In­terim Con­ser­va­tive leader Rona Am­brose won’t vote for her re­place­ment

Kingston Whig-Standard - - ONTARIO NEWS - STEPHANIE LEVITZ

OT­TAWA — Rona Am­brose took on the job of in­terim Con­ser­va­tive leader with the goal of iden­ti­fy­ing and de­vel­op­ing the party’s fu­ture lead­ers — but ap­par­ently, that doesn’t in­clude vot­ing for one.

Am­brose is not tak­ing part in the vot­ing, which has been un­der­way by mail for weeks and will cul­mi­nate May 27 when the party gath­ers in Toronto to an­nounce the win­ner.

“I feel strongly (that) even cast­ing a se­cret bal­lot, you’re think­ing about who you think should win,” she said in an in­ter­view with The Cana­dian Press. “I’m stay­ing very neu­tral.” Am­brose will have the same piece of ad­vice for whomever emerges the win­ner: Job 1 needs to be keep­ing the party to­gether. It was the lone piece of po­lit­i­cal coun­sel she got from her pre­de­ces­sor, for­mer prime min­is­ter Stephen Harper.

“He’s re­ally given me my space to do my thing but that was his (ad­vice): ’Never for­get, Rona, never for­get, that the most im­por­tant thing is the cau­cus; with­out the cau­cus there is no party,’” Am­brose said.

When she looked around cau­cus in the af­ter­math of the 2015 elec­tion, Am­brose said, she re­al­ized that much of the in­sti­tu­tional mem­ory and ex­pe­ri­ence had left along with the Con­ser­va­tive ma­jor­ity.

One op­tion was to fol­low suit and quit, but she de­cided to go an­other route: seek the in­terim lead­er­ship and set about pro­tect­ing the party Harper had built and lay­ing the ground­work for its fu­ture.

Am­brose has an­nounced her plan to quit politics once the House of Com­mons rises for the sum­mer. She said she’ll be walk­ing away feel­ing like she’s helped re­new the con­fi­dence of old MPs and bol­ster that of new ones.

The party didn’t re­ally have a suc­ces­sion plan for lead­er­ship, so she set about build­ing one. It in­cluded plac­ing rook­ies and vet­er­ans alike — she specif­i­cally men­tioned Lisa Raitt and An­drew Scheer, both of whom are now seek­ing the per­ma­nent lead­er­ship — into shadow cab­i­net posts.

“I didn’t know th­ese peo­ple would ac­tu­ally run for the lead­er­ship,” Am­brose said. “I placed them in po­si­tions of some au­thor­ity and some re­spon­si­bil­ity, be­cause I felt we had to build that for the fu­ture.”

Am­brose’s fu­ture holds work as a vis­it­ing fel­low with the Wash­ing­ton, D.C.-based Wil­son Cen­tre, where she’ll fo­cus on the U.S.-Canada re­la­tion­ship.

With the U.S. start­ing the 90-day count­down clock for the restart of ne­go­ti­a­tions on NAFTA this week, the post comes at an in­ter­est­ing time.

NAFTA, she said, is a good ex­am­ple though of why the pop­ulist politics that drove Trump’s vic­tory won’t come home to roost in Canada.

The deal worked well for Canada and the econ­omy here — save Al­berta’s be­lea­guered oil patch — doesn’t have the same rusted-out patches that be­devil the U.S., she said.

That, plus the fact that Canada doesn’t have mil­lions of peo­ple with­out ac­cess to health care, means what­ever rhetoric that worked in the Amer­i­can elec­tions just won’t res­onate here, she said.

“I don’t think peo­ple re­spond to it, there has to be a root is­sue as to why they are re­spond­ing to it,” she said. “In Canada, the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum is some­where in the mid­dle and that’s where par­ties win.”

Yet, there are Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship can­di­dates seek­ing to win by go­ing any­where but the mid­dle. On im­mi­gra­tion in par­tic­u­lar, the ap­proaches have taken a hard turn right, and ac­cu­sa­tions that con­tenders are seek­ing to run or gov­ern like Trump have been tossed around reg­u­larly dur­ing the cam­paign.

Maxime Bernier called his com­peti­tor Kel­lie Leitch a “karaoke Trump” — her plat­form fa­mously in­cludes a plan to screen new­com­ers for Cana­dian val­ues. But Bernier’s own im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy ad­dresses the idea, say­ing im­mi­gra­tion should not “aim to forcibly change the cultural char­ac­ter and so­cial fab­ric of Canada.”

In­deed, many Tories — not just those run­ning for lead­er­ship — have called for a much tougher stance at the bor­der and on asy­lum pol­icy in re­cent months.

But Am­brose is tight-lipped when asked what she makes of it. She of­fers the record lev­els of im­mi­gra­tion un­der the Harper gov­ern­ment and the re­cent push by her en­tire cau­cus to get the Lib­er­als to agree to re­set­tle Yazidi refugees, a mi­nor­ity sect from Iraq, as proof the party’s pro-im­mi­gra­tion stance is se­cure.

“To me, that re­flects the real sense of what the peo­ple in our cau­cus feel about be­ing in­clu­sive, be­ing wel­com­ing, be­ing open,” she said.

If there’s a les­son for Cana­dian politi­cians from south of the bor­der though, it’s the need to keep lis­ten­ing, she added.

“You should al­ways re­mem­ber who you serve: you’re not there to serve your own pol­icy in­ter­ests, your own, what­ever they are, ide­o­log­i­cal ideas you want to see come to fruition. No, you are there to serve the work­ing peo­ple and what’s best for them.”

FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Con­ser­va­tive In­terim Leader Rona Am­brose is shown dur­ing an in­ter­view with The Cana­dian Press in Ot­tawa, Thurs­day. Am­brose took on the job of in­terim Con­ser­va­tive leader with the goal of iden­ti­fy­ing and de­vel­op­ing the party’s fu­ture lead­ers but ap­par­ently, that doesn’t in­clude vot­ing for one.

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