OTTAWA – Interim Opposition leader Rona Ambrose began to say good bye to life in politics Tuesday.
The longtime Conservative MP, who has led the Conservatives since they formed Opposition in 2015, will resign her seat in the House of Commons when MPs break for summer.
Later Tuesday she’s expected to be feted by her colleagues in Parliament during a tribute to her time in the Opposition leaders’ role.
But first, she addressed a crowd of MPs and other political watchers in Ottawa for a speech on the state of the Conservative Party, what she described as likely her last public speech before she begins her “post-partisan” life.
She said serving as an MP has been one of the greatest honours of her life and she is optimistic about the future.
The Conservatives are in the midst of choosing a new leader and the winner will be announced on May 27 at a convention in Toronto.
Ambrose called the race “competitive,” and noted it’s drawn hundreds of thousands of new members to the party.
“Nobody walks on water to get to the party leadership,” she said, adding that whomever wins is going to need to spend time listening and learning.
Ambrose will stay on to help manage the transition before making her way into the private sector, which will include work on public policy files and possibly a book.
During her speech, she said she wants to encourage more women to run for the Conservative party and to engage in the movement.
She paid tribute to the women in the Conservative caucus, noting that unlike the Liberals, she didn’t put them in key positions for a “quota,” a swipe at Trudeau’s gender balanced cabinet.
“We do it because we have women that can compete,”she said.
“They have what it takes to compete.”
Ambrose was first elected an MP in 2004 and shot to national attention the next year when she sparred with Liberal MP Ken Dryden over the government of the day’s child care spending.
“We fought long and hard for the right to vote, for the right to participate in universities and the work force, and the right to make our own choices,” she said.
“We don’t need old white guys telling us what to do.”
When the Conservatives formed a minority government in 2006, Ambrose was appointed as Environment Minister, but after a tumultuous year in the portfolio she was shuffled out.
She also served as minister of labour, public works and health, the last being her final portfolio in government.
While the Tories were booted out of office in 2015, Ambrose won her riding with 70 per cent of the vote and went on to win the internal caucus election for interim leader.
She is credited by many MPs and observers with changing the face of the party in the wake of its election defeat.
She feels that way too.
“Canadians asked us to change our tone and we listened,” she said during her speech.
“… we presented a fresh face to Canadians who now see a smart team that is a very real alternative.”
A movement even sprang up to get Ambrose to stay on and run for the permanent position, though efforts to change the party’s constitution to allow for that ultimately failed.
She joked Tuesday that perhaps people will now try to draft her partner, J.P. Veitch, who was known for wearing a t-shirt that read “Stornoway Pool Boy.”
Ambrose scored possibly her final victory as interim leader Monday, when the Liberal government decided to support her private member’s bill that would require judges to undergo comprehensive training in sexual assault law.