Michelle Rempel Garner shows us what it’s really like to be a woman in politics in Canada

Filmmaker Chloe Sosa-Sims follows three women in politics to show what it’s really like to be in this historically male-dominated career, including Canadian Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner, in Hunting in Packs, part of the Hot Docs 2022 festival.

“It’s a global phenomenon, the things that women face, if you just look at what Hilary Clinton faced in running for president,” Jess Philips, MP in the Labour Party in the U.K. says at the beginning of the documentary.

“She had to like, bake cookies and also be much more knowledgeable on foreign policy than Donald Trump had to be. No one expected him to put on a sodding apron and walk around with Martha Stewart talking about his favourite cookie recipe for God sake.”

“Women, women of colour, we work harder, we prep harder, we build relationships more, we have to do all of these things because we know that the expectation is that we will fail,” Pramila Jayapal, Democratic Congresswoman in the U.S. states in Hunting In Packs.

Pramila Jayapal at the Medicare for all Press Conference in Washington, DC. in “Hunting In Packs” (Daniel Marc Froidevaux)

For Sosa-Sims, the goal of this film, which follows the three women through their respective election campaigns, was to highlight their commitment to their feminist ideals, irrespective of their political affiliations.

“I was interested in exploring women and politics, sort of from a representation standpoint, so I was more curious [about], how do women stand up in leadership positions across the world,” filmmaker Sosa-Sims told Yahoo Canada. “I [needed] to find some exceptional women who are actually in politics, and who are pushing against the political institution and challenging it in a way that I haven’t seen.”

I thought that they just really represented this fiery spirit, and they were all trailblazers and change-makers in their own ways, despite being incredibly different… I became interested in the question, if you’re a strong-willed woman entering politics, or just an outsider entering politics, can you succeed and what does that look like? And what do you have to compromise in order to find success and to create change?Chloe Sosa-Sims, filmmaker of ‘Hunting in Packs’

Jess Phillips during an International Women’s Day march in London in

Jess Phillips during an International Women’s Day march in London in “Hunting In Packs.” (Lulu Wei)

While the film is filled with incredibly important discussions, Sosa-Sims gave Hunting in Packs a more whimsical, sort of absurdist tone, which gives the film a unique dynamic, while not undermining anyone’s message.

“Having more of a comedic, absurdist tone, especially at the beginning, was important, just in terms of highlighting the circus that is politics,” she explained. “Politics is innately sort of this absurd institution so I wanted to highlight that through humour.”

“I feel like I don’t normally connect with films that are as earnest in their sort of attempt at looking at gender issues or gender parity. I tend to connect with things that are a little bit more humorous or cynical, or use satire as a way of connecting with audiences. So I wanted to bring that tone into the film as well.”

‘I’ve got a lot of other fights to fight’

At the outset of this film, Michell Rempel Garner is honest about the fact that she regularly gets interview requests to talk about women in politics, but she’s quick to say no.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” she says in the film. “I want to do my job, leave me alone.”

“Why does it have to be me? I’ve got a lot of other sh-t to do. I’ve got a lot of other fights to fight that people are depending on me to fight.”

Ultimately, what made the Canadian politician agree to participate in Hunting in Packs is that she didn’t see the focus of Chloe Sosa-Sims’ film to be the typical angle she’s pitched, which she described as “victim porn.”

“It’s perhaps a different lens that’s been used, and perhaps a more realistic lens,” Rempel Garner told Yahoo Canada. “I think that’s really important and I think that it advances women’s voices in politics.”

From the Canadian perspective, we go through the 2019 federal election (when Andrew Scheer was the leader of the Conservative Party) through Rempel Garner’s campaign in her Calgary – Nose Hill riding.

Hunting In Packs brings us behind the curtain, so to speak, into Rempel Garner’s work, including showing how exceptionally devoted she is to mentoring her team and other women who are Conservative candidates in the election. She explicitly says that by women standing up for the policies they believe in, tackling the election campaign with authenticity, it enables all the women who come up behind them to do so more easily, no matter what the outcome of the election or their campaign is.

“Women have come a long way but men still control most of the levers of power,” she says in the film. “I don’t want to be part of a system where I’m saying that’s OK.”

“The political establishment is sh-t. It is the antithesis of what people need. The political establishment values women that they can tokenize. Women that will be quiet and smile and be in the photo opps, and carry the sh-tty lines and be the scapegoats.”

Rempel Garner is honest that she has had experiences, as a woman in politics in Canada, that have been “sexist” and not “particularly positive,” but ultimately, she strives to ensure that other women don’t have to be subjected to the same experiences.

“I frequently find that women’s rights is something that – we’re always trying to keep those rights rather than making progress and if you actually want to make progress, if you’re just constantly fighting the same battle over and over again, generation by generation, you’re not moving ahead,” she said. “I wouldn’t want women who are coming up behind me to have to go through what I go through.”

“I’m 42-years-old now. There is a generation of women who are coming up behind me who are experiencing barriers to equality of opportunity…and we can’t be gatekeepers for them. We have to be defending and listening to them but at the same time, also making sure that the experiences that I have, that I’m going through, aren’t making their lives harder.”

Michelle Rempel Garner stepping away from the action at the Calgary Stampede in

Michelle Rempel Garner stepping away from the action at the Calgary Stampede in “Hunting In Packs.” (Lulu Wei)

‘I think across political stripe, women are still tokenized’

Looking at where Canada stands in terms of supporting women in politics, Michelle Rempel Garner highlights that we still have work to do.

“I think across political stripe, women are still tokenized, I think that the lack of gender parity in the House of Commons is indicative of systemic issues that prevent women from being elected at the federal level in Canada,” she said. “I also think that women, many of us are consensus builders and many of us are also truth tellers,…we understand that our voice has had agency and that disrupts the natural power system.”

“I think until we see some cultural shifts behind the really deep-seated issues behind the lack of gender parity, it will still be an uphill climb. It is still an uphill climb today, but that doesn’t mean that we haven’t made progress and I think that we both have to celebrate progress while understanding that there’s still a lot of room for growth, and double down on commitments to make that growth happen.”

Hunting In Packs is screening as part of the Hot Docs 2022 festival on May 5, and available for online streaming for five days starting on May 3.

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