As the results streamed in at the early hours of Monday morning, the only woman and notable minority candidate in the Conservative leadership race emerged a competitive contender attracting queries about what her achievements mean for the future of the party. Having the least amount of earlier political experience, the second ballot results show Leslyn Lewis was neck-and-neck with the two front-runners and long-time Tories Erin O’Toole and Peter MacKay.
In the first ballot, she secured 20.49% of votes, in comparison to MacKay, who topped with 33.52% of votes, followed by O’Toole at 31.6%. Sloan was removed with only 14.39% of support. Lewis picked up 30% of votes in the second round, falling just behind MacKay’s 34.78% and O’Toole’s 35.22%. Lewis’s success story will undoubtedly be a talk in the cities. At the same time, party insiders and political pundits reflect on what the results say about where the party stands and how it can move from engaging Conservative voters to Canadian voters.
WHERE SHE FOUND SUPPORT
Lewis has never held any elected office. In the first round ballot, she received much support in Saskatchewan, winning all but the Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River riding, which went to O’Toole. In Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and to O’Toole in Alberta territories, she came second to MacKay. She came last among all four candidates in Quebec. Lewis led in Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and Manitoba in the second ballot but edged ahead of O’Toole in Ontario. A vital attention of this leadership race was centered on finding a candidate who could win in Canada’s most populous provinces and particularly in urban areas after a fall federal election campaign when Conservatives lost significant ground in Ontario and Quebec.
WHAT HER SUPPORT MEANS
Kate Harrison, a conservative strategist and Vice President at Summa Strategies, said,
“There was an appetite from a lot of party members to look outside the front-runners to see what the options were that were on the table. That’s why we saw different names being bandied about at the beginning, like Rona Ambrose, John Baird, and others. This was an interesting moment for her to enter. The fact that she was able to do so, so well – almost one in three people who cast a ballot have her marked at some point on their ballot – that’s remarkable for a political newbie.”
Lewis campaigned on a promise to safeguard women against coerced abortions, allow free votes for MPs on all conscience matters, ban sex-selective abortions, end funding for abortions overseas, and increase funding for pregnancy care centers. Lewis pointed to her legal history representing same-sex couples as proof she would serve all Canadians. Harrison added that she though what sets her apart from like a Derek Sloan was that she approached those kinds of value issues in an accessible way. Therefore, her answers on things like abortion or right to life had a bit more nuanced than what people have seen from socially conservative candidates in the past.
On Sunday, her campaign manager Steve Outhouse stated that Lewis made a real effort to be a leadership candidate who happened to be a social conservative instead of a social conservative who just also happened to be running for the leadership. Steve added that anti-racism protests that erupted worldwide following the death of George Floyd had a major impact on their campaign trajectory. Steve noted that when Lewis started to talk, he would say controversial or sensitive topics in terms of things like Black Lives Matter and the prime minister going to Parliament Hill and taking a knee.
According to elections Canada’s latest fundraising report, MacKay is leading the pack, having pulled in around $3.1 million, followed by O’Toole, who garnered $2.5 million. Though her campaign tweeted on Saturday that it had reached the $2 million mark, Lewis trailed in third with $1.8 million while Sloan sat at $852,340.
Even if directly tied to the O’Toole camp or not, Harrison predicts Lewis’ future in the party is bright. Harrison said,
“She’s made it clear she’d like to run in the next election, but I don’t think that’s the only way she would influence the O’Toole office, particularly because the way that we gather and talk about policy and the way we meet with members is very, very different now. I don’t see her being excluded. If anything, I see her having certainly more influence in the party than she did when she first entered the race.”