. She said she believed party members should be able to decide whether O’Toole should stay or leave – although she also spoke out in support of her staying.
It didn’t take long for debate to begin over whether the Reform Act should be used to oust her from the Conservative caucus.
In early May, 10 people were gunned down in Buffalo, NY, by a man who allegedly believed in a racist conspiracy theory that whites are being deliberately replaced by people of color.
Rempel Garner quickly denounced the so-called “white substitution theory,” and so did Brown. But Brown went further, pointing out that one of the theory’s adherents in Canada was one of the leaders of the so-called “Freedom Train” and criticized Poilievre for appearing to align himself with him.
Poilievre condemned the racism that emerged during the convoy protests, although he also supported the protesters’ more general call for an end to COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
Rempel Garner went on to write an opinion piece in the National Post warning that more must be done to combat the racist theories that permeate Canadian politics.
“This is particularly true for leaders of right-wing political movements, where this sentiment may be more pervasive and the temptation to integrate it for political gain is greatest,” she wrote.
“Promoting or being silent when it occurs in the ranks is the same thing.”
That same day, she released a racist email sent by a Poilievre supporter to Brown’s campaign.
Within the Conservative caucus, where Poilievre has broad support, his actions were interpreted as effectively calling him and other lawmakers racist, multiple sources told the Star — and this was seen as going too far.
Efforts to find the minimum number of deputies needed to trigger a Reform Act vote have piled up – and Rempel Garner was informed of this.
She did not return the Star’s repeated requests for comment.
While the heat applied by the leadership campaign may have been the catalyst, Rempel Garner had a rough ride within the caucus for years.
His call for more independence for Alberta in what became known as the “Buffalo Declaration” without full adherence to the caucus, his defense of a surprise motion to pass a bill that would ban the practice of forcing people to question their gender or sexuality in therapy and his fights with COVID-19 skeptics in the caucus have been a source of tension for months. She also received criticism for spending the first few months of the pandemic lockdowns with her husband and his family in Oklahoma rather than cycling.
After she was removed from the party’s front benches when O’Toole was ousted, she turned down a seat on a committee of lawmakers tasked with reviewing national security concerns.
Taken together, “people are done” with Rempel Garner, a longtime Conservative lawmaker told the Star, who granted anonymity to discuss confidential caucus discussions.
Whether there are enough of them to resume a discussion of the Reform Act remains to be seen.
For his part, Rempel Garner said he intends to continue his work representing the citizens of Calgary Nose Hill.
“I love what I do – despite the internal party ups and downs of the past few years and whatever comes in the future,” she wrote.
“I will serve as long as I continue to earn the trust of my community and, to be clear, I am not going anywhere and I intend to offer myself again as a deputy.”
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