During her childhood, Melissa Lantsman was acutely aware of the distinct way people treated each of her immigrant parents, and those experiences, she contends, formed the roots of why she became a conservative.
The family was living north of Toronto, in what is now the Thornhill riding that Ms. Lantsman has represented since the 2021 federal election. Michael and Ora Lantsman settled there in the 1970s after moving from Ukraine in the former Soviet Union.
Michael, an engineer, couldn’t find work in his field and his first job in Canada was driving a taxi; Ora was an accountant and was able to continue working in that profession. Her father wore jeans to work; her mother wore a suit.
Ms. Lantsman says she was shocked at how people spoke differently to her mother than her father, based on their appearances and assumptions about their education and sophistication.
“There was almost an elitist sort of view on what they believed my mom would understand versus what they believed my dad would understand,” she said during a recent interview at her Thornhill constituency office.
In conservatism, Ms. Lantsman found a philosophy that she says treated everyone equally. “No matter what you did, where you came from, what you did for a living, you had a place in this party.”
Ms. Lantsman’s place is now within the inner circle of the federal Conservatives as one of its two deputy leaders. She is a key ally of Pierre Poilievre, whom she backed in his bid to become leader – attacking the Liberal government, and making the case for the Conservatives in outreach efforts across Canada.
In her debut speech in the House of Commons, Ms. Lantsman took the government to task on the need for action on affordability. Since then, she has echoed the party’s contention that under the Liberals, the country is broken.
Amid the trucker convoy blockade in Ottawa last February, there was a clash with Justin Trudeau during Question Period in Parliament. Mr. Trudeau told Ms. Lantsman that her party stood with “people who wave swastikas.” Speaker Anthony Rota cautioned the Prime Minister about using inflammatory language.
Ms. Lantsman fired back: “I am a strong Jewish woman. I have never been made to feel less, except for today, when the Prime Minister accused me of standing with swastikas,” she said, calling for an apology. Mr. Trudeau declined to apologize.
As one of few Tories in the Toronto region, she has a role advising the party on how to do better when the next election is held. Conservatives have not done well in Toronto and the GTA in the past three elections, an outcome that has likely denied them the seats they needed to form government.
Recently, she called for an emergency debate in Parliament on violent crime across Canada, specifically referencing incidents on Toronto’s transit system.
The 38-year-old presents a diverse image for the party, pundits say. In the 2021 federal election, Ms. Lantsman became the first openly lesbian and Jewish woman to be elected as a Conservative MP.
Scott Reid, a communications director for former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin who has long known Ms. Lantsman, says that at a glance she is a living checklist of qualities, and the Conservatives need to broaden their vote.
“She’s a woman. She’s Jewish. She’s from suburban Toronto, from the 905. She is openly gay,” Mr. Reid said. “She checks all of those obvious boxes that take you to an unobvious demographic for Pierre Poilievre and for the Conservatives.”
He said Ms. Lantsman’s professional experiences have honed her communications skills. She has been a director of communications to finance and foreign affairs ministers under Stephen Harper and was director of Doug Ford’s political war room, leading to his 2018 election as Premier. There have also been stints in the executive suites of CIBC Capital Markets, Coca-Cola and Hill + Knowlton Strategies.
Mr. Reid says she expresses herself with clarity that breaks through the noise of politics. And she is also conversational so doesn’t always sound like a politician.
However, Mr. Reid offered a caution, saying Ms. Lantsman sometimes shares one of what he calls Mr. Poilievre’s less-appealing qualities. “That clarity, that definitiveness, that conversational tone can manifest as a little uncompromising and partisan,” he said. “She has got to watch that edge. … In her good moments, she’s great. In her bad moments, she sounds like she is being reflexively partisan.”
Mr. Poilievre’s office did not reply to requests for comment on the Thornhill MP.
Tim Uppal, the other Conservative deputy leader and an MP for Edmonton Mill Woods, said Ms. Lantsman complements Mr. Poilievre’s communications skills. “The more people we have who are able to communicate at the highest level obviously helps. Melissa is one of those people. She is very good,” he said in an interview.
Ms. Lantsman, who also speaks Russian and French, said there are many pieces to her identity, which may help connect with diverse voters and show there is a place for them in the party.
“If my checkbox demographic does that in a way that attracts a new generation of Conservatives that are interested in a party that they have never looked at, that’s a good thing.”
She has been open about aspects of her life. Her wedding to litigator Lauren Rakowski was featured in a pictorial spread in Toronto Life magazine. She has been forthright about living with Crohn’s disease – a condition that can lead to severe pain.
“There’s parts of my life that I keep very private, and there’s parts of my life that will allow [people] to see themselves or see an advocate for them.”
Ms. Lantsman said her deputy leadership post has not tempered her inclination for candour: “In fact, I think that’s a big reason why potentially I am in this job,” she said. “I will give constructive advice on what the party can look like, should look like, and how we grow.
“I’ve never been shy about calling out what I think is wrong, what I think is directionally wrong. And I am not shy now.”