The next Conservative leader? Leslyn Lewis got closer last time

During the fall 2015 campaign that would ultimately make Justin Trudeau prime minister, Stephen Harper had a problem he didn’t need. The Conservative candidate in the riding of Scarborough-Rouge Park, Jerry Bance, was in trouble. While fixing a dishwasher in a private home, Bance was caught on a home security camera pissing in a cup of coffee, quickly rinsing the cup and leaving it in the sink.

It’s not that unusual for a political candidate to struggle due to an inability to keep their pants zipped up, but surely this was a new twist.

“Pee Gate” prompted Bance to resign from his candidacy just weeks before the election. Harper needed a new candidate willing to accept short notice and long odds.

Sometimes one person’s toilet break leads to another’s big break. Leslyn Lewis, who had been active in Conservative Party politics and fundraising, took up the challenge. In the end, it wasn’t close and Liberal Gary Anandasangaree won, but Lewis managed to garner 27% of the vote, proving his mettle.

Five years later, still without a seat, Lewis ran in 2020 for the leadership of the Conservatives. Her third place made her a new political star.

Less than a year ago, Lewis was elected MP for Haldimand-Norfolk. And last week she announced her second candidacy for her party’s top job.

Lewis, 51, was born in Jamaica and came to Canada with her parents when she was five years old. His studies at Trinity College at the University of Toronto, York University, the Schulich School of Business and Osgoode Hall Law School earned him four degrees, including a master’s degree in environmental studies and a doctorate in international law. Lewis started his own small practice in Scarborough, Lewis Law, in 2006.

His 2020 bid to succeed Andrew Scheer was the longest of the long runs. Lewis was a political unknown who had never held elected office. But then, Donald Trump either before becoming president. Lewis may not have had Trump stardom, but she offered the same kind of fearless outward appeal, combining unapologetic social conservatism with a bit of a populist spin. “I know what it’s like to put a small business payroll on your personal line of credit,” she says. noted. “I know what it’s like to be a single mom.”

The convention was chaotic. The results of the first ballot were due to be revealed on August 23, but did not arrive until after midnight EDT. They were stunning. Lewis finished third in total votes, less than six percentage points behind neck and neck favorites Peter MacKay and Erin O’Toole. A bigger shock came on the second ballot – Lewis took the lead in the popular vote. Nonetheless, the party’s complicated point system put her in third place, meaning she was automatically eliminated before the deciding third ballot that ultimately elected O’Toole. Although Lewis is unlikely to adopt political comparisons to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, both women won the popular vote and were subsequently eliminated by the electoral system.

With that kind of insurgent success under his belt – and since last September, a seat in the House of Commons too – it’s no wonder Lewis is making another run. If she succeeds, Lewis will be the first black leader of the Conservative Party. “People see the party as too white and too masculine,” Lewis Recount an interviewer on his first run in 2020, “and they don’t see diverse representation.”

And yet Lewis has plenty of appeal to the kind of conservatives, white men and otherwise, who may have considered defecting to the far-right People’s Party. After declaring his candidacy renewed last week, Lewis threw down the gauntlet with a appearance on Ezra Levant’s Rebel News show, pumping up Trump and promoting convoys. She is a committed evangelical and social conservative, describes herself as “pro-life with no hidden agenda” and has been endorsed by the Campaign Life Anti-Abortion Coalition.

Lewis is officially ready to consider a repeal of marijuana legalization. She also says her decision to run for leadership in 2020 was inspired in part by the grief Scheer took for her failure to participate in Pride parades. lewis said it wouldn’t work either. She opposed the government’s ban on conversion therapy before finally accepting the unanimous vote to back the ban under now ousted Tory leader O’Toole.

Although Lewis has written a doctoral dissertation titled “Attracting Foreign Investment for Green Energy Projects in Sub-Saharan Africa,” it seems unlikely that she will run for the Green Party. She promised to abolish the carbon tax and said the issue of climate change was, in some ways, “overblown”.

More recently, Lewis has adopted the cause that most clearly defines the social conservative of 2022: opposing mask mandates and equating public health measures with tyranny. She voiced her support for the Truck Occupation in Ottawa and long before she arrived in town, she was already delivering the same kind of paranoid rhetoric favored by the convoy crowd. In an October 2020 National Post guest op-ed, Lewis referred to a “socialist coup” by the Trudeau government. “There will be no need to throw dissenters in jail,” Lewis wrote, “as new societal protocols can be put in place and those who fail to meet ever-changing societal ‘norms’ can simply be fined. or jail time for minor offences.”

No longer anonymous in 2022, Lewis faces different challenges in his second leadership bid. Last time out, his main rival for the Conservative red meat vote was Derek Sloan. This year, that same battle pits him against a heavyweight: Pierre Poilievre, who offers the same rabid rightwing stance with more experience and a higher profile.

Delivering his message fairer than you in French will also be a problem for Lewis. She promised to immerse herself in teaching French in her first leadership contest – no doubt the forthcoming debates will illustrate how well the lessons went. (Lewis faces another potential problem: a trial by his 2020 campaign manager claiming he was not being paid for his work. The allegations have not been proven in court.)

A victory for Lewis would certainly be a victory for diversity in Canadian politics, albeit perhaps a clumsy one. On the one hand, she would take control of a party that has tended to deny that diversity is a valid issue to begin with. Then there was Lewis’ 2020 contestation with the Association of Black Conservatives. They refused to support him in the Conservative leadership race, supporting Erin O’Toole instead. ABC’s Akolisa Ufodike noted that to have endorsed Lewis solely because she was black would reduce the problem to identity politics: “We are further examining how their policies, their will and their ability to lead can better serve Canadians, including marginalized communities like black community.

Lewis fired back, affirming the ABC had “worked to discredit me since its inception”. So far, the organization has not made any endorsements for the 2022 leadership race.

Was Lewis’ success in 2020 a first step in his rise to power? Or was his surprising convention result a flash in the pan? This time at least, the Lewis campaign will not have the advantage of novelty.  [Tyee]