By Jonathon Van Maren
Over the past few months, many people have asked me for my opinion on the ongoing Conservative Party leadership race, which has now been winnowed down to four candidates: former cabinet minister Peter MacKay, former leadership contender Erin O’Toole, freshman MP Derek Sloan, and Dr. Leslyn Lewis, a Toronto lawyer and former CPC candidate who holds two master’s degrees and a PhD in International law. It is a remarkably small field, and social conservatives—for all the talk of so-cons being rendered irrelevant by Andrew Scheer’s electoral failure last fall—are strongly positioned.
Peter MacKay, the presumed frontrunner, would be a disaster for social conservatives and referred to so-cons as a “stinking albatross” around Andrew Scheer’s neck in the last election. Erin O’Toole has been doing his best to signal to so-cons that they are welcome in the party should he become the leader, despite not being socially conservative himself (although he has committed to several pro-life policies). Derek Sloan is a rock-ribbed social conservative, as is Leslyn Lewis—both have released platforms with solid so-con policies, and Lewis has laid out precisely which pro-life policies she plans to pursue if she wins the leadership and goes on to become prime minister.
Last week, commentator Tanya Granic Allen, formerly of Parents As First Educators (PAFE), released a video outlining her concerns about Leslyn Lewis and her former association with the Trillium Foundation and the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF). For those of you who have asked: I am fully satisfied with Lewis’s response to Granic Allen’s concerns, and the pro-life organizations which have endorsed Lewis are, as well. Campaign Life Coalition released a statement confirming their support of Lewis, and Right Now is also supporting her leadership run. Because concerns have been raised, it bears spelling this out explicitly: The pro-life movement trusts Leslyn Lewis as a candidate.
I also believe that Lewis’s candidacy presents pro-lifers and social conservatives with an extraordinary opportunity: To elect a female leader of the Conservative Party who is uniquely positioned to defend the pro-life position through her own experience and her own powerful story (more on that below.) With her platform, Lewis is doing precisely what a wise so-con politician should do: Looking at what can be done, developing policies that could genuinely be implemented and would garner widespread support with Canadians, and choosing which issues to expend political capital on with prudence. A mere 11% of Canadians attend religious services of any kind weekly, and thus social conservatives should be looking to make common cause where an enormous amount of common ground does exist.
I believe that Leslyn Lewis as leader could shift the Overton Window for social conservatives and start essential conversations about life and family afresh. The following is an interview I conducted with her that I believe supports that conclusion.
How have your personal experiences shaped your pro-life convictions?
When I was a law student and was articling on Bay Street, I got pregnant and had to make a decision about my career. From a lot of perspectives, it was the “worst time” to have an unexpected pregnancy. People were quick to remind me that I could really destroy my career by working and walking around pregnant on Bay Street – never mind having to take time off between the Bar and being able to jump into a practice.
Many people, even friends that I thought shared my values, suggested that I have an abortion instead of destroying or impeding my career. Some friends even tried to go ahead and book appointments on my behalf in order to have a consultation to abort. And in fact, I was one of, if not the only, articling student not hired back by the firm I was at despite performing very well.
In the end, everything worked out career wise, but I don’t know if I would have been able to withstand all the pressure if I didn’t have a supportive husband to help me stand firm in my convictions.
There was, and still is, for women an immense amount of pressure at every stage of their career. Many other professional women told me that they had to have an abortion, as if there was no other option. My heart goes out to these women.
How did you decide what to put in your “No Hidden Agenda” platform?
I wanted to make sure that I was respectful of Party policies passed by fellow Conservatives and focus on what issues the grassroot members were telling me mattered to them.
I also looked at what Canadians still outside the pro-life movement were open to discussing in order to find a starting position where could work together.
I also wanted to zero in on the positions that wouldn’t just be good discussion points within our party, but what would lead to constructive discussions with Canadians at large.
How would you defend these policies in a debate with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau?
I believe that these are policies that the majority of Canadians approve of, and so I don’t see why he would be acting contrary to the majority of Canadians.
Secondly, Justin Trudeau isn’t a woman. I am a woman and if he believes in a woman’s right to choose like he says he does then he needs to respect my rights are equal to the rights of any woman and my voice should not be silenced.
What do you think the role of social conservatism and social conservatives is in the Conservative Party of Canada?
I think it is to be a powerfully inclusive voice. To let Canadians in general know that we are the party of freedom of speech, and so all perspectives are valued. I think So-cons need to set an example of being truly inclusive and showing understanding that people who don’t share our values today may share them tomorrow. As well as showing that we believe those who disagree with us have a right to be heard.
We need to make sure that we aren’t using the same “cancel culture” approach with others that we don’t like being applied to us. So when we are upset that someone says they will whip conscience votes, or they will not tolerate certain types of discussion or that certain debates are closed, we need to use our free speech, and welcome others to do the same, to have a real debate.
I think it’s very important to never use the same means of excluding people that others have tried to use on us.
Would you be open to creating a policy to address the issue of minors being exposed to hardcore digital pornography in Canada, considering the poisonous impact of this material?
Absolutely. We need to protect the minds of our young and vulnerable. There is certain content that young people should not be exposed to because it has negative psychological impacts, and if we believe in the values of love and respect, and there is content that is undermining those values we need to protect them from it.
I am definitely open to creating a policy to address how to protect minors from consuming content that teaches them to objectify women and not value them in a loving and respectful manner.