Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose taps women for top shadow cabinet jobs

The party, which was reduced to 99 seats in the House of Commons after the Oct. 19 vote, will have 32 shadow cabinet ministers to challenge Trudeau's ministers and their ambitious change agenda.

Rona Ambrose touts new shadow cabinet as strongest opposition Canada has ever seen

Michelle Rempel, left, shadow critic for citizenship, immigration and refugees, interim Tory Leader Rona Ambrose, centre, and Lisa Raitt, right, the new finance critic, are expected to play key roles in Conservative Party's rebuilding process. (Canadian Press)

Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose is stacking her shadow cabinet with a healthy dose of seasoned veterans and a smattering of new faces as the party positions itself as Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition for the first time in a decade.

"I believe the team we have assembled will be the strongest Official Opposition this country has ever seen," Ambrose said in a statement, noting the party's first priority is challenging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's "massive tax-and-spend plan."

The party, which was reduced to 99 seats in the House of Commons after the Oct. 19 vote, will have 32 shadow cabinet ministers to challenge Trudeau's ministers and their ambitious change agenda.

"I am proud to lead this team of talented and respected individuals from across Canada. Together, we will ask the government tough questions and hold them to account," Ambrose said.

Harper loyalists on the margins

The full list, released Friday, includes a few surprises — chief amongst them is Jason Kenney's absence from the front bench. Kenney, who was widely seen as Stephen Harper's most competent minister, will not hold a critic portfolio in the next session of Parliament.

As a result, he will not take the lead on any particular file during question period. Instead, he will chair the shadow cabinet committee on strategic operations, a key caucus committee that will advise the leader and other critics on question period strategy, policy and communications.

Conservative MP Jason Kenney has been left off of the Conservative Party's front bench in Opposition. After the election, Kenney said the campaign needed to promote a 'sunnier' brand of conservatism. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

A source close to Kenney told CBC News that he specifically asked Ambrose not to give him a critic role in the shadow cabinet. A move some political observers say will free up Kenney's time to run for the party's permanent leadership.

Diane Finley, who was a staple of Harper's cabinet during his tenure in government, has been relegated to a relatively minor role: deputy critic for science, innovation and economic development, reporting to Quebec MP Maxime Bernier, who will take the lead on that critical file. She will also serve as the caucus party liaison.

And Peter Van Loan, the former government House leader, has been passed over for that role in opposition by the outgoing Speaker of the House, Andrew Scheer.

Other veterans, however, will step into prominent roles. Former justice minister Rob Nicholson will be the critic for that portfolio and Ontario MP Kellie Leitch, who is also a physician, will be the health critic. 

Tony Clement, who has virtually no international experience, having served as minister of health and president of the Treasury Board under Harper, will be the critic for foreign affairs.

New female face of conservatism

But Ambrose has also tapped some of the party's best communicators to handle the hottest files.

Lisa Raitt will slide into the finance portfolio, a clear demonstration that female MPs will be at the forefront of rebuilding the Conservative Party after its defeat.

The Milton MP managed to survive the Liberal wave that swept over much of the Greater Toronto Area in the last election. She also emerged as an early critic of the government's performance and tone under Harper after the electoral defeat. Her deft communications skills and ease with the media will be pertinent in such a high-profile portfolio.

Raitt has already said a priority for the party is broadening its appeal among suburban women with children — voters like herself — a key demographic which jumped ship to Trudeau's Liberals.

Conservative MP Lisa Raitt responds to the naming of the Liberal cabinet 6:27

Michelle Rempel, a staple on CBC's Power & Politics during the election campaign, will be the critic for the citizenship, immigration and refugees portfolio. The Tories have signalled that they have serious concerns about the prime minister's pledge to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of the year. Ambrose is pushing Trudeau to "rethink" the ambitious commitment and focus on national security considerations.

Erin O'Toole, who tried to turn things around at Veterans Affairs after a series of controversies under his predecessor, Julian Fantino, will take the lead on Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

He'll be up against a formidable opponent in the form of Ralph Goodale, a seasoned parliamentarian who has pledged to reform the Harper government's anti-terror legislation and bring about parliamentary oversight for the country's security agencies.

Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose says now is not the time to retreat 1:53

Dianne Watts, the newly-elected MP for the riding of Surrey–White Rock, will be the critic for Infrastructure and Communities. One of the main planks of Trudeau's platform was a promise to jump-start the sluggish economy through massive infrastructure investment, and deficit spending.

Watts, the former popular mayor of Surrey, B.C., and a rising star in the party, will keep an eye on the Liberals as they shovel billions of taxpayer dollars out the door.

Ambrose, who will also be critic for the status of women, has carved out some new files, including a critic for matters relating to maternal, child and newborn health, to be handled by Alberta MP Mike Lake.

