Evidently, Calgary MP Michelle Rempel Garner has a global fan club urging her to consider running for the Conservative Party leadership.
The day after Andrew Scheer announced his decision to resign from the job, Ms. Rempel Garner tweeted: “A sample of the 375885 heavy early morning breakfast texts from friends around the world that I received today. ‘It’s just not a moment in world history when defending pluralism is mostly a lifestyle choice. In the mid-1990s maybe. That’s behind us. What are you doing to do?’”
What is she going to do, indeed?
We are at that stage of the process where would-be candidates test their marketability. Most politicians have some degree of ego, and then there are a handful whose self-image is colossus in scope. More often than not, however, their grand sense of self fails to match up with the public’s perception.
Ms. Rempel Garner is one of a handful of women being mentioned as possible candidates. Former B.C. premier Christy Clark’s name is being tossed around and tested by some leading figures in the party. There’s been no comment from her, so she’s likely seeing what encouragement she gets before deciding. As a former federal Liberal and a big-P progressive on social issues, she could be a hard sell among many in the party. On the other hand, as retail politicians go, there are few better.
Former federal Tory cabinet minister and one-time leadership candidate Lisa Raitt is, I’m sure, also giving some serious thought to another run. Although she couldn’t hold her own seat in the last election, which presumably makes it tougher for her to convince the base she’s the right one to sell the Conservative brand nationally. Ontario provincial cabinet minister Caroline Mulroney has been mentioned.
And then there is the party’s former interim leader, Rona Ambrose, who is considering a bid and who seems to be the clear favourite among many heavy hitters in the conservative movement, including Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall.
Let’s first go back to Ms. Rempel Garner. While she would enter the race as a decided long-shot, her voice could be important. She is a young and outspoken (sometimes overly caustic when her hyper-partisan nature gets the better of her) westerner. She seems to be already testing out lines on the news show circuit: “People don’t want transactional politics, they want transformative politics.” She says the next leader, whoever it is, needs to push a modern, bold agenda that aligns with 21st-century values possessed by a majority of Canadians.
I would say that’s a message her party desperately needs to hear.
In many respects, the Conservatives are at a crossroads. Part of the party is being tugged by social conservatives and the religious right, a group that wants to see its issues represented in party doctrine. And then there are the populists, who are often anti-immigrant, anti-climate change, and who would like to see someone who defies the tried-and-true tenets of conventional politics, a buck-a-beer huckster, perhaps, who appeals to the common (mostly white) man. And then you have the progressive wing that wants to silence debates about access to abortion and LBGTQ rights and move on to putting a conservative stamp on the pressing issues of the day.
As you can see, it takes a special person to bridge the many divides that threaten the party’s future. That is why Ms. Ambrose is getting so much attention, and is under so much pressure to consider applying for the job. She seems like the perfect candidate.
For starters, she’s a westerner, which is important, given the West’s hold on the party base. She is far more enlightened on social issues than many Conservatives – she won’t hesitate to march in a Pride parade and considers the abortion debate a long-since closed discussion.
She possesses the political skills needed to assuage concerns some in the party might have about her liberal views on contentious social issues. There isn’t a nativist bone in her body, but I don’t think that will hurt her among those conservatives who still mourn the loss of Maxime Bernier. She is bilingual and a known, generally admired politician across the country.
Mostly, Ms. Ambrose is seen by many as someone who can reinvent the Conservative identity and who can come up with a platform that boldly addresses issues such as climate change, day care, homelessness and the opioid crisis through a conservative lens.
It’s a tall task that perhaps only Ms. Ambrose is up to.
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