She is 27 years old, a tattoo artist, the co-founder of her own shop in Kitimat, B.C. She’s got lots of ink, including leopard spots on her arm, and black piercings in her dimpled cheeks.“Obviously,” she says in a video posted on social media, “there is a fair bit of stereotype out there that a conservative is only one type of person. It’s a middle-aged white man in a suit. And I would like to prove to people that that’s simply not true.”People react with surprise every day, Claire Rattée told the National Post, when they find out she is the Conservative Party of Canada’s candidate in the riding of Skeena—Bulkley Valley, if only because of her appearance. “When you look at me, you look at my campaign team, you look at my supporters,” she said — campaign manager Chelsea Bossence, for example, is a 23-year-old mom, sporting her own collection of tattoos, who owns a hairstyling business — “we don’t all look like that stereotype.” Justin Trudeau’s Liberals won the 2015 election on a variety of slogans that included the phrase “diversity is our strength.” Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s rhetorical answer has been: “Diversity is the result of our strength, and our strength is and ever has been our freedom.”As the parties switch to campaign mode in anticipation of an October election, the Liberals are expected to try to frame their rivals — whom they lag in the polls — as a party of intolerance that is old, male and out of touch. The candidacies of Rattée and others like her, however, represent the party’s effort to put forward a younger and more female face.Rattée served a term as a Kitimat municipal councillor after moving to the region from Vancouver at age 19, is running in a riding where longtime NDP incumbent Nathan Cullen’s decision not to seek re-election this fall has created a big political vacuum. She thinks she can win on a promise to encourage resource development and support for the LNG Canada project, which would bring liquid natural gas to port in Kitimat.She is among a cohort of Conservative federal election candidates that features more women than ever before and is almost certainly younger, too, a shift the Conservatives hope will attract new voters to the party. Of 304 candidates nominated as of Friday, 92 are women, according to the campaign. The record-high for the total number of female candidates for the CPC had been 68. For comparison’s sake, of the 338 Liberal candidates in 2015, 105 were women.In a statement to the Post, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer trumpeted to the party’s “proud history of diversity and inclusion” and to support the claim offered a long list of past achievements in Conservative political representation.“Our focus from the beginning has been to attract the best and brightest candidates that Canada has to offer from a wide range of backgrounds and stories that reflect Canada’s diversity. We’ve been thrilled to see that proud legacy of diversity carried on in the lead up to the October election,” said Scheer’s statement. After listing some of the female candidates for 2019, it concludes, “These women are not just dynamic, strong voices for conservatism, but for women and girls everywhere.”The Liberals’ success with female voters is widely considered one of the key ingredients of their 2015 victory. Research by Abacus Data suggests Trudeau’s party had a 17-point edge over the Conservatives among women, with an even larger margin among young women. In an apparent attempt to shore up support from female voters by painting the Conservatives as untrustworthy on women’s rights, the Liberals have tried to associate Scheer with conservative movements in the U.S., where some Republican lawmakers at the state level are passing laws that restrict access to abortion.Scheer’s “big blue tent” does include a contingent of socially-conservative voters who believe abortion should be restricted in Canada, too, and their runoff support helped elect Scheer as leader in the first place. They were disappointed, however, when he made it clear at last August’s policy convention that wouldn’t promote a reopening of the abortion debate. A filibuster by Conservative senators in the Senate, meanwhile, prevented the passage of a bill authored by former interim leader Rona Ambrose that would require judges to complete training on sexual assault law. Some activists, such as Megan Walker, executive director of the London Abused Women’s Centre, have explicitly argued that the bill “helped dispel the many myths that Conservatives don’t take women’s issues seriously.” Its death on the order paper, she recently told the Post, throws that into doubt.However, this year the Conservatives have repeatedly accused Trudeau of being a “fake feminist,” after the SNC-Lavalin affair saw the prime minister accused of demoting his attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, for standing up to his request to recommend a settlement deal for the Montreal firm. Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet amid a series of public denials from Trudeau, as did another female minister, Jane Philpott, and both were subsequently excommunicated from the Liberal caucus.Hamish Marshall, who ran Scheer’s successful leadership bid against Bernier in 2017 and is steering the party’s federal election campaign this year, wouldn’t spell out whether there is a concerted strategy to make the party — and, by extension, Scheer — seem less stereotypically male, old and white by recruiting younger people, more women or otherwise “diverse” candidates for this year’s election. “We’re certainly encouraging good candidates of all demographics to run,” he said, but “ultimately it’s up to the members in the individual ridings.”For Rattée’s part, she confirmed that approaching the Tories was entirely her own initiative. She submitted her nomination package having been inspired by people like longtime Conservative MP Michelle Rempel, somebody to whom she felt she could relate. “I want to give other people somebody to relate to,” she said. As far as the party seeming to recruit a younger, more female roster, Rattée said, “I think personally that they are doing an excellent job of it. But I don’t think that it is something that they necessarily set out to do.”
Claire Rattée, a tattoo artist and co-founder of her own shop in Kitimat, B.C.
Paula Keech for the National Post
“It would do her a great disservice for the party or anyone to be taking credit for her decision to run,” Rempel said in an interview with the Post. “And her stepping up, and her reaching out, and her getting engaged, and her doing the heavy lifting. This has been her and that is just really exciting…. She reminds me of me in some ways.”Rempel said she’s trying to take several young women, including Rattée, under her wing as they set up their campaigns for October. They include Ramona Singh, in swingable riding Brampton East, and Cyara Bird in Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, who at 22 participated in the Daughters of the Vote event on Parliament Hill earlier this year. There’s also Raquel Dancho in Kildonan—St. Paul, who previously worked for the Manitoba government, and Egyptian immigrant Miriam Ishak in Pierrefonds—Dollard. “I’m really excited that we’re seeing more women run for office writ large across the board in Canada,” Rempel said. None of them are “in it to be quiet,” she added.Of course, it is one thing for potential voters to see themselves reflected in the faces of election candidates and feel welcomed by local representatives of the party, many of whom, like Lester, are running in ridings that may be difficult for the Tories to actually win. It is another for Conservatives to present a platform appealing enough to younger demographics that the “big tent” legitimately expands.Pundits will point out that Trudeau’s first election after an initial majority mandate has always been his to lose, whether or not Scheer is particularly charismatic, whether or not his policies are broadly appealing and whether or not his candidates are intriguing characters. But some in the party claim a new feeling of momentum — bolstered not only by recent bumps in polling and fundraising, but also by the fresh faces who could potentially make the Conservative Party look like it’s hip with the kids.“I’ve been part of this party for a very long period of time,” Rempel said. “This is the most excited I’ve been, and it’s in large part because of people like Claire.”• Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: mariedanielles