Weaknesses exposed

The composition of the shadow cabinet also reveals some of the party's weaknesses after its defeat on Oct. 19. Wiped out in Atlantic Canada, Ambrose has recruited defeated MP Scott Armstrong to be their critic for the region. He will serve in that role from outside of Parliament.

The party's critic for urban affairs, John Brassard, hails from Barrie–Innisfill, a riding that is more than an hour north of Toronto. That appointment is a testament to the party's near-collapse in the country's largest cities.

Full list of Conservative critic responsibilities

Shadow cabinet members:

  • Rona Ambrose (Sturgeon River–Parkland) — Leader of the Official Opposition and Status of Women
  • Denis Lebel (Lac-Saint-Jean) — Deputy Leader and Intergovernmental Affairs
  • Ziad Aboultaif (Edmonton Manning) — National Revenue
  • Scott Armstrong — Atlantic Issues and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency
  • Candice Bergen (Portage–Lisgar) — Natural Resources
  • Maxime Bernier (Beauce) — Innovation, Science and Economic Development
  • James Bezan (Selkirk–Interlake–Eastman) — National Defence
  • Steven Blaney (Bellechasse–Les Etchemins–Lévis) — Public Services and Procurement
  • Kelly Block (Carleton Trail–Eagle Creek) — Transport
  • Alupa Clarke (Beauport–Limoilou) — Veterans Affairs
  • Tony Clement (Parry Sound–Muskoka) — Foreign Affairs
  • Gérard Deltell (Louis-Saint-Laurent) — Employment, Workforce and Labour
  • Ed Fast (Abbotsford) — Environment and Climate Change
  • Marilyn Gladu (Sarnia–Lambton) — Science
  • K. Kellie Leitch (Simcoe–Grey) — Health
  • Cathy McLeod (Kamloops–Thompson–Cariboo) — Indigenous Affairs
  • Rob Nicholson (Niagara Falls) — Justice
  • Deepak Obhrai (Calgary Forest Lawn) — International Development
  • Erin O'Toole (Durham) — Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
  • Pierre Paul-Hus (Charlesbourg–Haute-Saint-Charles) — National Defence (associate)
  • Pierre Poilievre (Carleton) — Treasury Board and the National Capital Commission
  • Lisa Raitt (Milton) — Finance
  • Scott Reid (Lanark–Frontenac–Kingston) — Democratic Institutions
  • Michelle Rempel (Calgary Nose Hill) — Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
  • Gerry Ritz (Battlefords–Lloydminster) — International Trade
  • Mark Strahl (Chilliwack–Hope) — Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard
  • Peter Van Loan (York–Simcoe) — Canadian Heritage and National Historic Sites
  • Karen Vecchio (Elgin–Middlesex–London) — Families, Children and Social Development
  • Mark Warawa (Langley–Aldergrove) — Seniors
  • Chris Warkentin (Grande Prairie–Mackenzie) — Agriculture and Agri-food
  • Dianne Watts (South Surrey–White Rock) — Infrastructure and Communities
  • Alice Wong (Richmond Centre) — Small Business

Other critics:

  • Dan Albas (Central Okanagan–Similkameen–Nicola) — Interprovincial Trade
  • David Anderson (Cypress Hills–Grasslands) — Human Rights and Religious Freedom
  • Sylvie Boucher (Beauport–Côte-de-Beaupré–île d'Orléans–Charlevoix) — La Francophonie      
  • John Brassard (Barrie–Innisfil) — Urban Affairs
  • Todd Doherty (Cariboo–Prince George) — Asia-Pacific Gateway
  • Cheryl Gallant (Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke) — Regional Development for Northern Ontario
  • Bernard Généreux (Montmagny–L'Islet–Kamouraska–Rivière-du-Loup) — Official Languages
  • Joël Godin (Portneuf–Jacques-Cartier) — Canadian Economic Development for Quebec Regions
  • Rachael Harder (Lethbridge) — Youth and Persons with Disabilities
  • Matt Jeneroux (Edmonton Riverbend) — Western Economic Diversification
  • Robert Kitchen (Souris–Moose Mountain) — Sport
  • Mike Lake (Edmonton–Wetaskiwin) — Maternal, Newborn and Child Health
  • Alexander Nuttall (Barrie–Springwater–Oro-Medonte) — Federal Development for Southern Ontario
  • Blake Richards (Banff–Airdrie) — Tourism
  • Bev Shipley (Lambton–Kent–Middlesex) — Rural Affairs
  • Robert Sopuck (Dauphin–Swan River–Neepawa) — Wildlife Conservation and Parks Canada
  • Brad Trost (Saskatoon–University) — Canada/U.S. Relations
  • David Yurdiga (Fort McMurray–Cold Lake) — Northern Affairs