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OTTAWA — Leslyn Lewis has been a bit of a mystery in the Conservative leadership race so far. A Toronto lawyer with an impressive resume, she’s stayed under the radar since the race began, declining almost all interview requests and making few policy announcements.
Instead, Lewis has been focused on gathering support among religious social conservatives and pro-life groups, as well as hustling to collect party member signatures at Conservative events. The strategy appears to have worked: she was the third candidate to collect enough signatures and money to formally enter the race after Peter MacKay and Erin O’Toole.
But although Lewis is known by many Ontario Progressive Conservatives, including Premier Doug Ford, she remains obscure outside Toronto. Now she’s making a push to change that as she drives toward the $300,000 financial threshold needed to qualify for the final ballot. On Tuesday she was in Ottawa for a round of interviews with national media, including a half-hour meeting with the National Post.
I’m not happy with the direction of the country
“I want to make sure that the country that I was raised in and the opportunities that I had as a child are there for my children,” said Lewis, who immigrated to Canada from Jamaica when she was five. “I’m not happy with the direction of the country…I think that I have a certain level of skill sets that would be very beneficial to the leadership position.”
She’s run for office once before, losing in the 2015 federal election after stepping in mid-campaign for Conservative candidate Jerry Bance — who was infamously caught urinating in a mug on an investigative TV show and had to drop out. In understated fashion, Lewis calls that campaign an “uphill battle.”
As a lawyer, Lewis specializes in commercial law and helping companies sell green technology abroad. She has four university degrees, including a master of environmental studies from York University and a PhD from Osgoode Hall Law School, as well as a slew of community service awards. Ford appointed her as vice-chair of the Ontario Trillium Foundation, which distributes more than $100 million in grants to community projects.
Lewis is also a black woman, a rare sight in a leadership race for any Canadian political party.
“There’s a lot of optimism about me, because I represent the part of the party that they may not have seen before,” she said. “I think that the Conservative Party has to do better in reaching diverse communities, in letting people know that they’re inclusive of people of all beliefs and persuasions and races and religions…People see the party as too white and too male, and they don’t see diverse representation.”
Still, she faces a challenge in running as a social conservative, given many Conservatives feel such issues sank their fortunes in the last election.
On Tuesday, her campaign circulated an attack on MacKay for saying the party should “park” discussions about those issues. Lewis said Andrew Scheer is a “good man,” but he got in trouble because he wouldn’t give clear answers and people felt he had a hidden agenda. “That’s why I’ve come out and I’ve been very forthright on what my agenda is and what my policies will be,” she said. She said she would ban sex-selective abortion, criminalize “coerced” abortions, and end international funding for abortion services.
People see the party as too white and too male, and they don't see diverse representation
Though she won’t be marching in any Pride parades, she said she wouldn’t change gay marriage laws.
“My personal view as a Christian is that marriage is between a man and a woman,” she said. “But I don’t push that view on someone else. I’m respectful that other people have different opinions, and they have different lifestyles, and as a leader I would equally have to represent those individuals.”
She said she has a problem with legalizing recreational marijuana use, at least when it comes to young adults. “I know that young people’s brains develop up until 26,” she said. Asked if legalization should be rolled back, she said “that’s something I would consider, especially because I know the impact on a young brain.”
Lewis has deep knowledge of environmental policy, given her multiple academic papers on the subject. (Title of her PhD dissertation: “Attracting Foreign Investments for Green Energy Projects in Sub-Saharan Africa: Climate Change Policy and Innovation in International Legal Compliance.”)
But she has not yet released a detailed policy beyond saying she would encourage green technology, and opposes carbon taxes as overly punitive. “I believe that the issue of climate change is very complicated,” she said. “We obviously do have an impact on the environment. I don’t want to speculate about what percentage of our activities impact on the environment.”
I don't push that view on someone else. I'm respectful that other people have different opinions
Asked if she thinks the climate change crisis is overblown, she said: “In some respects? Yes, I do. And I think that’s why (the Liberals) were able to convince people that we needed a tax that really does not address the environmental concerns and that’s very punitive on lower income people.” (The federal carbon tax does include income tax credits the government says more than offsets the cost for lower-income people.)
On many other subject areas, such as gun control and immigration, Lewis largely sticks to broader statements such as saying gun measures should be directed at criminals, and illegal immigration should be stopped. She has not yet released a full platform.
So far only O’Toole and MacKay have qualified for the final ballot. Lewis is one of six other candidates who have until March 25 to submit $300,000 and 3,000 signatures. Lewis’s campaign says they have the signatures, and are hoping to submitting the next instalment of money soon. But as she tries to meet the high threshold to stay in this race, she is once again facing an uphill battle.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020