Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner says she won’t enter the United Conservative Party leadership race to replace Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, ending weeks of speculation that intensified after she publicly indicated she was considering a run.
Ms. Rempel Garner, who represents Calgary Nose Hill in Parliament, was expected to emerge as an early frontrunner if she launched a campaign but, in a lengthy blog post, the longtime politician said party turmoil ultimately led her to bow out.
With a provincial election less than a year away and her status as an outsider to the party, Ms. Rempel Garner wrote she was unsure she would be able to mend the wounds that have led to division in the UCP. She said she sympathizes with the “significant level of hurt and uncertainty” within the party, having herself experienced election losses, leadership resignations and removals within the federal Conservative caucus.
She said both conservative parties have made headlines for public meltdowns, near physical fights, smear jobs and internal conflict, all of which do little to gain public trust. Choosing a new leader won’t simply erase these longstanding issues, she added, pointing to conversations in recent weeks that show the “acrimony” that led to Mr. Kenney’s resignation is still raw.
Ms. Rempel Garner wrote of a “clear division” between “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.”
The UCP race was called last month after Mr. Kenney finished a leadership review with just 51-per-cent support, a slim victory that prompted him to announce an intent to resign.
In anticipation of a potential provincial run, Ms. Rempel Garner stepped away from her role as co-chair of Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown’s federal Conservative leadership campaign. Soon after her departure, Mr. Brown’s campaign manager, Sean Schnell, left to follow her. She was also granted an exemption earlier this week to run for leader despite not being a party member for long enough.
Mr. Brown said in a statement that Ms. Rempel Garner will not return to his campaign.
“The campaign has adjusted and reset in the wake of her departure and we have the team in place that will take us to Sept. 10,” he said. “But I’m pleased we will be able to continue to call on her experience and insight as we go forward.”
Ms. Rempel Garner said bowing out as a contender for UCP leader was the hardest decision she has ever made, but mixed reactions from UCP caucus members to her request for an eligibility exemption validated her decision.
“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,” she said.
The vote for Mr. Kenney’s leadership review followed more than a year of infighting within his caucus, including from several MLAs who openly called for him to step down, and pressure from constituency associations. Complaints ranged from the Premier’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, with some in his party arguing the province went too far with restrictions, to criticism of what some saw as a top-down leadership style.
Eight candidates have so far registered with Elections Alberta to run for UCP leader. This includes former cabinet ministers Travis Toews, Rajan Sawhney, Rebecca Schulz and Leela Aheer, who was booted from her position after openly criticizing Mr. Kenney’s leadership.
Also in the race is Mr. Kenney’s rival Brian Jean, who formerly led the Wildrose Party, co-founded the UCP and lost to Mr. Kenney in the race to lead the newly merged party in 2017.
The other candidates include Danielle Smith, Mr. Jean’s predecessor as Wildrose leader; Independent MLA Todd Loewen, who was kicked out of the UCP caucus last year after urging Mr. Kenney to quit; and Bill Rock, the mayor of the small rural community of Amisk, Alta.
A new UCP leader will be chosen on Oct. 6.
With a file from The Canadian Press
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