Michelle Rempel Garner Out: What's Next For The UCP
Also: Bonus Other Alberta Thoughts
Well, the top of this column was gonna be radically different this morning when I started writing it about whether or not Michelle Rempel-Garner had a lane in the UCP Primary, plus some other points about Alberta 2023, but now that Rempel-Garner is out, I’m having to rewrite this.
I’ll leave in two of the other sections as bonuses too, because I am kind.
What The Fuck Is Rempel Doing?
Man, I didn’t see this coming.
So, yesterday, Michelle Rempel-Garner, the MP for Calgary-Oklahoma and blocker of many on Twitter, got her former chief aide to leave his post on the Patrick Brown campaign for CPC Leader – which she had resigned as co-chair of in the recent past – to come run her nascent campaign for UCP Leader. At the same time, a Counsel poll had her as the UCP Leadership candidate with the best favourables amongst UCP voters, and all of this felt like pitchrolling to a launch next week once the House of Commons rises and the summer gets underway.
And today she decided not to, for a bunch of reasons which frankly sound like a crock of shit.
Let’s be charitable to Rempel Garner and assume that her motives are pure (they’re not – we’ll come back to that in a bit) and let’s go through her stated reasons. After two contentious leadership races federally and two caucuses that weren’t big fans of the leader, she didn’t want to head into a UCP caucus where there would be potential disunity around her selection and therefore she could not see herself being an effective leader of the party.
Her argument is that neither O’Toole nor Scheer had enough time to consolidate the Party – Scheer had a shade under 2 years, O’Toole a shade over 1 – and that she would have months to do so, without the knowledge of where exactly all the skeletons are and therefore without the ability to handle everything, not having been in the Cabinet or Caucus rooms for all the bruising fights of the last three years.
She’s absolutely right that the UCP is factionally divided between Kenney loyalists and others, but she doesn’t actually name the split, which I will. It’s the Calgary caucus versus the rural COVID deadenders. It’s the socially liberal, urban and suburban conservatives who get up every morning to find a balanced budget and a tax cut versus the rural members who prioritize their God and their way of life over everything else. It’s a cultural fight because, as I wrote the last time I wrote about Alberta, the Albertan right is two parties bound together by First Past The Post. It’s a green card marriage that they ended up having a kid by accident and now they’re stuck.
They split for a bit, but that was even worse, so they’re having to try and stay together in this loveless marriage, where none of their friends want to invite them to social gatherings anymore because every single time they end up in some passive aggressive fight. The UCP is so toxic they’re finding new things to have fights about just because they’re so mad. “Is Michelle Rempel Garner allowed to run for the UCP when she hasn’t been a member for enough time” – as if a federal MP not realizing that their UCP membership ran out and then reupping as soon as she noticed means she isn’t a Real Conservative – is the latest version, the political equivalent of screaming at your partner at a dinner party because he grabbed you a white wine instead of a red.
The problem, of course, is that Rempel Garner just fucking aired all of this out in public, putting whoever the next UCP Leader ends up being on blast before they even take the job, and pointing out that if it’s a Kenney loyalist the right is gonna take their ball and go home, and that the Kenney loyalists will be very displeased if Brian Jean or Danielle Smith get the job. I mean, we already knew this, but it’s still fucking wild to see Rempel Garner just saying it all in public. Rempel just wrote the NDP’s next three months of messaging – the UCP is too busy fighting each other while we’re fighting for you – because they can say “don’t take my word for it, listen to Michelle Rempel!”
Also, let’s just pour one out for Patrick Brown – buddy, you had to sign yourself up to that fucking nonsensical Buffalo Declaration just to get a Western co-chair, and then she knifed you, stole your campaign manager, and left your campaign bleeding on the side of the road without either a path forward or any dignity, good job.
What does this mean for the leadership race? Probably good news for Travis Toews, Finance Minister and leading non-Kenney Kenneyite candidate now that Rempel isn’t here to take moderate votes from him. It’s probably him versus either Jean or Smith in the final ballot of the UCP Leadership race. Unlike in the federal UCP leadership race, it’s just pure One Member, One Vote, so no convoluted points systems, and I do think the COVID dead enders have a decent chance to take over control of the party.
I don’t have a firm view on this right other than “it’ll be close”, because the leadership review was 51/49, but I don’t know three things. 1) How many Support Kenney (in the leadership review) voted that way because they thought this was the wrong time for it, but will vote for the COVID deadenders now that a contest is commencing? 2) How many Anti Kenney voters like his politics but think his brand was too toxic to win, and therefore will support the leading moderates? And 3) how will voters in the leadership race that didn’t vote in the leadership review break?
I have no firm answers to any of that, so I can’t make anything resembling a firm guess as to who is favoured right now. What I will say is that the better the UCP polls from here on out, the better Smith or Jean does in the leadership election, probably – if the UCP think they’re fine with any non-Kenney, they’ll pick the candidate their ideological views most align with. If they think the COVID deadenders might cost the party a General Election win, Toews becomes a more attractive option.
