Rempel’s amazing Twitterstorm kicks off Conservative leadership race

Michelle Rempel, an outgoing junior minister from Calgary, welcomed herself to the Conservative leadership sweepstakes with a late-night, girl-power Twitter rant.

So far, the race to succeed Stephen Harper as the next leader of Canada’s Conservative Party has been notable for the level of disinterest it’s drawn — not a single candidate has yet announced a campaign for the leadership.Canada Flag Icon

Despite wild speculation about who might want to take the reins of Canada’s soon-to-be opposition, some of the most well-known potential contenders have already ruled themselves out of contention — former Québec premier Jean Charest (himself a one-time leader of the old Progressive Conservative Party), former New Brunswick premier Bernard Lord, Saskatchewan’s wildly popular two-term premier Brad Wall, former foreign minister John Baird.

But there’s one potential candidate who isn’t being coy about her intentions.

It’s Michelle Rempel, a 35-year-old MP from Calgary who’s been in office only since 2011. Born in Winnipeg and of partial French Canadian ancestry, she worked in development at the University of Calgary before jumping to politics, winning the by-election when Jim Prentice left federal politics for the private sector (and before Prentice returned to provincial politics for a disastrous run leading Alberta’s government). She quickly made a splash in the House of Commons and in 2013, Harper recognized her talents by appointing her as a junior minister for western economic diversification.

In an odd — and at turns, confident, caustic and compelling — Twitter rant in the middle of the night on October 22, Rempel made the case for her potential leadership, sometimes making the case against casual misogyny in everyday politics that would make Hillary Rodham Clinton proud.

It’s worth reading in full:

Of course, if Rempel runs, she will face competition. And the smarter money is still on those potential opponents.

Jason Kenney, for example, is the outgoing defense minister and minister for multicuturalism, and he has been an MP from Calgary since 1997. Socially conservative, he’s something like Harper’s Harper. Though he is probably best placed for a leadership campaign, his appeal would be like doubling down on the Harper brand — but a bit more western, a bit more right-wing, a bit more bland. A Kenney-led Conservative Party would risk looking and feeling too much like the old Reform Party/Canadian Alliance of the 1990s.

Peter MacKay, who recently retired from the House of Commons, is a former justice minister and defense minister. A political legacy from Nova Scotia, he was the last leader of the old Progressive Conservatives, and he engineered its merger into Harper’s Canadian Alliance to form the modern Conservative Party. But having just announced his retirement five months ago, he might find it awkward to mount a comeback so soon.

Conservatives also have other women to choose from. Lisa Raitt, another rising star from the all-important province of Ontario, has been an MP since 2008 and is the outgiong minister of transport. Another rising star from Ontario, Kellie Leitch is the outgoing labor minister, though she was responsible for one of the worst gaffes of the Conservative election campaign — the now-infamous ‘barbaric practices’ hotline.

For any woman in right-wing politics, two ghosts haunt the path to any leadership battle. The first is Belinda Stronach, the businesswoman-turned-politician who flamed out in the Conservative Party, shortly before crossing the aisle to flame out in the Liberal Party. The second is Kim Campbell, the only female prime minister in Canadian history. Having taken the reigns of power from Brian Mulroney in 1993, she served for barely four months before leading the Progressive Conservatives to their worst election result in history, losing all but two seats nationwide.

Today, however, women currently serve as premier in three out of four of Canada’s most populous provinces — Kathleen Wynne in Ontario (also Canada’s first openly gay premier), Christy Clark in British Columbia and Rachel Notley in Alberta. Last Monday, 88 women were elected to the House of Commons, which is a record high in Canadian politics, even though that’s far from half of the 338-member parliamentary body. Notwithstanding Campbell, it seems long overdue for Canada to elect a female prime minister in her own right as prime minister.

In a contest where the Conservatives’ heaviest hitters sit out the race, Rempel could shine in the Trudeau era as a ballsy figure who can connect with the younger voters who abandoned Harper and flocked to the Liberals. A brash, tough-talking Tory with roots in Manitoba, the moxie to shake up her party by bringing a different perspective to the opposition benches and the willingness to embrace both her youth and her gender? She might not win the leadership, but she would certainly be a far more engaging figure than another grey-haired middle-aged man.

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