When a local MP and MLA spoke at Michelle Rempel’s Winnipeg high school, they left a lasting impression on the teenager. Raised in an apolitical family, Rempel says it was those speeches—one completely uninspiring, the other galvanizing—that set her on the path to Parliament Hill. “I realized [that] getting involved in politics is something you can do, and it’s easy to do and you can make a difference. And there’s an addiction to that,” Rempel recalls.
Elected to the Commons in 2011 from the now-abolished riding of Calgary Centre-North, Rempel soon made her mark among her older and more experienced fellow MPs. Two years later, she became the youngest female cabinet minister in Canadian history, taking on the role of minister of state for Western economic diversification. There she initiated a redesign of the department’s service delivery model, revamping existing programs and launching new ones, like the Western Innovation Initiative, a $100-million five-year fund for small- and medium-sized businesses bringing new technology-driven products to market.
Though the 36-year-old now sits in opposition as MP for Calgary Nose Hill, she’s still making an impact, not least through her frequent and often combative use of Twitter. In an April op-ed for the National Post, Rempel recounted some of the routine sexism she’s faced in politics, furthering the ongoing discussion about the treatment of women in the workplace. Broaching the issue may not win her friends, Rempel admits, but she feels she has a duty to use the platform she’s been given. “Sometimes you have to start conversations, even if you don’t have the solution,” she says.
A self-described “band nerd” in high school, Rempel has honed her outspoken style by working in places where she was encouraged to challenge the status quo. She held various roles at the University of Manitoba, where she earned an economics degree, before moving west in 2004 and taking a job at the University of Calgary. There, Rempel used her vacation time to manage several political campaigns. “I had this extensive weird political hobby in the background,” she recalls. The contacts and experience she gained while moonlighting ensured that within minutes of Jim Prentice’s resignation in 2010, Rempel received a call encouraging her to run for the Conservative nomination for his seat. Initially content to keep her political role in the backroom, she eventually heeded another female politician’s reminder: The only way to get more women in office is to have more women run.
Rempel is now being talked about as a contender for the Conservative leadership, a prospect she addressed in a series of sardonic tweets last year, including, “All your DMs with DO IT aren’t helping. I’m a 35-year-old chick. We’re not supposed to do these sorts of things, you know.” (She has yet to rule herself definitely in or out.) Regardless of her title, she’s driven by the desire to use her platform to make a difference. “I know my actions have an impact.”