Why Leslyn Lewis should face tough questions about her social conservatism

OPINION: The former Conservative leadership candidate has set her sights on becoming an MP. The electorate has a right to know more about her beliefs
By Michael Coren - Published on Sep 16, 2020
Leslyn Lewis speaks during the English federal Conservative leadership debate in Toronto on June 18. (Tijana Martin/CP)

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This week, the lawyer and former federal Conservative leadership candidate Leslyn Lewis announced that she intended to run for Parliament. While not yet an official candidate, she toured the riding of Haldimand–Norfolk with MP Diane Finley, who has held the seat for 16 years but has no intention of running in the next election. The news comes as little surprise, as Lewis did extremely well during last month’s race, finishing third with 30 per cent of the vote, and also managed to raise more than $2 million from party members who had hardly heard of her before the contest began.

She was the first Black candidate to run for the leadership of the party. She’s a PhD, highly popular with the grassroots, and accomplished in dealing with media. All vital factors, and far from common, in the party. But there’s more. She’s also a committed social conservative, an evangelical Christian, and a champion of those who believe that they’re being ignored by the major parties.

It’s a fierce dynamic, for party as well as country. For the former, because most Canadians are fairly progressive on issues of life and sexuality and, as Peter MacKay said this week, “When you open the door to a crack of daylight on these social issues, it becomes very, very difficult to win the country, to present the party as modern, inclusive, as a party that is committed to focusing more on the economy than debating the past.” For the latter, because it would mean that subjects of profound personal sensitivity might suddenly be reopened.

Lewis handled herself with great decorum around these themes during the leadership campaign, but it must be said that she also received far gentler questioning from media than did, for example, fellow social-conservative candidate Derek Sloan.

In March, when discussing LGBTQ issues, she said, “I didn’t march in the parade before I became a politician, and I would feel that it’s very disingenuous for me to use a particular vulnerable group to advance my political career.” That’s a much better crafted response than the bluster of Andrew Scheer, but it’s also disingenuous — if not misleading. What does it actually say about her commitment to Canadians who are LGBTQ and her support for equal marriage? In the same CBC interview, she said that “if you are ready to treat every Canadian with equal dignity and respect, it doesn’t matter whether or not you march in a parade. That’s a personal choice.”

But here’s the point. That answer assumes a pre-existing level playing field of rights, and that’s simply not the case. Participating in Pride is, in itself, a public statement that you indeed believe that every Canadian should be treated equally, precisely because the gay community has been treated so badly and still faces enormous discrimination.

It’s not insignificant that Lewis is a member of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, one of the more conservative denominations in Canada. Her religious freedom and choice are sacrosanct, but her church believes that “marriage is a provision of God wherein one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others enter into a lifelong relationship through a marriage ceremony that is recognized by the church and legally sanctioned by the state.” Surely, the electorate has a right to know whether she concurs.

On the subject of so-called conversion therapy — the wholly discredited and dangerous idea that LGBTQ children can be “made straight” — she opposes government bans, even though jurisdictions throughout the Western world have introduced them and agree with the World Health Organization that the procedure is a “serious threat to the health and well-being” of its victims. Opponents of such bans are invariably Christian conservatives. We know from a mass of evidence that the approach is unscientific, had led to self-harm and suicide, and — of course — rests on the premise that homosexuality is undesirable.

Lewis describes herself as ”pro-life, no hidden agenda,” although that’s a misnomer that actually means anti-abortion. She has said she believes in banning sex-selective abortions, would increase funding for pregnancy centres that counsel women about their alternatives to abortion, and would end Canadian funding for international abortions. Gender-based abortions are certainly an issue, but they are also a common first step toward a critique of abortion itself. The “pregnancy centres” are vehemently anti-abortion, and funding abortion in developing countries is about saving the lives of women who live in extreme conditions of oppression and inequality.

Lewis also wants to restrict access to medical aid in dying, yet a well-regulated and strictly monitored policy that allows those close to death and in great pain to end their lives on their own terms, surrounded by their loves ones, seems only compassionate. The alternative to dying in dignity in such cases is not living, but dying alone and in pain.

A healthy democracy requires diversity of opinion and open debate. But it should also, responsibly and within reason, expand and not limit citizens’ rights. Lewis is likely to be an MP before very long, could be in government, and will have great influence within her party. Questions need to be asked and answers — authentic answers — provided.

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