CALGARY—After weeks of speculation, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner says she will not be throwing her hat into the ring to replace Jason Kenney after all, citing concerns about the “significant level of hurt and uncertainty” in the ranks of Alberta’s governing party.
The longtime Calgary politician had been publicly mulling a run at the leadership for weeks, and had even stepped back from her role as co-chair on Patrick Brown’s run for the federal Conservative leadership in order to consider the move.
Rempel Garner has been a federal Conservative MP since 2011, and has gained a reputation in the province as both an outspoken booster of Alberta and someone who has taken more progressive stances on social issues, including LGBTQ rights.
Indeed, some polling this week suggested she would have joined the race as a frontrunner.
But in an online post Thursday, she was sharply critical of the party that is currently running her home province, as well as seemingly wary of the challenges to come as the party gets set to face off against former premier Rachel Notley’s NDP in a looming election.
Although she had the chops, the team and the family support to do it, she wrote, she was ultimately dissuaded by the internal turmoil of the kind that had prompted the departure of the former leader.
“In the hundred plus conversations I’ve had with folks close to the situation over the last week, my key takeaway was that the acrimony that led up to Jason’s leadership review is still raw,” she wrote.
She drew a parallel between the Alberta and federal Conservative parties, both of which she said have weathered “quabbles 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, (and) people harassed to the point where they resign roles.”
Both parties have also shown leaders to the door in recent months, and not just Kenney, whose shock departure last month set the leadership race for the party he created in motion.
Federally, she writes, both Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole inherited “problematic work environments,” in which power was restricted to a select few, and “bullying is considered a top management skill.”
She therefore worried that if she became leader, she wrote, she’d be following in their footsteps and tasked with repairing some deep-seated issues in a very short period of time before the next election, which is expected next year.
Both before and after Kenney’s announcement that he would be stepping down, Alberta’s governing party has been publicly divided between those who are part of Kenney’s leadership team and those who are pushing for a total change of the guard.
The field is crowded already, and includes multiple former Kenney ministers, including former finance minister Travis Toews, who will face off against those who have publicly campaigned against the Kenney government, including longtime critic Brian Jean.
Any eventual leader will be charged with melding the two camps together, she said. “I had to be honest about what I’d actually be facing if I were to lead the caucus.”
She got a taste of the fruits of that division this week, when she had to apply for a special waiver to run, she wrote, as she hadn’t had a party membership long enough to satisfy the rules for leadership candidates.
Media reported that while some members of caucus supported the waiver, other members, “including people who I’ve had decades long, close friendships with” tried to block it, Rempel Garner wrote.
“While the waiver was granted, and I didn’t take any of this stuff to heart, my suspicions about what I’d be in for from caucus if I became leader were validated.”
She emphasized that many in both parties are working hard and doing good work, but that that didn’t change the broader issue.
“Bluntly put, I’m concerned about what would happen if I stepped in as leader under the present internal UCP caucus dynamic.”
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