Rona Ambrose says Conservative leadership race at least 18 months away
Interim leader consulting with former PMs and leaders, wants to 'get it right'
Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose has been seeking advice from former Tory prime ministers, who told her the party should be making sure Progressive Conservatives feel welcome.
In the past few weeks, Ambrose has spoken to Brian Mulroney, Joe Clark and Kim Campbell, and to former Reform Party leader Preston Manning. All agreed that the party shouldn't rush a leadership race, she said in an interview.
- Conservatives cool their heels, eye 2017 leadership vote
- Éric Grenier: Justin Trudeau's majority was record-breaking, for better and worse
- Justin Trudeau billing taxpayers for nannies is 'hypocritical,' Lisa Raitt says
- New Parliament's 1st act will be to elect House of Commons Speaker
The party's governing body is on the verge of forming a leadership committee, and making initial decisions about the time frame for the race. An internal consensus has emerged that the vote not happen for some time — 18 months from now or longer, Ambrose said.
"It's been a decade of the Conservative Party of Canada but we have a long legacy of conservatism in our conservative movement, and we're moving forward for the first time in a decade into a leadership race," she said.
"We want to get it right, and I've sought their advice on how to make sure we do that. The consensus was very clear, that we should take our time..."
She said Mulroney and Clark in particular emphasized that the party should signal that it is open to all types of conservatives — a direct reference to Progressive Conservatives who might have felt alienated in recent years.
'Open up your arms'
Former leader Stephen Harper had a mercurial relationship with Mulroney, and little contact with Clark, who had opposed the merger of the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties.
"The advice was, 'Make sure that you open up the welcome, or open up your arms to those who may have felt that they weren't part of the party in the past, or felt they were on the sidelines, but feel that they're conservative and want to be a part of the party and want to be back in the middle of things,"' said Ambrose.
Ambrose added that she and Campbell spoke at length about the experience of being a woman at the helm of the party. She chatted with Mulroney about relations with caucus members. Mulroney was well known for remembering and marking important moments in the lives of his MPs and friends.
"He still reaches out to those who are elected Conservatives in office today, and it became clear to me, it's really just about caring about people and being interested in their lives," Ambrose said.
"I do that as a person, as a member of this team already, but he really underscored the importance of those human relationships, and we're all one big team and we have to take care of each other."
As for Stephen Harper, Ambrose said she's giving him his space, but that he spoke to her at length when she was elected interim leader.
Outsiders expected to run
Ambrose said she's been busy talking to potential candidates for the leadership, including a pair she said don't come from inside the party.
She confirmed the party would go ahead with a policy convention in May in Vancouver, and that it would be a good opportunity for some aspirants to meet members.
"We want people to run for the leadership, we don't want this to be punitive in any way, we have great leaders in our party and we want them to run and a convention is an opportunity, should they be ready to do that, to start getting out there."