Three months out from Tory leadership vote, Lewis positions herself as unity candidate
OTTAWA -- The only woman and visible minority in the Tory leadership race is framing herself as the candidate best positioned to bridge together diverse conservative views across the country.
In an interview on CTV’s Question Period with host Evan Solomon, Leslyn Lewis says it's time her colleagues come together on issues that unify the party like the economy and national security, as opposed to those that divide it.
"I would just make sure that we are the big tent party, that we respect each other’s differences and that means whether you’re a progressive conservative or a social conservative that we have respect for that," said Lewis, adding that overcoming regional differences will be key to this.
The Toronto-based lawyer is going head-to-head with two veteran Conservative politicians in Peter MacKay and Erin O’Toole, and rookie MP Derek Sloan, who like Lewis, identifies as a social conservative.
In a race that many party insiders have described as being light on policy discussion thus far, Lewis says she’s been transparent about her campaign platform to date, especially relating to more polarizing issues like abortion and firearms rights.
"I want to be upfront on the four specific pro-life policies I would advocate for so we can be clear with Canadians," her website states.
Among those are banning the practice of sex-selective abortion, protecting women from "coerced" abortions, and putting an end to funding of overseas abortions. She does not say whether she would roll back legislation to prohibit access to the service.
On the issue of same-sex marriage, she says her legal history proves she can represent and be an advocate for all Canadians regardless of sexual identity.
"If you look at the cases I’ve defended, you will see that I have always stood up for people’s right to be who they are," she told Solomon.
However, she said she wouldn’t march in a Pride parade – a question that haunted outgoing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer during the fall election – because it’s not a politician’s place to do so.
"I don’t really like when I see politicians using the gay community to advance their careers and it’s not something that I would do," said Lewis. "I think the important thing is to make sure you will represent all Canadians with equal dignity and respect."
Despite the calls for party unity, Lewis was the source of deep division over the last several weeks as backlash erupted when the Association of Black Conservatives came out in support of O’Toole.
She tweeted out following the endorsement that "the organization has worked to discredit her from its inception. I’m not surprised that they endorsed [Erin O’Toole]. I will continue to work to uplift the lives of all Canadians including members of the Black community."
She later posted a blog on her website about identity politics, mentioning specifically the "smear campaign" against her as a Conservative woman of colour.
O’Toole has since responded saying after careful consideration and an acknowledgment that support from the group was causing unnecessary dispute, he would not accept the endorsement.
The four candidates have until August 21 to win over supporters, at which point the party will hold a mail-in vote to choose its next leader.
Asked who Lewis would put her support behind if she loses the leadership, she said "I am in this game to win."