An Open Letter to Ms. Rona Ambrose

SHe has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help. Adapted quote from Abraham Lincoln in an open letter to Rona Ambrose, Official Leader of the Opposition of Canada

Dear Ms. Ambrose,

Wow…did you see this coming? Your role as leader of the Official Opposition?  I know your party was anticipating a re-election, with Mr. Harper continuing to be Prime Minister.  And now–you’re the interim leader of the Conservative party. That’s an enormous job to land in.  I applaud your courage to take on a new role–that’s a huge task when you know a whole country is watching.

Welcome to your new job. I would guess that being leader of the Official Opposition is a rather thankless job. Actually, I’m not sure any job in politics makes you popular, until you’re dead…it seems everybody remembers a deceased politician fondly. I certainly hope you live a long and healthy life…so there can be decades of criticism to come.

Thank you for serving your country.  Folks who serve in all sorts of capacity need to be thanked often, and regularly. I don’t think we citizens show our gratitude enough.

As I recently wrote to Prime Minister Trudeau, I trust that you will allow yourself to be human, to give yourself some time to learn the ropes on a new job.  I’d imagine the learning curve is huge.  I hope that others give you a chance to make mistakes and learn from them. Making mistakes is how we all learn.  If we are too scared to make mistakes, we get too tentative and too careful.  That’s not a good thing.

Your job requires courage and boldness…public life always does. I’m hoping that all of us as Canadians can extend some grace to you as you settle in.

You’re not perfect.  I don’t know you, but I do know that to be true. All humans are. It doesn’t bother me that you will make mistakes.  In fact, I think that’s something us folks in the common life appreciate about those in the political life–the act of apologizing. 

The fact that you make mistakes and need to say “sorry” means you’re human, not a screw up.

When politicians are vulnerable enough to say, “I made a mistake”, it lets the rest of us know that you are real. And we appreciate real. It’s hard to respect folks who imagine themselves as never making a mistake…as being perfect. When you pretend to be perfect, we lose respect for you because we know you are bluffing.

Can I ask you for a favour?

Can I ask you to be Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition with thoughtful and careful words and ideas? Let me explain. I’m grateful for you and your crew, in the role of The Official Opposition..

In fact, we have used your role as a metaphor in counselling quite often.  Sometimes, when a client is trying to make a decision, s/he talks about the “devil on one’s shoulder” who:


  1. talks herself out of accepting the promotion, or
  2. prevents himself from saying “I love you” in a developing relationship, when he really wants to
  3. says, “It’s nothing” about the lump she found, postponing a trip to the doctor to get it checked out
  4. tells him he’s not nearly smart enough to actually apply and get accepted for that job or program

Folks come in and ask me, as a therapist, to help them get rid of those negative voices that drag their spirits down, and prevent them from fully engaging in their lives.

I decline to help them get rid of those ornery-sounding oppositional parts:


  1. It doesn’t work…those parts are notoriously stubborn to disappear…
  2. and…we need to not get rid of those cautionary parts.  They don’t want to be rid of…cuz they know what a valuable purpose they serve.  They serve as “devil’s advocates” which are extraordinarily helpful!
It can be so helpful for that oppositional part to
  1. question the time commitment, the learning curve, and the travel involved in the promotion
  2. wonder if she is ready to hear those three little, but-so-powerful words, “I love you”
  3. caution against running to the doctor for every little thing
  4. remember the competitive nature, and the typical entry standards for a job or program

But this is where the “Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition” metaphor comes in during counselling.

Ideally, that part is not a dogmatic, bullying bundle-of-evil that criticizes everything for every reason to paralyze a person.

That’s. Not. Helpful.

That’s just discouraging.  And defeating.

And after a while, it simply becomes white noise with a barrage of criticism, that loses its punch,

So…instead of getting rid of the oppositional part, we adapt it. We’ve used the “Loyal Opposition” metaphor to encourage people to invite that part of themselves to be constructively critical in such a manner that a person is the wiser for having listened. Rather judge that critical part harshly, a client becomes curious about the critque, and invite it to be gently articulated.

The “Loyal Opposition” becomes an internal member of a person’s team:


  • to encourage adequate preparation,
  • to anticipate and plan for possible pitfalls and adverse effects,
  • to challenge and encourage times when the cons outweigh the pros to prevent an action that isn’t wise.


Can I ask you, on behalf of all Canadians to be “Loyal” Opposition?  Loyal to the betterment of Canadians.  All Canadians…those that are Canadians now, and future Canadians in other countries that are waiting to arrive. There have been encouraging indications of this, for which I applaud you and your party.

I don’t presume to know how to be a politician.  But I have taught Master’s students at the University for over a decade, and when they work in groups where they need to challenge and critique each other, they have a particular style of giving feedback.

It’s useful to them, and I use it regularly in my life, and have found it to be wise, and so I dare to share it with you. The idea is to give feedback to another with a “POP”.  POP stands for:


  • Positive
  • Opportunity
  • Positive

The students also call it a feedback sandwich.  The idea is to find things to comment on in a building up manner.  To be respectful. To show you are listening.  To affirm the efforts of the other. Then you present your critique…but in a way that actually allows for a response. And then there is another affirming response.

Trust me, I’ve seen these Master’s students become masters of feedback…and their student colleagues are the richer for it. By hearing the concerns and growth areas in a climate of support, they take the challenges seriously, and act on them.

I know, I know…many will say this is naïve for politics. That it isn’t hard hitting enough. That its namby-pamby if you don’t fight everything all the time with everything you got.

And, given the political climate, they could quite possibly bring your gender into this. Sometimes us women have to be twice as good/critical/effective to garner the same respect as our male counterparts. Not fair.

I just think that if we can create a productive discourse in Question Period–a meaningful dialogue–it could be a way for politicians to come together for a common purpose–to improve our nation. Wouldn’t it be great to show the world that people can really listen to each other, sharpen each other’s ideas, and come up with better plans to move this country of Canada forward?

I criticize by creation, not by finding fault. Quote by Cicero
Posturing and talking to, rather than with, doesn’t get anybody anywhere.  It actually looks a little silly, truth be told.
I think that it positions you to be taken seriously when you have important and valid critique.  Canadians are counting on you to say important things that the governing party will not like…but are important to be said.
Please say important and unpopular things in a courageous way, even if they are unpopular. Our country will be better for it. Iron sharpens iron.
Look after injustice, our environment, and those whose voices need to be heard…make sure underrepresented voices have truth spoken on their behalf.


It is a tough choice for politicians to make…to together lead their country from Ottawa when their homes and families are a long plane ride away.

I am grateful for you, and so many others, for the investment you make in our country. Not just a demanding job, but distance from home, and the glare of the public eye…you have counted the cost, and been willing to pay it.  I admire that and appreciate your efforts immensely.



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