Conservative leadership candidate Lewis says she can unify

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Leslyn Lewis says that, in making her second attempt to become leader of the Conservative Party, she’s confident that she can unify the party while promoting socially-conservative positions.

Over successive leadership races, the federal Conservatives have been debating what direction the party should be heading, and whether it’s possible to elect a leader that can appeal to both progressives and the party’s base.

This dynamic is at play again in the current campaign, with a field of eight party-confirmed candidates, and all pitching themselves from varying places along the Conservative spectrum.

In an interview on CTV’s Question Period, Lewis said she considers herself a Conservative candidate, who has social conservative policies, and the ability to win with a platform that’s anti-abortion, anti-vaccine mandate, and anti-carbon tax.

Asked if she thinks her policies would broaden the party’s appeal to Canadians to help it win in key battlegrounds such as Ontario and Quebec, Lewis said yes.

“If you look at large cities like the GTA, like large urban centers, you will see that the majority, a large number of people are from the immigrant population. And these individuals share Conservative values. They’re people who took chances and took risks to leave their home to come here for the Canadian dream of owning a home, educating their children, and they also have strong faith and family values,” Lewis said. “They are a population that can be reached by our social conservative values. And I believe that if they see themselves within the party, they will gravitate towards the party.”

In the 2021 campaign, then-leader Erin O’Toole sought to capture the support of more progressive electors, declaring himself as pro-choice and an ally of the LGBTQ2+ community, two things his predecessor did not do. However, O’Toole still found himself in hot water when he didn’t distance himself far enough from candidates who posted anti-climate change and anti-vaccination comments online.

Lewis said that what went wrong in that campaign was that the party didn’t stick to a message.

“I think it’s just important that whatever your messaging is, your policies are, that you stick to them,” she said.

‘DON’T NEED TO TALK ABOUT THE THINGS THAT DIVIDE US’

In terms of what some of Lewis’ positions would be, despite being asked repeatedly, she wouldn’t say if she’d roll back abortion rights in Canada, but did say she thinks women who find themselves in “unfortunate” situations should have access to support, such as “pregnancy care centres,” and adoption access.

“The reason why I did so well last time is because I’m a unifier. I believe in building bridges. I am pro-life. I believe that people who are pro-choice, we can have a conversation. In fact, many of my closest friends are pro-choice and we have great conversations,” Lewis said. “We don’t need to talk about the things that divide us.”

Lewis, who has not disclosed her COVID-19 vaccination status, was one of the early Conservative caucus supporters of the “Freedom Convoy” trucker protests, and dismissed fellow candidate Jean Charest’s suggestion that leadership contenders who backed the convoy should be disqualified.

She also said in the interview that she had not read the memorandum circulated by some organizers that suggested their intent to overthrow elected officials. The document was later withdrawn after collecting 320,000 signatures.

Lewis denied that it was ever any participants’ intent to replace the democratically-elected government, stating that if it had been true, sedition charges would have been laid.

“Nobody was charged with acts of sedition. If that was true, why were mischief charges laid?” she said.

“I support democracy. I support the people who were standing in front of Parliament and wanted the elected officials that they pay their salaries to, to listen to them. Some of these individuals came all the way from B.C. and they should be heard,” Lewis said.

Lewis also defended some of her pandemic messaging, including raising concerns around Canada’s health sovereignty should the World Health Organization’s proposed pandemic treaty be pursued, and questioning vaccinating children.

She said she was using her position as an elected official to bring forward concerns raised to her by others, including parents.

Asked if she was saying it was not her personal belief, but issues raised by her constituents, Lewis said “absolutely.”

On climate change, Lewis said she is among the Conservatives who support getting rid of the carbon tax.

“I don’t believe the carbon tax is really improving the environment,” she said. In its place, Lewis suggested generally she’d implement policies that reduce emissions, incentivize businesses, and “encourage people to recycle.”

Lewis also spoke about finding ways to improve rather than get rid of the Liberals’ childcare deals with the provinces, building more homes and eradicating red tape to tamp down skyrocketing housing process, and said she’d uphold supply management to protect Canadian producers.

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