Canadian Politics

Which came first: the people or the media coverage?

At some point on Sunday, August 23, the new Conservative Party of Canada leader will be announced to a mostly empty room, after which members of the media will not longer be knocking in Andrew Scheer’s door – and not just because he has to move out of Stornoway.

In his final days as CPC leader, Scheer was asked by CBC’s Natasha Fatah some questions regarding his party and visible minorities.

“Whether it is accurate or not, the perception does exist that the Conservative Party has failed to be a place where people of diverse backgrounds feel ‘my voice can be heard, I feel safe here, I can be a participant in the conservative message and the conservative direction of this country’,” Fatah said.

“Why is the conservative party not able to break through this barrier?”

“Well I just believe that’s completely false,” Scheer replied.

“That is a mainstream media narrative that, uh, that many of the major networks like to try to concoct… Justin Trudeau… blackface… so, in our party, we believe in the fundamental quality of all human beings – we don’t play the identity politics game.”

“Our party has a tremendous amount of grassroots support throughout every ethnic community in this country, we have a very diverse group of MPs… one of the leadership candidates herself is a Black Canadian who is doing a tremendous job reflecting the diversity of this country – so, I completely reject the mainstream media narrative that many of the networks are trying to create.”

Scheer attempted to remain non-committal on the leadership race up until recently, and couldn’t personally take any credit, or responsibility, for failing to mention the amount of diversity in the race by bringing attention to the lone candidate who was neither white nor male.

However, he claims the party – any by extension its members – does not “play identity politics”, and in that case, Lewis’ campaign made the decision not to make her identity part of the conversation.

Leslyn Lewis became the first woman registered for the CPC leadership on February 12, 2020, according to The Canadian Press. CTV, The Star. the Globe and Mail, carried the story.

“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 Canadian Press noted.

Lewis did appear on the Faytene Show February 4, Rebel Media (paywalled) on February 18, and at an event for the Christian Herald on February 25.

The lone female candidate also continued meeting with Conservative-friendly outlets, attending an interview on True North’s Andrew Lawton Show March 15, and another with the director of Campaign Life Coalition at the virtual March for Life rally May 20.

In March, 2020, she became more willing to engage with mainstream media appearing on CTV March 10 and CBC March 12.

Mainstream media (news networks and print outlets) was not deterred from writing about her candidacy, whether she offered them time or not.

Joe Warmington wrote an opinion piece in the Toronto Sun February 8, with additional articles showing up in The Chronicle Herald, National Post, and CBC on March 10, 11 and 12, respectively.

The race was briefly postponed after the pandemic was in full swing across the country in April and May but once it was running again, Leslyn Lewis was the main focus of CTV and Hill Times on June 2 and 3, again in Postmedia on June 17, and the Winnipeg Free Press on June 26.

Scheer may have a point – the above list came from top hits on the first four pages of Google – but a lacklustre campaign strategy, and the fact that Lewis, along with Derek Sloan, were regarded early on as “also rans” helped keep Lewis from receiving a lot of media attention.

Considering the surprise ending of the 2017 CPC leadership race which resulted in Andrew Scheer’s win, there’s certainly a case to be made that media outlets should have ensured they devoted the same amount of time to all four candidates.

On the other hand, how many mainstream media organizations can afford to waste valuable (and dwindling) resources on candidates who aren’t likely to place in the top two? With more well-known candidates, Peter MacKay and Erin O’Toole, considered to bea early front-runners – and their intermittent sniping at one other – Lewis’ campaign simply didn’t register outside of special interest groups.

Those special interest groups, however, are where Leslyn Lewis can expect to receive the most support.

Andrew Coyne, who was part of the Leadership special on Power and Politics, noted that Campaign Life Coalition boasted of signing up more than 23,000 people to vote in the race. Coyne also said that the group was encouraging their contacts to vote for the two strong social conservatives, Lewis and Derek Sloan, over MacKay or O’Toole.

It’s also relevant to note that the leadership race is only open to Conservative Party of Canada members and is therefore of minor interest to the general population in the country and not particularly newsworthy during a global pandemic.

Scheer was almost able to make a point that he would place the question of momentum back on Natasha Fateh but he missed the real issue – Fateh equated the “energy and momentum” for a currently un-elected party leadership candidate who may not see a general election for three years, with that of Kamala Harris who was officially chosen to run as for Vice President of the United States in less than three months.

Neither Lewis nor Canada’s electoral cycle is at that stage yet, and neither is its relevance in the Canadian news cycle.

The argument, as always, is more nuanced than a three minute clip or a 280-character quip on Twitter.

Leslyn Lewis is not the first Black woman to run for leadership of a federal party (Rosemary Brown challenged Ed Broadbent for the NDP leadership in 1975), and if she wins Sunday, she will not be the first person of colour to win the leadership of a federal Party (Jagmeet Singh, 2017), and since the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh competed as the leader of a federal party in 2015, should Lewis win Sunday, she will not be the first person of colour to compete for the role of Prime Minister.

With that being said, if she were to win the leadership, Dr. Leslyn Lewis would be the first woman of colour to compete in a general election to lead the country and I would expect that to be a notable topic of conversation in the lead up to the next election.

For those who think they have a great point to make that Kamala Harris’ role right now, three months before a general election is at all equitable to Leslyn Lewis’ three years away… settle down – mainstream media will cover it when, and if, it’s actually relevant.

This post contains opinion.

Deirdre Mitchell-MacLean is a political analyst physically distancing in Southern Alberta.

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