Canada is a better place for it, and needs a lot more of it.

Every day, countless Canadians wake up angry at their government about the state of their lives or community. Many feel helpless and unempowered and believe that they can’t do anything to change the system. 

If you are one of those people, it’s easy to understand why you might feel that way. But thankfully, you are wrong. In the Canadian political system, one person’s efforts – regardless of background or financial status – can bring about positive change. 

To start 2024 on a hopeful note, allow me to give you an example.

When I entered the Calgary political scene as a young activist in 2004, Yvonne Hazeldene already had a reputation for being a quiet political giant. Having moved to Calgary in 1980 as one of the pioneering women working in chemical technology, she became politically active after the federal Liberal government decimated Alberta’s economy with the National Energy Program. Not having social media (or even the internet) to express political dissent, Yvonne pushed for change the old-fashioned way: helping candidates she felt to be worthy win party nominations and getting them elected in general elections.

To be clear, Yvonne didn’t exert her influence via wealth. She didn’t come from means and had to overcome a lot of obstacles throughout her entire life. Her mother divorced while Yvonne was still in her early childhood and immigrated to Canada with no family support and with Yvonne as her only child. She put herself through a chemical technologist program at Ryerson Polytechnique as a young adult. After years of hard work, she became the Department Head of the Geochemical Laboratory at Barringer Research. But the National Energy Program hit the small geochemical lab she moved to Calgary to found in 1980 hard. So, she politically contributed with what she could: her time.


In the ensuing decades, Yvonne put tens of thousands of volunteer hours into going door to door, making phone calls, organizing events, and scheduling volunteers for dozens of political candidates in Alberta. Given that Canada is (blessedly) a jurisdiction that had largely curtailed the trend of corporate buy-offs of political campaigns that currently plagues countries like the United States, a well-networked, well-respected and capable political volunteer like Yvonne can exert an inordinate influence on the political scene. And she did. She helped elect people who in turn promoted the change she wanted to see in her community.

In Yvonne’s “retirement,” she chose to work in the constituency office of Jim Prentice, a Progressive Conservative party giant who became a senior cabinet minister in Stephen Harper’s government and, later, Premier of Alberta. That Yvonne, a strident believer in the Reform movement, embraced Jim, who was a bonafide Progressive Conservative, after the two parties united and ended years of bitter enmity, was emblematic of her approach to politics that today is an endangered species: Canada is stronger when we try to build bridges instead of burning them down.

Further to this point, Yvvone’s brand of political activism eschewed self-aggrandizement and embraced humility. Yvonne routinely shunned public recognition, was always open to having her mind changed, and was the first to admit that she had made a political mistake. Even more incredibly, Yvonne never once used her influence for personal gain or profit. Her consistency in – and the rarity of – these approaches meant powerful people took heed when she took a strong position or let someone know she didn’t care for their politics. Her humility, fearlessness in challenging the status quo, and countless hours of volunteerism – not Facebook subscribers, X followers, magazine covers or other hollow plaudits – were the true source of her political influence. 

She was no pushover, she was principled, and she was hella inspiring. 

My opportunity to run for federal office came in 2010 when Mr. Prentice made the surprise move of resigning his federal seat to take a job in the banking sector. When I approached Yvonne about running in his vacated seat with what was a solid work resume bolstered by years of activism, she cared enough to be honest about how perceptions about my youth, gender, and relative political naivety would be things that I’d have to overcome to be a successful representative for the community. But she didn’t leave me to the do that work alone. Yvonne believed in me, supported me, and stood by me. She walked the talk on electing a woman, always caring enough to call me on my bullshit when needed and telling me she believed in me when I needed some love in equal measure. Yvonne was among the first people to join my campaign team, and she never left my side during my entire time in office.

That was until November 28, 2023 when she passed away after a long battle with cancer and the complications of a serious stroke.

I miss her dearly.

During our last visits, Yvonne expressed deep concern for our nation and the state of our polity. Having spent virtually the entire 2021 federal election in my campaign office and seeing firsthand the country’s anger and division, she worried about the future of the country she had devoted so much of her life to building. During one of my last visits with her, she fretted over the capacity of the people in our country to get along and for the country to move forward from the state it currently finds itself in. Never having been a political keyboard warrior, last year Yvonne was wistful that she wouldn’t be physically able to get out and doorknock or make phone calls again.

This weekend, as we start a new year, Yvonne’s many friends will gather to honour her life. I ask those wishing to celebrate her legacy, or simply the concepts behind Canadian democracy and pluralism, to spend time attempting to build a bridge with someone who is of a different political persuasion, to join a political campaign team with the intent to volunteer, or to run for office themselves. 

Each day I am reminded that as a Canadian citizen, I have a responsibility to carry on the best parts of Yvonne’s legacy. And because of people like Yvonne – and those like her that I’ve been blessed to work with over the years, and the countless others across our country – I’m optimistic that Canada can still be a peaceful and prosperous pluralism long into the future. 

But to get there, we need a lot more pride and loyalty to our nation, a lot more Yvonnes, and a lot less anonymous keyboard warriors, big selfish egos, divisive policies, occupiers of bridges, angry mobs and closed minds.

Rest easy, Yvonne. We’ve got you.


(P.S. Much love and gratitude to the entire Koop family for their unconditional love and support of Yvonne through her end-of-life care. Their selflessness is another example of what makes our country great.)

Michelle Rempel – Garner is Member of Parliament for Calgary – Nose Hill

Visit her substack here