To get to Parliament Hill, Rachael Harder, the 29-year-old rookie Conservative MP for Lethbridge, Alta., first crushed her opponents – three well-established men about 30 years her senior – in a nomination battle a year before the general election.
More than 2,500 delegates turned out, and Ms. Harder won on the third ballot with more than 60-per-cent support.
Then, last fall, she thumped the NDP candidate – a well-known woman in the community – who was considered a threat, given the NDP's success provincially.
Along the way, she sought out key players in Lethbridge – a conservative community that had never elected a female MP – who would champion her bid for public office, cold-calling some and convincing others over coffee.
It was a game plan deployed with precision and finesse, and it reads like a how-to manual for women wanting to run for political office.
"Of course, women should enter the political arena," she said this week in an interview. "They shouldn't wait for someone to pursue them. Go for it. If you've got the passion … the vision … the drive … jump in."
Ms. Harder grew up on a farm in Kathryn, Alta. She said she and her four siblings were brought up in a Christian family – her faith is very important to her – but it was not a political family.
She moved to Lethbridge to attend university and stayed, researching and working as a consultant on youth issues, and volunteering for a number of organizations.
When she was 25 – two years before the nomination in the redistributed riding – she decided she was going for it. She joined the party.
In Alberta, winning a federal nomination as a Conservative candidate is typically the hard part, but pretty much guarantees winning in the general election. But Ms. Harder said she picked the Conservatives because the party's values align with hers. "I am strategic but I am also principled."
Meanwhile, she had met Preston Manning, the former Reform Party leader, through her work. He became a mentor, she said.
Next, she called Ray Speaker, the well-respected former Tory MP for the riding. She didn't know him, and asked him out for coffee.
"I knew I couldn't do it on my own and I knew that I didn't want to," she said. "I looked in my community and I started finding those people who I felt would be good contributors to my team and I began having conversations around my passion, my vision and my drive to become a member of Parliament."
Mr. Speaker, who left Parliament Hill in 1997, said he gave Ms. Harder advice about how to put together an organization. He said she got it. He said he also met with one of her three opponents, who just didn't get it.
"Most people think: 'Oh, I'll get the money first and then I'll build an organization because I'll hire people,'" he said. "But it doesn't work that way. First of all you put the people together … and once you have the people together they'll sell memberships and collect money for you."
Mr. Speaker became a fan.
Next, she met two community leaders who ended up becoming her campaign co-chairs. One was Rick Dempsey, a local businessman.
"She brought me out of [political] retirement," Mr. Dempsey said, adding that he "grilled her for two hours" when they first met. "Just because of her age I thought she wouldn't be qualified," he said, but she convinced him otherwise. "And that's why I jumped on board."
Her age was an issue during the nomination campaign. Ms. Harder, who is 6-foot-1, said she was labelled as a "little girl" by opponents. She found it demeaning, but considered it an indication she was becoming a serious contender.
Alex Hann, who works with people with developmental disabilities and is a former mayor of a nearby town, was one of her opponents for the nomination. He was 59 at the time and said that running against a young woman "was very difficult."
"I didn't want to be the cranky old man," he said, adding that he tried to run a positive campaign and thought he had a good shot.
Ms. Harder had a better one: "I knew that probably my best strategy was to let them write me off, let me be the underdog …" she said. "I didn't want to come out strong … I wanted to build quietly behind the scenes and come in for the win in the end."