OTTAWA — Toronto lawyer Leslyn Lewis has become the first woman approved to run for the federal Conservative party leadership, saying she wants the job to bring courage and compassion back to politics.
Lewis has been working for weeks to sign up supporters and raise funds to support her bid, handing in the first 1,000 signatures required and a $25,000 entry fee last week. She was officially registered by the party on Tuesday, and added to its "approved candidates" list Wednesday.
On her website, Lewis says she came to Canada at age five from Jamaica, and watched her mother work hard to build a better life for her six children. Lewis would go on to earn multiple degrees and set up her own law practice in Toronto.
"I am running for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada because I see these opportunities for future generations falling away and I see our values being undermined — even within our own party," Lewis said.
Lewis has never been an MP though she did run for the Conservatives in 2015. She was parachuted into a Toronto riding at the last minute after old video surfaced of the nominated candidate urinating into a coffee cup while working in someone's home. He quit and the party convinced her to run, but she lost to a Liberal.
She declined an interview request Wednesday, as she has most mainstream-media queries in recent weeks as she's been building her profile among party activists and with third-party organizations, including the Campaign Life Coalition.
The pro-life group has endorsed her, and she also counts among her supporters Charles McVety, a prominent Christian activist who has called her a "breath of fresh air" as a strong Christian woman who is anti-abortion and in support of traditional marriage.
McVety and the Campaign Life Coalition come from different wings within the socially conservative right in Canada, a faction of the Conservative movement that has had major influence on leadership campaigns in past years.
Two other people — Richard Decarie, a former Conservative aide and organizer, and Derek Sloan, a current eastern Ontario MP — are both trying to position themselves as the social conservative candidate in the current race, but neither has submitted completed applications to the party yet.
Lewis said people need to stop capitalizing on what she calls "potentially divisive labels."
"It's time we had the courage to call this out and take steps to heal our divisions," she said on her website. "And I believe it starts by knowing that it takes courage not only to hold your own opinion, but also to respect someone else’s right to hold theirs."
While Lewis is the first woman registered by the party as a candidate, current member of Parliament Marilyn Gladu is also expected to be approved in the coming days.
For now, however, there are only two other candidates officially on the roster: Erin O'Toole and Peter MacKay. Both are former cabinet ministers and O'Toole is a sitting MP.
Several others are now racing against a Feb. 27 deadline to submit 1,000 signatures, which must be from supporters in 30 ridings across seven provinces and territories, and the $25,000 fee.
After that, candidates have until March 25 to submit a further 2,000 signatures and $275,000, $100,000 of which is refundable if they comply with all the contest rules.
In addition to those already in the field, former Conservative cabinet minister John Baird continues to mull over a bid.
Stephen Lecce, who was former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper's spokesman while Baird was in government, said Wednesday he thinks Baird should make the leap.
"He's a principled Conservative and he's a decent man," Lecce — who is now Ontario's minister of education — said during an event in Toronto.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 12, 2020.
—With files from Allison Jones in Toronto?????
Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press