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Conservative stalwart Scott Reid backing newcomer Leslyn Lewis for leadership

Last Updated Jul 7, 2020 at 2:54 pm EDT

Conservative MP Scott Reid speaks in the House of Commons to pay tribute to the late Deepak Obhrai on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. Reid, one of the longest-serving Conservative members of Parliament, is backing newcomer Leslyn Lewis in the party's leadership race. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA — One of the longest-serving Conservative members of Parliament is backing newcomer Leslyn Lewis in that party’s leadership race.

Ontario MP Scott Reid announced he’s endorsing Lewis in the contest, which is set to wrap up in just under two months.

Reid says the last time he was this excited about a leadership candidate was in 2004, when Stephen Harper became the boss of the newly formed Conservative party.

The party was the result of a merger between the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties; Reid had been a negotiator for the Alliance side in the move.

The leader of the PC’s at the time? Peter MacKay — one of three candidates currently running against Lewis.

The others are two sitting MPs: Erin O’Toole and Derek Sloan.

Reid took a swipe at MacKay in his endorsement letter for Lewis, alleging MacKay will toss MPs off the front benches if they vote for pro-life policies.

Reid says Lewis is the only candidate who has made it clear that MPs will not be disciplined for voting in accordance with their consciences or the wishes of their constituents.

He’s found himself in trouble on that score, disclosing in a public essay late last year that he was disciplined by current leader Andrew Scheer for supporting the legalization of cannabis.

He’d done so after polling his constituents and finding them in favour of that approach.

Reid has been an MP since 2000, and currently represents the Ontario riding of Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston.

He and fellow Ontario MP Cheryl Gallant are the longest serving Tories in the House of Commons. She has endorsed MacKay.

Reid’s endorsement of Lewis comes ahead of the party mailing out ballots to the membership. Those have to be returned by Aug. 21 and the winner is expected to be announced the following week.

Lewis, a Toronto-based lawyer, has never held elected office, though she tried and failed to win for the Conservatives in a Toronto riding in 2015.

She entered the race largely unknown, championing socially conservative views and policies, and her campaign has steadily been picking up steam, both in endorsements and donations.

Reid said she alone understands what it will take for the party to win.

“A party of ideas and policy innovation, like ours, can only win if it builds a broad-based coalition, built on a multiplicity of ideas and ideals,” he wrote in his endorsement letter, circulated by the Lewis campaign.

“More than any other candidate in recent memory, Leslyn Lewis understands this, and she articulates it beautifully.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 7, 2020.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press