Discover more from Michelle Rempel Garner
I just made a big decision
In the past three weeks I have been approached by many people to consider offering in the United Conservative Party leadership race. People from all walks of life and political stripes have reached out to me to offer encouragement.
The outpouring of heartfelt words from across the province has been incredible.
The opportunity to lead this province is an incredible privilege and not one to be taken lightly.
Every candidate has an internal checklist of things that needs to be in place when they decide to run for something. So here’s mine:
I’ve got a strong track record of fighting for the province. I have a vision for Alberta that I’m confident would help its people. I have a solid track record of being on the right side of issues that have previously caused trust issues for other conservatives - like protecting the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, reproductive health, and addressing racism. This means I could have a good shot at building trust with many Albertans against the Alberta NDP in a swiftly approaching general election.
I’ve got the chops to be able to serve the public in this role. I have strong work experience prior to politics, including senior management experience. I’m also a capable, seasoned legislator that has served in an economic cabinet portfolio, and in numerous senior roles in opposition.
The campaign logistics are in place. I’m a proven fundraiser and have had many people offer to support that aspect of my campaign. I have a proven team of organizers and volunteers. I’ve engaged with thousands of Albertans who have signaled that they want to support me - so signatures, membership prospects and overall support look great. Polls are showing me out at the front of the pack. The rules set out a preferential ballot system that wouldn’t work against me. I have a big social media presence that’s necessary to reach people.
There’s no scandal for my opponents to drag out. If there was, those who are politically motivated to use it against me would have already done so and it would have stuck. Any gaffes are already out there - I come pre-vetted and ready to rumble.
I have the full enthusiastic support of my husband, Jeff. He’s a retired veteran, and our kids are in college and trade school. He is here to support me in this journey and is excited to do it.
I would be able to do it for the right reasons. The work of a Member of Parliament excites me and I feel blessed to be able to do it. So running to be the Premier of Alberta would be a natural extension of the work I’ve done to fight for my community over the years.
So everything has come together, including a large amount of support from Albertans that I’m honoured to receive. A poll released yesterday says I'm the front runner and could seriously challenge the NDP in next year’s general election. I’m blown away.
There is actually nothing holding me back from doing this. All the stars are aligned and it’s right there.
Except for this.
As I was doing the final preparation to launch my campaign yesterday, I realized I had serious concerns about one big issue.
From what I’ve heard over the last few weeks, there is a significant level of hurt and uncertainty in the UCP caucus team. I can sympathize. As a member of the federal CPC caucus, we’ve gone through three consecutive election losses, two leadership resignations, and one leadership removal in the last seven years.
Let me preface what I’m about to say with this. The UCP has done a lot of good work and has put the province on solid footing. Many members of the team have worked really hard and achieved a lot of good things. Same goes for the federal Conservatives. I respect and appreciate the people in both these teams.
But in both parties 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.
There have been heated exchanges to get basic concerns addressed, unjustified insularity in decision making, shunnings, exclusionary cliques and more.
This is all a matter of public record and it is not exaggerated. The pandemic made all of this worse, but this stuff predates COVID.
It’s natural for passions to run hot, for egos to swell and for intrigue to happen in politics. 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.
In virtually every other workplace much of the stuff that has happened would be treated as a violation of labour codes, but in politics it’s considered Human Resources 101. Voters care about this, because it affects the people tasked with speaking on their behalf. They rightly have little tolerance for it.
Some people will argue that in politics, changes in leadership erase these problems simply by virtue of happening. They don’t. These problems don’t magically evaporate after a party wins a general election or has been in government for a while, either. They accumulate. They might simmer down, but from what I've seen in my time in office, they tend to come back in some form because they’ve never really gone away.
In the case of the UCP, the new leader will have less than a year to address this stuff before a general election.
The new leader needs to restore trust in the team and the team needs to be willing to allow it to happen. The same should be said for implementing a policy that governs workplace behaviour between elected officials (this is non-existent in the House of Commons as well). The public needs the infighting to stop to keep confidence in us (and before you get too excited Alberta NDP or federal Liberals, you have challenges in your workplaces too).
In running for leader I would want to put team development at the heart of the time I spent in the role. I learned the importance of this from previous management roles. I would set clear expectations on performance and enforce them, but I also would make sure the team had agency to actually do their job and be leaders themselves. No organization can be successful without these things.
But in this I also have to consider that even if I won this leadership contest, I might not get the chance to try.
And that would serve no one, including the team I’d be attempting to lead.
That’s because in making my decision to seek the leadership of a political party at this particular time in Canadian politics, and in the aftermath of what happened during Jason Kenney’s leadership review, I’m mindful of the recent federal tenures of both Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole.
Both of these men are good people. As leaders, they inherited a problematic work environment that took root well before they took their posts. In it trust is limited to a small circle, insularity is rewarded, and bullying is considered a top management skill.
They were both focused on trying to put together election platforms in the middle of a messy internal situation that they inherited, with rapidly approaching general elections after having won divisive leadership contests. Knives were openly out for both of them from day one. Even though they had some significant successes and missteps were made (who doesn’t make mistakes), in the end they couldn't lead people that didn't want to be led by them.
And so the environment deteriorated.
Andrew and Erin had every right to be optimistic that they could unite the team after their respective leadership races. But they didn't have much time prior to their general elections to address long standing issues or to rectify the lack of independent processes needed to truly prevent and resolve internal conflict between their team members. They might see this entirely differently, but from where I sit as a caucus member, that is my perspective.
