Advertisement
News by VICE

Meet the New Ayn Rand-Loving Leader of Canada's Conservative Party

In a marathon meeting that pitted caucus members against each other, Conservative members of parliament and senators elected Albertan Rona Ambrose as their interim party leader.

by Justin Ling
Nov 5 2015, 10:50pm

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

In a marathon meeting that pitted caucus members against each other, Canadian Conservative members of parliament and senators elected Albertan Rona Ambrose as their interim party leader on Thursday evening.

The Conservatives met for nearly five hours to dissect their electoral flop which saw them lose more than a third of their caucus, and drop from a majority government into opposition.

The meeting began with a speech from the defeated prime minister, Stephen Harper. The party's outgoing leader arrived through a loading bay of Parliament's Center Block, and slipped into the caucus room through a back door. Harper was in the room for no longer than fifteen minutes before exiting through the same door, and dodging questions from reporters — a hallmark of his tenure in government.

With Harper gone, the Conservative caucus began working through the specifics of their electoral defeat. Both re-elected and defeated MPs told media that they chalked up the loss to the "tone" of the campaign, and a problem getting the party's message across. Veteran MP Tom Lukiwski said, simply, voters did not like Harper.

The MPs then turned to the task of electing Harper's replacement, and selecting the person who would go toe-to-toe with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for the next year.

While interim leadership races are usually dull affairs, this competition featured a crowded field of candidates and utter confusion about the rules that would actually be in play.

Ambrose was up against party stalwarts Diane Finley and Rob Nicholson, newer entrants Erin O'Toole, Mike Lake, and Candice Bergen, and even the tag team of Michelle Rempel and Denis Lebel.

But throughout the day, it was unclear whether the Reform Act — a piece of legislation written by Conservative MP Michael Chong — would apply to the vote. If it did, the party's unelected senators would be forbidden from voting for the new leader. In the end, they got the vote.

Ultimately, the vote — conducted via ranked ballot — chose Ambrose, a five-time MP from Edmonton who served in the Harper government under an assortment of portfolios including health, public works, and labor. Her most notable job, however, was minister of the environment.

Ambrose took over the portfolio when the Conservatives were first elected in 2006, and immediately indicated that her government would not be respecting the Kyoto Accord. She spent less than a year in the job before being shuffled elsewhere, although very little about the government's environmental policies changed in appointing a new minister.

In 2012, Ambrose was criticized for voting in favor of a motion that would study the definition of a human being, and when life begins — critics say it was a backdoor effort to criminalize abortion — while she was serving as the minister for the status of women.

Most recently, Ambrose was tasked with fighting the expansion of Canada's medical marijuana system. After a string of court defeats, the government was forced to expand access to the medical marijuana regime. The most recent defeat forced Ottawa to allow the medical use of cannabis oils and edibles. Ambrose said she was "outraged" at the decision. She also introduced regulations that effectively stopped safe injection sites from opening in Canada, despite a Supreme Court case chiding them for doing exactly that.

She, too, comes from very similar stock to Harper. Born into an oil family, she is, despite her outrage at marijuana use, a self-described libertarian — as well as a fan of arch-conservative author Ayn Rand — and will likely do little to curry favour with the political center in Canada.

Ambrose — who is the party's third female leader — has the difficult task of re-introducing the Conservatives to voters, specifically women and youth, who overwhelmingly came out for Trudeau's Liberals on election day.

Despite criticism, Ambrose was seen as a capable minister — especially when she was defending the government on its controversial decision to push forward on the F-35 fighter jet procurement, despite cost overruns and delays. As Maclean's wrote in 2012: "When she stands up for the troubled minister of defence every day in the House of Commons, the public works minister is the picture of confidence."

Ambrose's largest drawback may be her poor grasp of French. While she managed to answer one question partly in Canada's other official language, her knowledge of the language is lacking. She does, however, speak Spanish and Portuguese.

One clear sign that Ambrose would be following Harper's legacy came after her election as leader. Stepping outside the caucus room in Centre Block, Ambrose took just three questions before abruptly leaving, leaving behind a gaggle of bewildered reporters.

Follow Justin Ling on Twitter@justin_ling