OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada’s chastened Conservative legislators picked Rona Ambrose as a new interim leader on Thursday to help rebuild the party after they were driven from government in last month’s election.
Meeting one day after the Conservatives handed over the reins to their Liberal opponents after a decade in power, they listened to a speech from outgoing Prime Minister Stephen Harper and then picked the temporary replacement.
Ambrose will serve as leader until the broader party membership picks a permanent head to go up against charismatic Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the 2019 election.
Trudeau won October’s election partly by contrasting his open style with Harper’s approach of circling the wagons against what he perceived as a hostile media and establishment.
A major question facing the Conservatives is whether it will suffice to change to a sunnier tone to try to match Trudeau’s or whether a fundamental shift in policy will also be needed.
Ambrose vowed that as the opposition, the party would hold the Liberals accountable but would be “extremely constructive.”
“I’m excited that we are going to be moving forward with a strong opposition, with confidence and optimism,” Ambrose told reporters.
“We are going to have the strongest opposition party that Canadians have ever seen.”
The Conservatives had a majority of seats in the House of Commons from 2011-15. In the new 338-seat House, they have 99 and the Liberals have 184. Smaller parties have the remainder.
Ambrose, who represents a riding in the Conservative stronghold of Alberta, was first elected as a member of parliament in 2004. She held a number of cabinet positions under Harper, including environment, public works and health.
Ambrose said that Harper, who stepped down as leader but remains a member of parliament, gave an “incredibly passionate, emotional and touching” speech to members.
“We feel very optimistic about our chances in the next election and we are going to be working hard to come back to power,” she said.
Reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing by James Dalgleish and Tom Brown