A photo of Calgary Nose Hill Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner.
Calgary Nose Hill Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner. Credit: Governor General of Canada

Calgary MP Michelle Rempel Garner has declared herself out of the race to lead the United Conservative Party (UCP) in a scathing, 2,800-plus word Substack article that dissects the in-fights and extremism bedevilling Alberta’s governing party and casts considerable shade on the federal Conservatives as well for many of the same sins. 

It’s a remarkable document, a searing indictment of Canada’s and Alberta’s Conservative political parties that seems quite credible to those of us who do not support them but pay attention to their activities with interest.

Rempel Garner portrays the UCP as a disunited mess, rife with “heated exchanges to get basic concerns addressed, unjustified insularity in decision making, shunnings, exclusionary cliques and more.”

Like the federal party, she admits frankly, “there have also been squabbles that have erupted in the pages of national media, public meltdowns, nearly missed physical fights, coups, smear jobs, leaked recordings and confidential emails, lack of consensus on critical issues, caucus turfings, people harassed to the point where they resign roles, and hours long meetings where members have been subjected to hours of public castigation.”

Like it or not, she warns her fellow Conservatives, his kind of bad behaviour matters to voters.

Long rumoured to be a top UCP leadership candidate preparing a serious bid for the job, Rempel Garner is not the only Alberta Conservative to hold such views, but she may be the most prominent one to say anything publicly. 

Given the state of affairs in the Conservative movement, it seems quite remarkable she had the courage to speak up so clearly – especially since she is someone well known for blocking anyone who might criticize her on social media. Perhaps full Trumpism hasn’t taken full possession of the Canadian Conservative movement – just yet, anyway. 

That said, she didn’t comment on the current federal leadership race. 

Rempel Garner starts with a list of six points she argues, in effect, would make her the best leader for the UCP were she to deign to run. 

Under the circumstances, she can be forgiven for a little self-promotion of the sort that would have been necessary and inevitable had she decided to toss her hat in the ring. Among her arguments: She’s on the right side of a lot of social issues on which social conservatives dominate to the federal and provincial parties’ disadvantage, she has no skeletons in her closet (unless you count spending too much time in Oklahoma, which her fellow Conservatives obviously don’t) and she likes the work and is good at it.

She’d probably scratched them all down on the back of an envelope in anticipation of a campaign, anyway, so why not throw them into the mix? 

“It’s natural for passions to run hot, for egos to swell and for intrigue to happen in politics,” she went on. “Anyone entering politics needs to be prepared to handle that. Trust me, I’m capable of taking a lot of heat. But the stuff I listed above that happens in both the provincial and federal parties crosses a line. It should never happen in a functional place of business, political or otherwise.” (Emphasis added.)

Citing the electoral failures of federal Conservative leaders Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole when the Trudeau Government had given Conservatives plenty of reasons for optimism, and arguing that the new leader must be able to restore trust to her team and the team must be prepared to reciprocate, she reaches the conclusion it’s just not possible.

Look at what happened to Scheer and O’Toole, she commented “knives were openly out for both of them from day one.”

“I have to wonder how I would fare as a leader, and as an outsider, in this dynamic given that I would need to almost immediately blend the two camps together,” she continued.

She realized might face unique problems, too, she said, after she learned that influential UCP caucus members and cabinet ministers she thought were friends and allies had lobbied against her being allowed to run because she had let her membership in the provincial party lapse during the pandemic. 

“I’m concerned about what would happen if I stepped in as leader under the present internal UCP caucus dynamic, especially considering we would need to govern while preparing for a rapidly approaching general election,” she explained. 

She also still enjoys her work as as Calgary-Nose Hill MP and will likely re-up for the next federal election, she added. 

“So for those two reasons I’m not going to offer in this UCP leadership race,” she said.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...