On the General Election: Jean and Toews would both be favourites over Notley, Smith would be a tossup only because she seems to be running a campaign cartoonishly designed to let the NDP sweep Calgary. Yes Toews would see some COVID deadenders go to Wildrose Independence, but all that would do is cut UCP margins in the rural seats and have the UCP vote hold up much better in the cities. From a pure electoral calculus, you’d rather lose your right flank in safe seats to a small party than bleed votes directly across in swing seats. Jean would bleed some to the NDP, but he isn’t running quite as antagonistic an approach these days as Smith, so the bleeding would likely be lower. And, I have more faith that Jean would keep the left of the UCP in the tent than I do Smith.
Without Rempel Garner in the race, the UCP leadership race makes more sense, but also less – it clarifies a lot, but still leaves us knowing very little, the perfect antidote to the boring CPC leadership race. Thank God for Alberta, if only for the content.
Bonus 1: The UCP Are Losing Leduc?
Keen observers of my projections will have noted that I had the NDP winning three more seats when I updated last night for Counsel and Angus Reid polls I had missed – two in Calgary, and one in Leduc. The Leduc one caught me by surprise too, and so it’s worth talking through why it flipped and why I don’t expect the UCP to lose it by election day.
This far out from an election, I don’t give one single iota about “correcting” the math for what I think will happen on the day – to the extent that there are going to be any races or places where the math says one thing and the “common sense” reality is another, it’s just not worth it to override the math this far out. I tend to wait to do these things closer to, just because there’s no point in making corrections now that might just end up working themselves out by the day – and in the case of the UCP losing Leduc, I firmly expect them to get a lead back there.
The thing about the current polls is the NDP are allegedly keeping the “rest” of Alberta – aka, non-Edmonton and Calgary – close in the polls these days. Per my (unweighted) polling average, the UCP are winning the “rest of” Alberta by 11%. If you think that lead will be that slim on election day, I have a crypto scam to sell you. (Wait, Kenney might actually buy it before he goes, nevermind.)
In 2019, depending on how you define the areas and whether you go from outside Edmonton and Calgary cities or CMAs, the UCP won these areas by ~40% in 2019. It was a blowout. Now, apparently there’s a ~30% swing in these areas, so yes, Lesser Slave Lake and Leduc will fall. Will it really be a 30% swing? God no – the NDP getting 30% of the vote in these areas is almost assuredly not happening, so what you’re looking at is a situation where I could make Leduc blue artificially, or I can wake until the 11% lead the polls have now go up to 13% or whatever and then it’ll just fix itself. And frankly, that makes a lot more sense to me than trying to play whack a mole with results that don’t “look” right, especially this far out.
Bonus 2: The NDP Need A Calgary Strategy
Before I wrote Salvation In The Storm, I had started my fiction writing with another story, whose premise was two well connected, up and coming political tragics getting their chance to run a campaign together. It was obviously about much more than that – it was about homosexuality and straightness and a thousand other things, in reality, but the plot was just a fairly basic campaign story.
When I went to write the sequel, I set it in Alaska for a reason – I’ve always been fascinated by how Democrats can manage the conversation around oil and guns in a state that has a lot of both, but specifically oil. How do you sell a city that is as dependent on the oil industry as Anchorage is – despite not being where the oil is – to trust a political party that is actively seeking the (eventual) end of the industry that has paid its bills for so long?
It's very crucial to understand this point – Calgary runs on oil money, even though none of the oil is in Calgary. The Calgary “professional class” – words I am using in very sarcastic tones, but the lawyers, the doctors, the bankers, accountants, all of them – runs on oil money. The hospital network? Paid for by the resource boom. The big law firms have paid their bonuses for years with their oil billings. Trading the oil players have made more than a few investment bankers rich, and the Calgary accounting firms pay their bonuses making sure that the oil companies maximize their profits (and/or, their tax deductible losses, as the case may be). In the same way that Ottawa runs off the federal government, whether you work for them or not, Calgary runs on the oil patch, and it matters.
All of this keeps bringing me back to the lack of a coherent NDP vision for this reality – because the NDP do have to win over a harder set of voters than, say, Toronto social liberals of the same professions, social liberalism, and income. Vote Fed Liberal or Ontario NDP is a lot easier of a message to socially liberal Torontonians who can freely think the oil industry is a cancer to society than it is to people who have seen the benefits of it for a long time, and who either benefit right now, or have friends who still do, and the NDP isn’t reckoning with what that might look like.
I get the NDP wants to offer a “small target”, to steal the Aussie-ism, at this election – give the UCP the least amount of things to lose their minds about and nitpick – but there’s small target and then there’s endlessly vague, and Notley seems to be on the wrong side of the line so far.
What is the animating project of an NDP government in 2023? It was COVID competence for two years, but that’s not gonna be the ballot question in 2023, so what are we doing here? What is Notley’s purpose? What is the idea that the NDP accomplishes and their theoretical 2023-27 term is a success? I’m genuinely asking, because I’m not in Alberta, but the messaging feels entirely lifeless, and there’s a lack of intellectual precision here that is driving me crazy.
The NDP have a huge task in front of them – get educated, socially liberal Calgarians to vote like socially city urbanites in every other fucking place in this country. It is a huge task, and one that will be very hard for them, but they have to do it to win government. They can maybe count on 28 seats from Edmonton and the rest of non-Calgary Alberta. Majority government is 44. They need a Calgary Strategy, and they need it fast.