Skip to main content

Conservative leadership hopeful Leslyn Lewis takes part in the Conservative Party of Canada French-language leadership debate in Laval, Que., on May 25.Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Leslyn Lewis says she won’t attend next week’s party debate for Conservative leadership candidates unless certain topics are raised, including abortion, the World Economic Forum and the WHO Pandemic Treaty.

“If we are not going to address these topics, I don’t see how I can justify anything other than going straight to the members myself to answer these questions,” Ms. Lewis says in an open letter to the leadership organizing committee of the party.

The candidate for the party leadership claims that Conservative party members want answers to six questions on topics including abortion; an inquiry into the pandemic response; alleged severe adverse reactions to COVID-19 vaccines; and the World Economic Forum “and their plans for programs that encroach on the privacy of Canadians.”

Ms. Lewis, a lawyer who placed third in the last Conservative leadership race, has declined to disclose her own vaccination status, denounced discrimination based on vaccine status, and blamed the Liberal government for divisions that have emerged during the pandemic.

She is an opponent of abortion access who has advanced a policy of ending sex-selective abortion and, according to her website, supports “pregnancy care centres” (which are known for discouraging abortions) and also says Canada’s overseas funding should be directed to support mothers and children rather than fund abortions.

The MP for the Ontario riding of Haldimand-Norfolk said these were questions “everyday Conservatives” are asking.

Among other subjects, she also wants a question about what the party will say when the Liberals “inevitably” bring up abortion in the next election.

“I cannot in good conscience fritter away an opportunity to meet thousands of Canadians who are desperate for answers so that I could attend an impromptu meeting with leadership candidates to discuss questions to which the answers have already been memorialized in previous debate videos that exist online,” Ms. Lewis writes in her letter.

Her comments represent a new challenge for the Aug. 3 debate, organized after the party took a vote of members to see if they wanted the event. It stands to be the third official debate after events in Edmonton, Alta., and Laval, Que., north of Montreal.

Leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre’s campaign said in a statement last week that he will not attend the debate because he would prefer to be encouraging party members to complete and send out their ballots.

When Mr. Poilievre refused to attend the debate, party spokesman Yaroslav Baran cited a section of the party’s leadership campaign rules that says failure to participate in a party-sanctioned debate will result in an automatic $50,000 penalty – or any amount deemed appropriate by the party’s leadership debates committee.

On Wednesday, Mr. Baran said the request from Ms. Lewis is a non-starter.

“Obviously, it would be inappropriate for anybody to dictate what the questions are going to be as a condition for attendance,” he said.

He said planning is advancing on the format and logistics for the debate, and the campaigns have been asked to confirm by Thursday whether or not they will attend this week. “We need to get a picture of who’s going to be attending in order to plan it properly,” he said.

Mr. Baran said organizers have been in touch with all of campaigns, including Mr. Poilievre’s, about plans for the debate.

In her letter, Ms. Lewis says the short notice for the debate has left her campaign with the challenge of changing travel plans and cancelling events with grassroots supporters.

The next debate was initiated because of a vote by party members. Last week, the Conservative Party tweeted that 65 per cent of members voting on the question of whether to hold a third debate had supported the idea, out of a total of 24,000 members.

The new leader will be announced on Sept. 10, concluding a race that began when Erin O’Toole was voted out by his caucus in February.

There are five candidates in the race. In addition to Ms. Lewis and Mr. Poilievre, they are Ontario MP Scott Aitchison, former Quebec premier Jean Charest and Roman Baber, a former Progressive Conservative member of the Ontario legislature. Mr. Aitchison, Mr. Baber and Mr. Charest have all committed to attend the debate.

For subscribers: Get exclusive political news and analysis by signing up for the Politics Briefing.