Rona Ambrose: the best leader the Conservatives never had

For someone who has been out of federal politics since 2017 and has no intentions for running for leader of the Conservative Party, Rona Ambrose remains popular. Even the minority Liberal government likes a bill she crafted.

Image: The Star

Before she dropped out of the leadership race, she was favoured by core Conservatives over second choice Peter MacKay, 34 to 19 per cent. Even non-Conservatives favoured Ambrose 25 to 21 per cent according to the Angus Reid Institute.

Last week the Liberals reintroduced a bill she crafted while in opposition.

There’s a number of astonishing things about this.

First, her bill probably has a greater chance of being passed by the current Liberal minority government than by the ruling Conservative government that she was a member of.

Former Prime Minister Steven Harper’s tough-on-crime agenda was championed by Justice Minister Vic Toews who later become a judge in Manitoba. Ambrose’s bill, critical of fossilized judges, would not likely have seen the light of day.

Ambrose originally introduced her private members bill in 2017 in response to a number of high profile sexual-assault cases. In one, Alberta Federal Court Justice Robin Camp asked a rape complainant: “Why couldn’t you just keep your knees together?”

Her bill would ensure that all newly appointed provincial superior court judges undergo training in sexual law and social context.

Ambrose’s private member’s bill passed unanimously in the House of Commons in 2017, but died in the Senate last June as Parliament adjourned before the federal election campaign. Now, as a government bill, senators are obligated to treat it expeditiously.

Conservatives are in the awkward position of supporting a Liberal government bill brought forward by one of their own. Opposing it would be unpopular among Conservatives and supporting it could be seen as being in compliance with the Liberals.

This Conservative ambivalence became evident when NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh proposed fast-tracking the bill and some Conservative MPs opposed it. Singh says there is no reason to delay its passing since the house has already approved it in essence.

The Conservative’s response to Ambrose’s bill was tepid. A spokesman for Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said in a tweet that they want to expand the bill to include members of the parole board and parole officers.

Ambrose gave the Conservatives new life as interim leader after their defeat in 2015. Stephen Harper’s icy grip on the throat of the Conservative Party was lifted and MPs began to speak their own minds.

For example, in 2016, Cathy McLeod, Conservative MP for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo stepped out of her role as Opposition Critic to the Minister of Indigenous Affairs when she introduced a private members bill that would require labeling of codes on all foods and drugs that could be read by smart phones.

With the uninspired race for leader of the Conservatives and the voice of Conservatives represented by the parochial premiers Scott Moe, Jason Kenney and Doug Ford, the party seems doomed for the wilderness. They make the tepid Liberal minority government look impressive.

Canada’s dull but productive minority government could last years.

 

Sunny ways are here again

A new day is dawning across the land. Stephen Harper is banished to the shadows and “sunny ways” are peeking into the windows of the blue riding of Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo.

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Justin Trudeau, in his victory speech, chose not the words of his famous father but Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier. Laurier had characteristics that many regard as distinctly Canadian: a conciliator and compromiser, one of the longest serving prime ministers in history from 1896 to 1911.

Laurier once said, when resolving conflict: “If it were in my power, I would try the sunny way… of patriotism, asking… to be just and to be fair, asking… to be generous to the minority, in order that we may have peace among all creeds and races.”

Sunny ways are infusing the defeated Conservatives. After the election, Harper lieutenant Jason Kenney told the national press that the Conservatives had been too negative. “I think our obvious weakness has been in tone, in the way we’ve often communicated our messages. I think we need a conservatism that is sunnier and more optimistic than we have sometimes conveyed.”

Reelected MP Cathy McLeod echoed the sentiment. “One of the things Jason Kenney said — sunnier ways — perhaps would have been more enticing,” she told Kamloops This Week.

As well as getting used to being in opposition rather than in government, McLeod is going to have to get used to expressing her own opinions rather than echoing the party line. As a former nurse, I’m sure she has a lot so say about protecting and improving our public health care system. Now she can happily champion health care –that’s the new way.

After being under the thumb of Harper for so long, the new freedom will require some adjustment. But McLeod might be more effective in opposition than she ever was in government.

While sunny ways may seem a bit Pollyannaish, Canadians are ready for a return to true Canadian values; distinctly different from the thuggish ways of Harper’s Canada.

Jaime Watt, political analyst and panelist on CBC’s The Insiders, characterizes what sunny ways look like:

“In electing Justin Trudeau’s Liberals to a majority government, Canadians are seeking a return to the values they believe have traditionally defined our society: civility, kindness, inclusion, collaboration. This quest to feel good about ourselves will inform how the new government’s policies and actions, in every sector, will be judged.”

Watt’s research firm, Ensight Canada, conducted focus groups across Canada before and after the election. They found that Canadians were not necessarily rejecting Conservatives but instead Harper. “Rather, they were repudiating a leader and a tone that did not align with who they aspire to be. That was particularly true for first-generation citizens who expressed a strong sense of what it means to be Canadian.”

Harper’s brand of Conservatism has been an aberration. His iron fist brought Progressive Conservatives and the prairie populist Reform Party together with a cost. The Harper government was neither progressive nor grassroots.

The only way the Conservative Party can regroup is under a banner that recognizes Canada as an open and caring society.