And therein lies my reservation; seeking a leadership role in a different party but under what appear from the outside to be very similar circumstances.
With the UCP caucus, as I’m on the outside of it, I don’t know where all the sore spots are from the events of the last couple of years. But from what many people have confidentially shared with me there seem to be a lot of them and they seem to be pretty fresh. 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.
So I had to be honest about what I’d actually be facing if I were to lead the caucus.
Many of the conversations I've had while exploring this opportunity confirm public reports that a clear division exists. That is, those who don’t want the former leadership team to retain any hold on power and those who are part of the former leadership team and want to entirely maintain the status quo. Neither of these positions are tenable. The public has no sympathy for it either.
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. Then I’d need that team to instantly perform well with the weight of government already on its shoulders. I’d be doing this while simultaneously having to establish functional human resources protocols. With a general election imminent, there would be precious little time to do this.
Further, no one I talked to felt there was a simple policy vision that could inspire the team enough to easily overcome this division in a short period of time. That’s a problem because this leadership race essentially starts the build up to the general election. Within weeks the team and the leader needs to be able to collaboratively set a policy vision that would a) unite a divided caucus b) calm an unsettled base c) peel off support from a surging NDP d) govern the province well under their current mandate and e) proactively address some of the issues of the past that have irritated the public.
We’d have to resist pressure and manipulation from special interest groups and lobbyists that would hope to take advantage of the instability of the situation. We’d have to dodge the missiles of a well organized, campaign ready NDP. We’d have to gain back more trust from the public.
It can be done, but the caucus would immediately have to come together under a leader and be able to work together in good faith to make it so.
The jury was already out for me on that point when on Tuesday I read a news article that confirmed my concerns as it pertains to me.
In 2017 I bought a multi-year membership when the UCP was created. When it lapsed in November 2020 during the height of the pandemic, I was busy being the federal shadow minister for Health and there weren’t many provincial political events being held where you would typically be reminded to renew.
So when I registered for the leadership review vote in February, I realized my membership had lapsed and I renewed it. Throughout this I’ve campaigned for and supported the party. But nonetheless, I’d need a waiver from the party to run for the leadership as I was a few weeks short of the eligibility guidelines. In most circumstances this is pretty routine stuff.
But the article said that when I applied for the waiver, some members of the caucus supported granting it. But several other senior members, including people who I’ve had decades long, close friendships with, participated in an attempt to scuttle something minor that the rules allowed for. And 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.
I want to be clear - there are many people in both the federal and provincial teams who are working hard and doing great work. The province has a solid foundation for the future, especially when the challenges of the pandemic are factored in. There are great candidates for leadership for the UCP, three of whom I consider to be good friends. But these issues are real. I put this out there not to cause trouble but to be transparent about my decision making process. I just want to make sure there is no speculation about why I’m making this particular choice.
First off, I’m still very grateful for the mandate I currently have. I find purpose in being a good representative for Calgary Nose Hill. I love what I do - in spite of the internal party ups and downs of the last few years and whatever may come in the future. I will serve as long as I continue to earn the trust of my community, and to be abundantly clear, I’m not going anywhere and intend to reoffer as MP.
And, bluntly put, 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.
So for those two reasons I’m not going to offer in this UCP leadership race.
It would be an incredible honour and privilege to be Premier of Alberta. I am so tempted to do this. The polls say I have a real shot at getting it done and I’ve received a lot of support. But given everything, I think Albertans would be better served if right now I stayed in the important role they’ve already given to me, and if I respected the UCP caucus in giving it the space it needs to figure its stuff out.
This has been the hardest decision I have ever had to make. I will wonder about it for a long time. But I’m self aware enough to know it’s the right choice.
I also know I have to take responsibility because I’m far from perfect myself. In this work environment, I too have found myself getting angry when I couldn’t break through to the central leadership establishment or when crazy things happened. But I’ve also been on the receiving end of the worst of it, and it is no joke. I want to fix this, but from the role I’m currently in.
I'm also extremely optimistic that there are incredible opportunities that lie ahead for Albertans and for the next Premier. I’m excited to fight for these things to come to pass.
I believe a fiscally responsible, socially inclusive approach that asserts more strength against Ottawa, supports the energy sector but is more aggressive about encouraging economic diversification and retaining skilled workers is the path we need to be on. We need political stability for investment to happen. We need to fight for the energy sector while not relying on oil booms to balance the budget. We have to have a plan to make life more affordable.
I believe the conservative movement is the only one that has the capacity to deliver this.
I sincerely wish my colleagues in the UCP well as they continue to govern, in their deliberations of their future vision for our province, and most of all in addressing internal challenges. You’ll do well in the election if those things come together. I know in the meantime I want you to succeed in providing good government to our shared constituents. I’m here if you need me.
And as the House of Commons rises for the summer, I also send all my federal colleagues the exact same regards. I hope we can all be good to each other, so that the public will trust us to be good to them.
Thank you to the dozens of people who offered to work on my potential campaign and gave me the time and space to really think about this. I especially thank the ten or so of you who would have made a campaign dream team. I know this will come as a frustrating let down, but I’m certain it’s the right decision.
I extend my best wishes to the field of UCP leadership candidates.
Titles aren’t everything, but knowing with certainty how and where we are called to make an impact is.
Working hard for you,