OTTAWA — The new interim Conservative leader is promising to change the party's tone, but Rona Ambrose was not as willing Wednesday to say she would abandon the practice of using cultural wedge issues as a political tactic.
Ambrose was asked about a recent tweet in which MP Candice Bergen said she was embarrassed and sickened by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's approach to the fight in the Middle East and his promise to resettle 25,000 refugees.
The Liberals intend to withdraw Canada's jets from the ongoing bombing campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIL or ISIS, but will keep soldiers in the region to train anti-ISIL fighters.
Ambrose chalked up Bergen's tweet to heightened passions in the wake of Friday's attacks by ISIL militants in Paris, which killed 129 people and left hundreds more injured.
"After what happened last week, there is going to be some emotion and some passion and I'm going to chalk that one up to some emotion and passion," Ambrose said.
Similar passions were conjured up during the election campaign in response to the Conservative emphasis on issues like the niqab ban and a tip line to report so-called "barbaric cultural practices," Ambrose acknowledged.
Elected Conservative Interim Leader Rona Ambrose scrums with media in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Matthew Usherwood
Both were considered to be wedge issues exploited by the Conservatives to mobilize votes. Ambrose said she was not part of the decision to promise a tip line, nor did she support it.
But when asked whether her party would drop the wedge politics strategy, Ambrose didn't answer.
"The campaign is behind us, we are here as a strong official Opposition, and we're focused on moving forward,'' she said. The Conservative caucus, however, does need to think carefully about its approach, she added.
"Justin Trudeau is not our enemy, ISIS is."
Ambrose called for calmer rhetoric in the wake of the Paris attacks, urging Trudeau to be more transparent about his plans for the U.S.-led bombing campaign and for the resettlement of refugees.
She linked the need for clarity to a recent series of incidents including a fire at a mosque in Peterborough, Ont., smashed windows at a Hindu temple in Kitchener, Ont., and an attack against a Muslim woman in Toronto.
Ambrose called the incidents abhorrent.
"When there is unrest and concern about certain issues, it's most important for the government to be completely transparent,'' she said.
"Any sort of reassurance that they can offer on the military mission, on refugee plans, provides the reassurance and I think lessens the rhetoric, and hopefully then cooler heads will prevail and things like that won't happen.''
On Wednesday, Trudeau issued a statement in response to the Ontario incidents, linking them to the Paris attacks.
"Diversity is Canada's strength,'' Trudeau said.
"These vicious and senseless acts of intolerance have no place in our country and run absolutely contrary to Canadian values of pluralism and acceptance."
Former prime minister Stephen Harper was often criticized for his lack of outreach to Muslim Canadians in the wake of international attacks said to be linked to extremist Islam, or in the aftermath of attacks in Canada, including the October 2014 shootings on Parliament Hill.
That Trudeau issued a statement following the Ontario incidents has not gone unnoticed, said Amira Elghawaby, a spokesperson for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, especially coming out of an election she described as divisive.
"This is really important to hear from our elected officials that this has no place in Canada,'' she said.
"We know that but we still need to hear it.''
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