Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose did something earlier this month that her predecessor failed to do after a decade in power: display genuine emotion.
Fighting back tears as she discussed the plight of Fort McMurray residents in the aftermath of the disastrous wild fires that ravaged that town's neighbourhoods, Ambrose made a permanent connection with the people of Fort McMurray and all Canadians.
Seven months after her colleagues chose her as interim leader, Ambrose has adeptly proven she is worthy of the permanent Tory leadership steering her party into a decidedly more positive direction.
A self-described libertarian and feminist, Ambrose seamlessly appeals to every core constituency within the party, including social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, libertarians and Red Tories.
Ambrose has expressed more liberal views on the legalization of marijuana and strong support for removing the long-standing same-sex marriage ban from official Conservative Party policy.
If Conservatives are shrewd as they convene in Vancouver this week for their party's convention, they will plead with Ambrose to run for the party's permanent leadership while requesting a not insignificant change to the party's constitution that would allow the party's interim leader to contest the permanent leadership.
Conservatives must urge Ambrose to seek the Tory leadership for three key reasons: she represents a new generation of more candid leadership similar to that of the prime minister; she credibly identifies with the many disparate factions of the modern Conservative coalition; and lastly, over the past seven months, Ambrose has skilfully validated her leadership competencies -- both inside the House of Commons and across the country.
With the election of Prime Minister Jsutin Trudeau last fall, a generational shift swept over Parliament Hill, reaching the highest echelons of the PMO. It was Canadian youth -- many of whom were first-time voters -- that delivered the Liberals' majority government on October 19.
If the Tories have any prospect of challenging the Liberals' stranglehold on younger Canadians, they must select a leader from Trudeau's generation. Born two years before the prime minister, Ambrose is the personification of a female political success story. Some of her progressive leanings are no doubt informed by the fact she's a female politician under the age of 50.
For example, shortly after assuming the Conservative leadership, Ambrose told Canadians her party would unequivocally support a federal inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women -- an inquiry former prime minister Harper refused to call.
Since then, Ambrose has expressed more liberal views on the legalization of marijuana and strong support for removing the long-standing same-sex marriage ban from official Conservative Party policy. Earlier this week, Ambrose said she would support Bill C-16, a government bill introduced by the justice minister that would guarantee legal and human rights protection to transgender people across Canada.
These more enlightened positions give Ambrose immense credibility among key demographics that have traditionally steered clear of her party, including Indigenous peoples, LGBTQ Canadians, millennials and, quite frankly, Canadian women of all ages. As permanent leader, it's evident Ambrose would make further concrete strides with these demographics, wrestling some from the Liberals' fold in the lead up to the 2019 election.
A second reason why Ambrose is the most inspired candidate for the Tory leadership is quite simply that she is the only prospective candidate capable of credibly identifying with the various disparate factions within the modern Conservative Party.
This point cannot be underlined enough.
At 47, Ambrose is a by-product of the "new" Conservative Party that Peter MacKay and Stephen Harper brokered in 2003, not having been actively involved in either of the Conservatives' legacy parties. A self-described libertarian and feminist, Ambrose seamlessly appeals to every core constituency within the party, including social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, libertarians and Red Tories.
Her deep Alberta roots and impeccable fiscal conservative credentials have broad appeal in a party organization that remains anchored in western Canada. While holding some obvious socially liberal views, Ambrose has a firm pro-life voting record and opposed the government's recent assisted dying bill -- two notable positions that would make her candidacy palatable to the party's crucial social conservative base.
But Ambrose's considerable community service involvement with prominent organizations working to end violence against women have special appeal to the party's Red Tory wing, traditionally attuned to social policy concerns and more philosophically aligned with communitarianism and collectivism.
As evidence of her pragmatic side, Ambrose publicly endorsed former Red Tory PC premiers Alison Redford and Jim Prentice over their more conservative Wild Rose opponents in the 2012 and 2015 Alberta elections.
There is no other current or prospective candidate for the Conservative Party's leadership that appeals to so many different kinds of Tories across the conservative spectrum.
As a party still in its infancy, it's incumbent on Conservatives to select a leader in 2017 that is best positioned to unify the party, and ultimately the country.
Lastly, since November Ambrose has ably demonstrated her ability to lead the Conservatives both inside and outside the House of Commons. More telling, she has led the party throughout a gruelling time, transitioning a 10-year government into opposition at a time when the Liberal government remains wildly popular.
And while Ambrose's efforts in Ottawa are commendable, it's her work across the country connecting with everyday Canadians and grassroots Conservatives that have confirmed she has the right mix of good character, retail political skills and sheer determination rebuild a party that faces an uphill battle in the court of public opinion.
The empathy and emotion Ambrose revealed in the House of Commons -- and on the ground in Fort McMurray -- is that of a rare political leader who enjoys an intractable bond with the people.
As the Tory leadership race heats up this summer, the most pressing question on Conservatives' minds ought not be whether or not they'll allow Rona Ambrose to contest their party's leadership, but rather whether or not she'll take them up on their offer.
For the Tories' sake, they'd better hope she says yes.
Andrew Perez is a Toronto-based freelance columnist specializing in Canadian politics and public policy. He has worked on several political campaigns for the Ontario and federal Liberal parties. Andrew currently works as a communications and public affairs specialist in the investment funds industry in Toronto.
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