Leslyn Lewis launches bid for Conservative leadership
March 9, 2022
Toronto lawyer and rookie MP Leslyn Lewis launched her second effort Tuesday to become leader of the federal Conservatives, positioning herself as the candidate to bring hope and unity to Canadians.
Lewis, 51, rocketed to national prominence in the 2020 Conservative leadership campaign, which she began as a relative unknown but at one point in the vote tally, had more support in certain pockets of the country than the ultimate winner, Erin O’Toole.
She launched that campaign on a promise of being a compassionate and principled Conservative, and returned to those themes Tuesday in formally unveiling her bid with a video posted to social media.
“I’m running to lead our party and our country based on hope, unity and compassion, she said in a tweet.
The video she included is an excerpt of her speech in the House of Commons last month on the invocation of the Emergencies Act by the Liberal government, a controversial move framed as the only way at that point to end a three-week long protest in Ottawa.
Lewis attacked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, saying he refused to listen to anyone who didn’t share his opinion and was undermining democracy by using the law.
“Guarding our freedoms and upholding our democracy means we need to have compassionate hearts and listening ears,” she said.
“This isn’t about who is right and who is wrong. It is about who gets to be a part of this conversation and the only acceptable answer to that question is everybody.”
Her speech went on to warn the government’s use of emergency powers would damage Canada’s standing among its allies. She also called for an end to COVID-19 vaccination mandates.
That she now has a political record is among the ways Lewis’s current leadership bid will differ from her run in 2020. She was known in some party circles prior to that contest, having served on a Toronto-area riding association board and been the Conservative candidate in Scarborough--Rouge Park for the 2015 federal election.
But Lewis had very little national profile when, with the support of social conservative groups and Christian activists including Charles McVety, she entered the leadership race in 2020.
While she entered the contest from that direction, her campaign picked up steam among other party members, especially in the West, where there was dislike and mistrust of the two front-runners, O’Toole and Peter MacKay.
Lewis, who immigrated to Canada from Jamaica at age five, also made history as the first Black woman to run for the Conservative leadership. She ended the contest having raised more than $2 million.
In the 2021 federal election, she won a seat in the Conservative stronghold of Haldimand-Norfolk.
But despite the fact that her supporters helped ensure O’Toole’s leadership victory -- after he made direct overtures to them with a promise that Lewis and social conservatives would have a voice in his party -- she was sidelined in the early days of the 44th Parliament.
Rather than be given a prominent role on O’Toole’s front benches, she was left off the list of portfolio critics and assigned a seat in the far reaches of the House of Commons.
That she’d take another run at the leadership after O’Toole’s ouster was by no means certain, as the ground has shifted since she won her seat.
Some of her supporters in the Conservative caucus were not re-elected in the 2021 election, and others who backed her in 2020 are already lining up behind the only other formally declared leadership candidate, Pierre Poilievre.
Poilievre entered the race as a centre-right populist, building his campaign around the theme of freedom from government interference.
He and the other candidate scheduled to make his entry into the race this week, former Quebec premier Jean Charest, are fluently bilingual.
Despite taking French lessons prior and during the 2020 contest, Lewis stumbled during the French language leadership debate. Her campaign says she has remained a diligent student in the months since.
While the full rules of the contest are not yet public, candidates must apply to enter by April 19, pay a $200,000 fee plus a refundable $100,000 deposit, and have until June 3 to sign up new members.
The vote will take place via mail, with the winner to be announced on Sept. 10.