Lewis’s success could be biggest win for farmers in Tory race

The biggest win Canadian producers, particularly those on the Prairies, might see in the crowning of a new Conservative Party of Canada leader may come from one of the contest’s losers.

Erin O’Toole won the leadership bid, beating out his chief rival, Peter MacKay. During the campaign, the two offered nearly identical, and fairly mundane, platforms for the agricultural sector.

But the unanticipated success of Leslyn Lewis should be considered a win for farmers. By performing significantly better than expected, particularly on the Prairies, she raised her stock within the party.

O’Toole and his inner circle would be ill advised to ignore the success of Lewis, and will likely be wanting to tap into some of the policies that helped contribute to her success.

It was Lewis who offered the most detailed agricultural platform, even if O’Toole and MacKay said all the right things to producers during their courtship of Conservatives.

While much of Lewis’s success was on the back of her social conservatism and pro-life views, her increase in stature could help draw attention to her agricultural policies.

For example, Lewis was the only candidate to definitively say restoring the AgriStability program to previous levels of covering 85 percent of margin losses would be a priority.

She was the only candidate to mention the program in her response to a survey from the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, despite it being a long-time focus of producer groups from coast to coast.

The Toronto-based lawyer who has never served in Parliament may not have jumped out at first glance as being the most likely Conservative leadership hopeful to best support agriculture, but her platform showed she understands issues important to producers.

That’s not to say O’Toole or MacKay didn’t understand the issues.

Each said removing the carbon tax would be their main priority for the sector, while also proposing to pursue international markets and remove regulatory burdens.

The similarities in the platforms are a win for producers, too, because each of the candidates showed an awareness of the issues and generally agreed on what they believed was best for the sector.

By avoiding ideological arguments on certain issues, the party may dodge internal squabbles that could potentially derail their prospects of getting elected.

It is now clear that when it comes to agriculture, Conservative party members are largely united.

That wasn’t the case during the last Conservative party leadership contest, when the future of supply management caused significant animosity within party ranks. That fissure widened into a minor identity crisis within the party and prompted an ugly exit from supply management’s chief enemy, Maxime Bernier.

This time around, there is more consensus among members. Supply management was supported by the leadership contenders.

Every Conservative who voted in the leadership contest supported a candidate who committed to protect Canada’s food supply from illegal blockades and eliminate unfair competition.

I’m still not sure to what degree any politician can reasonably achieve either of these goals, but at least the sentiment is consistent.

Each vote cast was also one in favour of improving broadband internet capabilities in rural areas and making intergenerational farm transfers easier. The Liberals have committed to doing the same.

Surely, any of the candidates would have been a positive for agriculture.

The Conservative party has a reputation, deservedly or not, for strongly accommodating farmers, who overwhelmingly vote Conservative in general elections. Lewis’s rising stock within party ranks could prove to be the biggest win for producers coming out of the leadership race.

D.C. Fraser is Glacier Farm Media’s Ottawa correspondent. Reach out to him by emailing dfraser@farmmedia.com.

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