Rona Ambrose seeks new path for Conservative party

Conservative leader Rona Ambrose says her party failed to reach youth through social media in the last election.

Ambrose, her party’s interim leader, was in Victoria Tuesday talking to students, hoping to re-energize a party that once dominated Vancouver Island but now has no seats here.

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“We got absolutely killed on social media,” she said. “The truth is we didn’t have a strong communication with young people during the election.”

Ambrose gathered with about 100 University of Victoria students in the Inner Harbour on Tuesday to talk about a wide range of subjects, from natural resources and taxation to philosophy and Libertarianism.

In the late 1980s Ambrose, 47, was a UVic student herself — though she wasn’t then part of any organized party politics.

“I am probably the only leader of a political party that wasn’t a youth member of a party,” said Ambrose, who represents Edmonton-Spruce Grove. “A lot of people start down this path very early, but I’m not one of those people.”

The height of her political activism was her involvement with the Status of Women Action Group, she said. She was part of an initiative to monitor how judges and prosecution treated sex-assault victims and the sentences of those found guilty — with the working theory that people were being revictimized by the process.

Thirty years later — with former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi being found not guilty in the first of two sexual-assault trials and Canadian universities grappling with how to better deal with sex assault claims — it seems like little has changed, Ambrose said.

“The only thing that has changed is that now we have social media so that victims can feel supported by other victims and other survivors across the country,” she said.

Ambrose also said she worked as a volunteer crisis line helper in the Victoria sexual assault and sexual-abuse centre.

“Everybody who called in — I can tell you no one was lying. I can tell you that and almost none of them wanted to go to the police.” The question, she said, is why not.

There needs to be an examination of the process that sex-assault victims go through, Ambrose said. “It is not a healing process or [one] where the women involved feel justice is served.”

Ambrose hoped to connect with card-carrying Conservatives and possible new Conservatives during her visit to Victoria and Nanaimo this week.

“We have to earn back the trust of Canadians that used to vote for us and aren’t anymore,” she said.

The party made a mistake in not talking about the environment during the last election, and instead ceded the issue to the Liberals and New Democratic Party, she said. “We shouldn’t have done that.”

The Conservatives also failed to grow their base on Vancouver Island, where it held two seats before the 2015 election. The NDPtook six of seven ridings in the October vote. The other seat went to the Green Party.

Nationally, the party wasn’t wiped out, Ambrose said. It won 99 seats or 31 per cent of the vote, just shy of the 39 per cent won by the governing Liberal Party, she said. But mistakes were made, she said. “We learned our lesson so we listened and we are going to build forward.”

Ambrose hopes the party’s convention May 26-28 in Vancouver and leadership race will help bolster party morale.

Ontario MP Kellie Leitch became the first official candidate for the party leadership on Wednesday. Quebec MP Maxime Bernier is expected to file his leadership application today.

Others contemplating a run are reported to include MPs Lisa Raitt, Andrew Scheer, Jason Kenney, Tony Clement and Michael Chong.

“Having a leadership race is a great opportunity for any political party to really talk about the things we need to do to build the party moving forward,” Ambrose said.

Ambrose, who said she is seen as a bridge-builder, said she hopes to build the party during her two years at its helm to allow the next leader to “hit the ground running” toward the next election.

She extended her sympathies to the family and friends, fellow officers and especially the children of slain West Shore RCMP Const. Sarah Beckett .

Colleagues of Conservative MP Jim Hillyer — the father of four young children who died suddenly of a heart attack in his office on Parliament Hill on March 23 — also continue to mourn his loss, Ambrose said.

“It’s a reminder to everyone to always take time out to be with your family.”


> Leitch first to enter race, A8

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