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Alberta MP Michelle Rempel Garner ponders run for UCP leadership — and walking away from Patrick Brown’s federal campaign


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Alberta MP Michelle Rempel Garner ponders run for UCP leadership — and walking away from Patrick Brown’s federal campaign

OTTAWA — Michelle Rempel Garner, a star of the conservative movement in Canada, said late Thursday she’s considering a bid for leadership of Alberta’s United Conservative Party and walking away from her work helping one of the front-runners in the federal party’s leadership race.

Rumours that Rempel Garner was going to take a run at the UCP’s top job surfaced almost immediately after current leader, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, made the surprising choice of announcing he would step down, despite narrowly winning a leadership review last month.

She’s been a vocal advocate for the province from her perch in Ottawa, where she has served as the MP for Calgary Nose Hill since 2011.

Among other things, in 2020 she wrote the so-called Buffalo Declaration, which called for constitutional and other changes to elevate Alberta’s place within Confederation.

“Alberta is — and always has been — my top priority. Today, I can confirm that I am giving a provincial leadership bid serious consideration,” she said in a social media statement Thursday night.

“I owe it to Albertans to give this critical decision my full and complete attention.”

As such, Rempel Garner said, she’ll no longer participate in the federal Conservative leadership race.

In March, she’d signed on to work as a campaign co-chair for Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown, highlighting the work he’s done building bridges with multicultural communities and saying he was also in tune with the needs of the West.

In addition to her advocacy for Alberta, Rempel Garner has also pushed the party to more fully embrace LGBTQ rights, and has spoken publicly in recent months about the need for conservatives to do more to call out conspiracy theorists in their ranks.

She has also been outspoken about the harassment and abuse she’s faced as a parliamentarian, and her decision to back Brown drew criticism from some of his rivals, given the fact he’s been accused of sexual misconduct in the past. He denies those allegations.

Her departure marks another blow to his campaign, and reduces his public support among elected Conservative MPs to just one.

Two others broke with his bid last week, citing the desire to rally around Brown’s main rival, Pierre Poilievre.

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The UCP race is scheduled for Oct. 6, and should Rempel Garner jump in, she’ll join a packed field.

Eight other contenders have already declared they want the job, including former children’s services minister Rebecca Schulz, former finance minister Travis Toews, and former transportation minister Rajan Sawhney, all of whom stepped down from their provincial cabinet positions to avoid a conflict of interest.

Brian Jean, the former leader of the Wildrose Party who ran and lost to Kenney in the UCP’s 2017 leadership race, is also running. The UCP was a merger of his old party and the Progressive Conservatives.

Party leadership contests in Alberta have traditionally been hard-fought, divisive affairs.

The Progressive Conservatives ruled the province for 44 years and therefore many viewed winning a leadership election as a practical guarantee of becoming premier.

The UCP has already faced years of division over Kenney’s leadership, policy fumbles, fighting with unions and criticism of the government’s COVID-19 response.

It’s a climate Rempel Garner is familiar with — earlier this year, grumbling and divisions within the federal Conservative caucus also cost their leader, Erin O’Toole, his job.

She’d been among his few vocal supporters, and after he was ousted by MPs, she was taken off the party’s front benches in the Commons by interim leader Candice Bergen.

Rempel Garner said whomever the UCP chooses as its next leader must be prepared to go toe-to-toe with the federal government, and the provincial NDP.

“With cost of living spiralling out of control and a federal Liberal (government) hostile to Alberta’s interests, picking a leader who can defeat their NDP allies in next year’s provincial election is critical,” she wrote.

“We can’t allow the NDP — or Justin Trudeau — to squander Alberta’s future.”

With files from Kieran Leavitt

Stephanie Levitz is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @StephanieLevitz

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