Rona Ambrose elected interim Conservative leader
Conservative senators and MPs have voted to make Rona Ambrose their interim leader as the party adjusts to life as the Official Opposition.
“We’re going to have the strongest opposition party that Canadians have ever seen,” Ambrose promised in a brief press conference, after a caucus meeting that opened with a short speech from Stephen Harper.
Ambrose was asked whether her election represents a new “tone” for the party. Many observers, including possible leadership candidate Jason Kenney, have suggested that Justin Trudeau’s Liberals won a majority government on Oct. 19 because of their relatively positive message.
“I’m here,” Ambrose answered. “I’m not sure if that’s a reflection of a new tone, but my colleagues chose me and they put their trust in me.”
Ambrose vowed to work with her caucus and senators to “hold the Liberals accountable,” but said she would do so while being “extremely constructive.”
Ambrose said Harper had no say in the decision. He was seen leaving Parliament through a back door shortly after the meeting began.
The new interim leader struggled when asked questions in French, but Quebec MP Steven Blaney came to her assistance. The Conservatives won 12 seats in Quebec on Oct. 19, a gain of seven.
The interim position comes with an extra $80,100 in salary, a car and driver, and the official residence, Stornoway.
Ambrose will oversee the party as it selects a leader to go up against the Liberals in a general election expected four years from now. Although some have suggested that leader should be chosen within a year, others have said the party could wait as long as two years.
Who is Rona Ambrose?
Ambrose was born in Valleyview, Alta., grew up partly in Brazil and holds a Master of Arts degree from the University of Alberta. She is 46 years old.
Before she was elected to the riding of Edmonton–Spruce Grove in 2004, Ambrose worked as an advocate for the prevention of violence against women with the Status of Women Action Group and the Edmonton Women’s Shelter.
In 2006, she won the seat of Edmonton-Spruce Grove and was made Minister of Environment in Harper’s first cabinet, earning her the distinction of the youngest female minister in history.
Ambrose caused an early stir after criticizing former Liberal minister Ken Dryden for his planned national day care program. She said in question period that "old white guys" should not be "telling us what to do."
As environment minister, she faced plenty of questions about the fact that Canada would not meet its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol to fight climate change.
Ambrose went on to handle the portfolios of intergovernmental affairs, western economic development, labour, public works and government services, and status of women, before she was named Minister of Health in 2013.
Former cabinet minister Chuck Strahl told CTV Power Play that his former colleague is a “great person … well-liked by the media (and) across all parties.”
Strahl also said Ambrose is “very confident” and a “good communicator.”
Liberal Marc Garneau, who is the new transport minister, told Power Play that Ambrose is “very respected.”
“I know that she’ll put us through our paces and we’ll be looking forward to it,” Garneau said.
Conservative MP Larry Miller was in the meeting where the interim leadership vote took place, and said Ambrose is experienced and a good communicator. “I think it’s definitely time for a woman to lead this party,” he added.
Harper’s goodbye speech
Miller said that Harper “took full credit for the loss” in his speech to caucus.
Peter Kent, one of only a few Toronto-area MPs re-elected on Oct. 19, said that his old boss “left the room respected and loved.”
MP Michael Chong, who was re-elected in the Ontario riding of Wellington-Halton Hills, said Harper, “urged us to keep focused on our real jobs right now, which is to be the Official Opposition, holding the new Liberal government to account.”
With a report from CTV Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife