Two years after Leslyn Lewis placed third in the Conservative Party of Canada leadership race, she is running again. This time around, her campaign trail involved a stop in Yellowknife.
Lewis, a social conservative and MP for Haldimand-Norfolk in Ontario since 2021, greeted a room of about 40 people at the city’s multiplex on Thursday evening.
She opened by addressing what she anticipated to be on many people’s minds: the question of why she is running again.
“Unfortunately, the same issues that really motivated me in 2020 are still present. I see the fabric of our nation being torn apart,” Lewis said.
She cited rising debt and growing social divides she attributed to “woke-ism,” “cancel culture,” and what she described as intentionally divisive pandemic policies rolled out by the federal Liberal government as responsible for what she said was a country that, without strong leadership, might “fall over.”
She said her background in law, environmental science, and her experience running her own business position her not as a “career politician,” but as the leadership she believes the country needs.
Her promise to establish common ground and unite the country across these rifts is at the core of her campaign, although details around how she planned to do this were not entirely clear.
“I believe that if we work together, if we unite, we can make Canada the freest and most prosperous nation in the world,” Lewis said.
She said if elected, she would do away with the carbon tax which she sees as a significant contributor to the high cost of living in the territory, and sees as a policy the current government is using to generate revenue from working class people rather than bring down emissions.
She also spoke generally of the housing crisis, food security, and the need for greater resource development in the territory as what she understood to be central issues in the NWT.
“There are a lot of resources in this territory,” she said. “We have to ensure that in this territory, sovereignty is strong.”
Lewis pledged she would make it more difficult to invoke the Emergency Act, withdraw participation in the World Economic Forum, and defund the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
“I see that the media is acting as a propaganda arm of the government,” Lewis said. “One of the first things that a totalitarian regime does is they control the media, they control the message, and they push out propaganda.”
While media attention surrounding the leadership race has largely focused on frontrunner candidates Pierre Poilievre and Jean Charest, Lewis tweeted herself into the spotlight last month announcing her strong “pro-life” stance following the overturning of Roe v Wade in the United States.
Poilievre, currently leading in the polls, is staunchly right-wing. Historically he has supported anti-abortion legislation, but in this campaign, he told CBC News he will not legislate against abortion.
Charest, runner up in the race, has aligned himself with more centrist social values and has stated he is pro-choice.
Lewis, to date, is the only candidate to have taken this decidedly “pro-life” stance on abortion rights.
“The reason why I am [pro-life] is because I think even bigger than that is the issue of cancel culture,” she explained. “I want, whether you’re pro-choice or pro-life, for you to be able to have a voice.”
In an interview with Cabin Radio following the event, Lewis took a different stance.
“I think it’s a personal choice. I think every woman has a right to say what she believes in. That’s my personal belief,” Lewis said.
“But I have policies that bring people together and find common ground.”
Weak Conservative presence in NWT
The NWT has not elected a Conservative MP since 1988.
Prior to last election, the party did not manage to find a local candidate to represent the territory. Lea Mollison, a candidate from northern Ontario, was assigned as a proxy.
Lewis was surprised to learn the territory did not have its own Conservative candidate during her visit and said that needed to be fixed.
“It’s a problem, and it’s telling this community that we haven’t really been invested in succession,” Lewis said.
The only other candidate that has visited the territory during this campaign period is Patrick Brown, who on Wednesday was disqualified from the Conservative leadership race after information was leaked revealing private funding of his campaign.
Lewis said the reason she invested campaign resources in traveling through less populated northern Canada is she thinks politics need to be done differently.
“We need to show various regions that they matter…by showing up, listening, and caring about the issues that matter to individuals within this territory.”
When asked about her engagement with Indigenous governments in the territory, Lewis said she did not reach out to any Indigenous leaders prior to her visit.
Lewis said she believes reconciliation involves recognizing the inherent right of Indigenous people to self-determination and to create their futures.
However, “because of past history,” she said work will first need to be done to rebuild trust with these communities so that they are interested in showing up at the table in the first place.