OTTAWA — A law that allows MPs to eject fellow members from their caucus encourages abusive behavior inside political parties and that’s unacceptable, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner said Friday.
Her comments came in the wake of revelations by the Star that some fellow Conservatives have been threatening Rempel Garner with expulsion from the party’s caucus under the Reform Act.
Talks of using the act spooled up in recent weeks out of a frustrated belief she is working at cross-purposes to the party.
Rempel Garner has not replied to interview requests from the Star. And while she did not directly address her personal situation in social media posts Friday, she wrote on Twitter that the rules governing interactions between members of Parliament should be changed.
There are no resources to prevent, de-escalate or confront harassment by one MP against another, Rempel Garner wrote, noting that political parties aren’t required to comply with workplace harassment codes.
Then there’s the matter of the existing legislation that covers caucuses.
“In its present form, the Reform Act encourages members to undertake psychological abuse of other members,” she wrote.
Rempel Garner was first elected in 2011 and has long been seen as a star within the party. She has been savvy on social media and vocal about the need for Tories to more fully embrace LGBTQ rights, among other things.
Her online prowess is surpassed only by that of her caucus colleague Pierre Poilievre, who is now running for leadership of their party—a job she’s mused about seeking in the past.
But her latest musings about her political future concerned a run for leadership of Alberta’s United Conservative Party, something she’s also talked about before. To consider it this time, she also walked away from helping Patrick Brown, Poilievre’s main rival, in the leadership race.
When she ditched the UCP idea this week, she cited the short timeline she’d have to reunite that party if she won, among other things.
But her decisions to back Brown and then consider the UCP leadership were seized upon as more proof of a tenuous relationship with her fellow Conservative MPs, many of whom support Poilievre.
Rempel Garner said she jumped on the Brown campaign in part because of his efforts to make connections with multicultural communities the party has struggled to connect with over the last two elections.
She wanted to encourage that effort, she said.
But when she used social media to highlight a racist email sent to Brown’s campaign by a party member who also professed his support of Poilievre, it provided the catalyst for renewed lobbying by those who would like to see her kicked out of the Tory caucus.
Rempel Garner has long used the threat of her “sword” — her considerable social media presence — as leverage against fellow Conservative MPs, several of them told the Star.
In 2018, upon learning the party had taken a position on one of her files without telling her, she tweeted, “Guess the boys met without me.”
In 2020, she released the Buffalo Declaration, a manifesto calling for more power for Alberta in Confederation, and told MPs if they openly opposed it, she’d go after them.
In a long essay laying out her reasons for not running for UCP leadership, Rempel Garner blasted what she portrayed as a toxic internal environment in both the federal and provincial conservative parties, a culture she said both starts from the top and is driven by chaos within .
“I also know I have to take responsibility because I’m far from perfect myself. In this work environment, I too have found myself getting angry when I couldn’t break through to the central leadership establishment or when crazy things happened,” she wrote.
“But I’ve also been on the receiving end of the worst of it, and it is no joke. I want to fix this, but from the role I’m currently in.”
The Reform Act must be adopted by party caucuses at the start of each session, with a vote required on each of its provisions.
In 2020, provisions in the act were used by Conservative MPs to kick Derek Sloan — a former leadership contender — out of their caucus after what his critics called a “pattern of behaviour” that had become unsustainable.
During Erin O’Toole’s tenure as leader, MPs who chafed against his edicts on vaccination mandates were threatened with use of the Reform Act against them, multiple sources have told the Star.
Rempel Garner had disagreed with the subsequent use of the act to remove O’Toole as leader, arguing the decision should have been made by the party’s grassroots members. After he was toppled, she was shuffled off the front benches and has rarely been seen in person on Parliament Hill since.
MPs told the Star she was in the building Thursday, although video footage of the Commons shows she voted virtually against the day’s key motion, to keep Parliament’s hybrid option in place for the next year.
While the Tories oppose that option, Rempel Garner has come under criticism for taking advantage of it — she spent part of the early days of the pandemic lockdowns living with her husband’s family in Oklahoma and working remotely so she could also help care for ill family members .
Before her appearance Thursday, some Conservative MPs said they couldn’t remember the last time they spoke to her, and claimed she rarely returned calls and texts, even from friends.
Some expressed concern for her personal welfare, acknowledging she’s been given a rough ride by her fellow MPs, and blaming pandemic fatigue and pressure overall for inflaming the situation within caucus.
Some Liberals also leaped to Rempel Garner’s defence, saying her party’s efforts to silence one of its loudest voices in favor of LGBTQ rights and other progressive issues was a bad sign.
Others said it is the overall culture on Parliament Hill that must be addressed.
“Psychological harassment should not be tolerated in any workplace,” Liberal MP Sherry Romanado wrote on social media.
“The Members of the House of Commons Workplace Harassment and Violence Prevention Policy currently doesn’t apply to harassment between members. We need to change that.”
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