Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Outdoorsy Policy Nerd Rona Ambrose Scales the Heights of the Conservative Party

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Outdoorsy Policy Nerd Rona Ambrose Scales the Heights of the Conservative Party

Article excerpt

Outdoorsy, wonkish Ambrose scales Tory ranks


OTTAWA - Rona Ambrose is not flashy, she's guilty of being media shy, and as a cabinet minister she carried the can for the Conservatives on some of their most controversial policies.

The easy shorthand about the interim leader of the Conservative party is that she's just another message-track Stephen Harper foot soldier sent in to take on charismatic, progressive Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

And yet Ambrose is a departure from the outgoing leader in myriad ways, starting with her approach to parliamentary politics.

"We talk about tone being substantive and not petty, and I said tone was important, to be strong, but not angry," Ambrose said in an interview Friday.

"Tone is also about respect, and it's about how you treat one another in caucus, outside of caucus, and also how you treat other people in the House. If you want tone to change, it starts with respect."

The 46-year-old's win at Thursday's caucus meeting came as a bit of an upset. She beat heavyweights Diane Finley and Rob Nicholson, as well as younger colleagues such as Michelle Rempel and Erin O'Toole, to become interim leader.

Ambrose's entry into politics was an upset too. The former Alberta bureaucrat won the 2004 Conservative nomination in her Edmonton area riding in the most hotly contested race in the party.

"Canadians are very receptive and ready for women's leadership because we see it all across the country, but I was really humbled that my caucus felt the same way," she said of Thursday's win.

Ambrose grew up in different countries, the daughter of an oil executive. She speaks Portuguese and Spanish from nine years spent in Brazil as a child, and also lived in Borneo, Singapore and Egypt before returning to Canada in her mid-teens.

Those years abroad seemed to plant the seed of adventure. She's an avid outdoorswoman who hikes, skis, rides horses, climbs mountains (including Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania), and is certified to skipper large sailboats.

"I like to be very active. It's a great contrast from the work that I do," said Ambrose, who is married to private investment businessman and former rodeo bull rider J.P. Veitch.

Michele Austin, an Ottawa consultant who has known Ambrose since 2002 when they met at a conference, said the new leader loves to delve into policy but also is extremely social.

"What this party needs, which she can deliver brilliantly, is a human touch," said Austin, who worked as Ambrose's chief of staff at Public Works.

"She will reach out to people. She doesn't mind actually having a laugh with someone, and it's a genuine laugh. …

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