After devoting 11 years to federal politics, the Calgary-Nose Hill Member of Parliament would be a shoo-in for a senior position if Brown were to win the leadership. Michelle Rempel Garner would likely have been in contention as well if Jean Charest were victorious, as he could win the leadership only with the support of the Brown team.
By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on June 20, 2022.
OTTAWA—Michelle Rempel Garner must be reading the tea leaves.
She was running the federal Conservative leadership campaign for Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown.
And mid-way through the campaign, the Twitter-verse has been filled with stories that she will likely be leaving federal politics to run for the top job of Alberta’s United Conservative Party.
Using Twitter as her preferred platform, Rempel Garner announced last week that she was stepping down as Brown campaign co-chair to give “serious consideration” to a provincial leadership bid.
“I owe it to Albertans to give this critical decision my full and complete attention,” she wrote on Twitter.
Rempel Garner went on to say that “I continue to be inspired by the optimism of Albertans, who have been through much but remain hopeful. We are—and always have been—worth fighting for. I’ll have more to say soon. Giddyup.”
In reality, Garner Rempel could pursue twin goals, a provincial leadership race along with the co-chairing responsibilities for her chosen leadership candidate.
There is more than a month separating the federal conclusion and the provincial vote, and much of the work on both fronts is carried out via internet and Zoom.
The sale of Conservative memberships is closed on the federal scene, so there is no need to travel extensively to recruit new members.
Instead, the campaign is entering the persuasion stage, where the candidates themselves need to keep travelling in order to attract undecided voters or switch those who have committed to an opponent.
Her decision to step aside comes as the final membership numbers place Pierre Poilievre in an unbeatable position. His campaign claims to have sold double the number of memberships of the Brown team.
Rempel Garner’s withdrawal is a blow to the Brampton mayor’s leadership bid, but not an unexpected turn of events.
The Alberta Member of Parliament is a proud, gun-toting Albertan and many observers feel her place in a provincial race would be as front-runner.
As for Brown, Jean Charest and other federal leadership candidates, the membership deadline confirmed the Poilievre front-runner status.
He is also extremely popular with current Conservative voters. Last week’s Léger poll claimed his support among Tory voters is almost triple that of his closest rival, Charest.
Poilievre was the choice of 44 per cent of Tory supporters while his nearest challenger, former Quebec premier Charest, polled at just 14 per cent. Brown was in the single digits at four per cent, clearly a signal that he has not resonated with the group he needs to win. Those numbers are almost reversed when it comes to polling opinions of Liberals and New Democrats. They believe Charest would be the best Tory leader. Charest polled 25 per cent support from Liberal and NDP supporters, while Brown polled at 11 per cent. Front-runner Poilievre garnered only six per cent support from those who vote Liberal or NDP.
But he doesn’t need those voters to win the leadership.
He only needs Tories. And Rempel Garner’s early departure is a clear signal that he is going to get them.
After devoting 11 years to federal politics, the Calgary-Nose Hill Member of Parliament would be a shoo-in for a senior position if Brown were to win the leadership. She would likely have been in contention as well if Charest were victorious, as he could win the leadership only with the support of the Brown team.
As for Poilievre, she has already burned that bridge. Two months ago, Rempel Garner took to the internet to call out Poilievre as a “fringe party on the right” leader and she went on to say “we can’t go through another leadership with the result being somebody who is unelectable.”
But it appears as though that is exactly what her party is going to do. Two Brown supporters in the caucus recently defected to Poilievre and the departure of Rempel Garner leaves Brown with only one Member of Parliament supporting his leadership.
Poilievre has 56 MPs supporting his candidacy, so the list of those seeking senior positions on his team is very long and there won’t be any room for Garner Rempel in the event the front-runner wins.
So, the timing for Garner Rempel to switch to provincial politics is perfect. She is well-known in Alberta and currently represents one of the most Conservative ridings in the country.
She will enter a crowded field of candidates, but her background and experience could reward her with an easy win. Her toughest job will then be building those Conservative bridges back.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.