It may have caught Canadians and political pundits by surprise last week, but Rona Ambrose says the choice to leave political life behind was hardly a snap decision.
“I had planned this all along, since I made the decision to run as interim leader,” Ambrose told Vassy Kapelos in a wide-ranging interview conducted on one of her favourite Ottawa-area hiking trails.
“If I was going to stay in politics, I would have run for the full leadership. I made that choice then. I knew I was going to leave.”
WATCH: Rona Ambrose gets standing ovation in House of Commons
Ambrose said the last 18 months have been challenging but also incredibly rewarding. The veteran MP from Alberta took over in the aftermath of the Conservative election defeat in late 2015 and the resignation of the only permanent leader the party had ever known: Stephen Harper.
For many in the Conservative ranks, she acknowledged, it was a nervous and uncertain time.
“Having a leader like Mr. Harper leave after 10 years, there’s a lot of question marks about what would happen to our party and to the caucus,” she said.
“I was not going to be letting our men and women sit around and think about the defeat. Let’s hit the ground running and let’s be the best opposition this country has ever seen.”
That meant hammering the government on broken electoral promises, she said, but Ambrose also wanted to bolster the confidence of newly elected MPs and bring the women in her caucus to the forefront.
Since 2015, she said, party membership is way up (due in part to the ongoing race to replace Harper), and there’s been a 10-point jump in Canadians considering casting a ballot for the Conservatives in the next election. The party raised a whopping $9 million in its most recent quarter.
That’s all great news, Ambrose said, but caucus unity and morale has been the most important measure of her personal success as leader.
“Mr. Harper gave me one piece of advice when he left, and he said there’s nothing more important than the team. Nothing more important than your caucus and keeping your caucus together, and everything has to be seen through that lens.”
Ambrose has already said she won’t cast a ballot for the new permanent leader, to be chosen May 27 in Toronto. In the coming year, she is planning on taking up a trade-focused position at the Washington-based Wilson Center’s Canada Institute, and is even been considering writing a children’s book.
Convincing more women to run for public office will also remain a top priority, she told Kapelos.
WATCH: Ambrose says she never intended to stay in politics once her interim role finished
“It’s been one of the highlights of my political career without a doubt, and I’m sure will be one of the highlights of my life,” Ambrose said of her time as leader.
“It just feels good, I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. And I’ve seen us thrive.”
Watch the full, extended exit interview with Rona Ambrose above, and find out how she feels about Donald Trump, trade and Alberta’s provincial political scene.