OTTAWA – Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner on Thursday walked away from her candidacy for leadership of Alberta’s United Conservative Party, citing the inhospitable internal political environment she would inherit and a lack of time to fix it.
But the high-profile MP isn’t returning to an overly hospitable federal political environment, either.
The Star has learned that some of her conservative colleagues have repeatedly threatened to kick her out of the caucus in recent months for the way she’s handled everything from her advocacy for LGBTQ rights to the party’s ongoing leadership campaign.
For her part, she has asked formal questions about why MPs’ behavior towards each other isn’t covered by workplace harassment laws, and whether the law allowing MPs to kick one of them out of the caucus is actually violating those laws. .
And while the internal struggle has become increasingly personal, it’s also a skirmish in the wider war over the future of the Conservative Party as it enters the final stages of a leadership race that circles an important question: which direction do the Tories actually want to go. ?
Rempel Garner’s name has long been in the mix as a potential leader, of either the federal or Alberta conservative parties, thanks to a profile she’s steadily built through social media and elsewhere as a voice pushing for a more inclusive conservative movement — and more power for Alberta.
But even though she has considered the jobs in public in the past, she always ended up running away.
In the current federal leadership race, she became co-chair of Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown’s campaign, citing his ability to penetrate the multicultural and multifaith communities that conservatives have had trouble reaching.
That decision, however, was seen as a direct criticism of his main rival, Pierre Poilievre, a longtime caucus colleague of hers who has the lion’s share of support from Conservative MPs.
Some also saw a longer game – she would help Brown build grassroots support in Alberta that she could later use for her own bid to lead the province’s United Conservative Party.
Only the chance of that offer came sooner than expected. After barely surviving a leadership review last month, Alberta Prime Minister Jason Kenney announced he would step down once a new leader was elected. His announcement followed months of brutal infighting within the UCP over his leadership style and how he governed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
That prompted Rempel Garner to leave Brown — with campaign staff — to focus on her UCP leadership prospects. Two other Conservative MPs had also just withdrawn their support for Brown, leading to the question of whether her departure was a lack of confidence in the mayor of Brampton’s prospects.
In a statement Thursday, Brown said he will not be taking back Rempel Garner.
“The campaign has been adjusted and reset in the wake of her departure and we have the team that will take us to September 10 and we are not going to make any further formal changes to that,” he said.
“But I’m happy that we can continue to call on her experience and insight in the future.”
In a lengthy essay detailing the reasons for her decision not to run for UCP leadership, Rempel Garner made no mention of the federal leadership race — but she did allude to the toxic nature of state and federal politics.
“In both sides there have also been squabbles that have erupted in the pages of the national media, public collapses, near-missed physical fights, coups, defamation jobs, leaked recordings and confidential emails, lack of consensus on critical issues, caucus turfings, harassed people to the point of resigning from office, and hour-long meetings where members are berated for hours in public,” she wrote.
“There have been heated exchanges to allay fundamental concerns, unwarranted island decision-making, avoidance, exclusion cliques and more.”
That kind of workplace behavior crosses a line, she said.
“In pretty much any other workplace, a lot of the things that have happened would be treated as a violation of labor laws, but in politics it’s considered Human Resources 101,” she wrote.
It’s not the first time she’s made that comparison.
Earlier this month, Rempel Garner quietly posted a question on the order form, a House of Commons procedure that allows MPs to submit written questions to get more detailed answers than they would get during the daily question period.
In it, she asked the government whether recent changes to labor laws to tighten regulations on workplace harassment had considered whether the reform law might have been a violation.
The law, passed in 2014, gives MPs the right – if they choose – to vote out their own leader, as well as any member of their caucus.
In her question, Rempel asked Garner if any analysis had been done “to assess whether processes used in the application of any provision of the Reform Act, 2014, particularly the provision relating to the expulsion of caucus members, could contradict comply with the law, the House of Commons Harassment Policy or any other federal or provincial legislation related to workplace harassment.”
The government must respond within 45 days.
The law was the tool Conservative MPs 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 go – though she also spoke out in support of his staying on.
Not long after, debate began over whether the Reform Act should be used to kick her out of the Tory caucus.
In early May, 10 people were shot and killed in Buffalo, NY by a man who allegedly believed in a racist conspiracy theory that whites are deliberately replaced by people who are not white.
Rempel Garner was quick to denounce the so-called “white replacement theory”, and so did Brown. But Brown went further, pointing out that one of the theory’s supporters in Canada was one of the leaders of the so-called “Freedom Convoy,” criticizing Poilievre for appearing to be joining him.
Poilievre had condemned the racism that emerged during the convoy protests, although he also supported the protesters’ more general call for an end to the COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
Rempel Garner then wrote an op-ed in the National Post warning that more needs to be done to combat racist theories permeating Canadian politics.
“This is especially true for leaders in right-wing political movements, where this sentiment may be more pervasive, and the temptation to mainstream it for political gain is greater,” she wrote.
“Promoting or silent when it’s in the ranks amounts to the same thing.”
That same day, she issued a racist email sent to the Brown campaign by a Poilievre supporter.
Within the Tory caucus, where Poilievre has widespread support, her actions have been interpreted as effectively calling him and other MPs racist, multiple sources told the Star — and that was seen as going too far.
Attempts to find the minimum number of MPs needed to bring about a vote on the reform bill mounted – and Rempel Garner was notified.
She did not answer repeated requests for comment from the Star.
While the heat applied by the leadership campaign may have been the catalyst, Rempel Garner has had a rocky ride within the caucus for years.
Her call for greater independence for Alberta in what was known as the “Buffalo Declaration” without a total caucus buy-in, is calling for a startling motion to push through a bill banning the practice of targeting people who doubt their gender. or forcing sexuality into therapy, and her bumping heads with COVID-19 skeptics in caucus have been sources of tension for months. She was also criticized for spending the early months of the pandemic lockdowns with her husband and his family in Oklahoma, not while driving.
After being shaken from the front benches of the party when O’Toole was impeached, she turned down a seat on a committee of MPs charged with assessing national security concerns.
All things considered, “people are just done” with Rempel Garner, a longtime Tory MP told the Star, granting anonymity to discuss confidential caucus discussions.
Whether there will be enough to resume a discussion on the reform bill remains to be seen.
For her part, Rempel Garner said she plans to continue her work as a representative of the residents of Calgary Nose Hill.
“I love what I do – despite the internal party ups and downs of the past few years and whatever may come in the future,” she wrote.
“I will serve as long as I continue to earn the trust of my community, and to be quite clear, I am not going anywhere and intend to relist as an MP.”
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