Adam Zivo: LGBTQ Conservative MP highlights the party’s changing mores

, Adam Zivo: LGBTQ Conservative MP highlights the party’s changing mores, The Evepost National News

Melissa Lantsman’s political ascent is an important consideration for anyone interested in understanding the ongoing evolution of Canadian conservatism

Article content

Melissa Lantsman is a relatively young conservative, a lesbian and the newly elected MP for Thornhill, a suburban riding outside of Toronto. She is one of eight openly LGBTQ MPs currently elected to Parliament, and the second openly gay Conservative MP in Canadian history.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

Though some may argue that her orientation is irrelevant, Lantsman’s political ascent is an important consideration for anyone interested in understanding the ongoing evolution of Canadian conservatism, especially given the Conservatives’ post-election identity crisis.

“There is a postmortem to be had. Canadians don’t trust us yet and there may need to be an articulation of vision and a change of policy,” she said during a phone interview on Friday.

Lantsman has been a political operative for most of her life, working on Conservative campaigns both provincially and federally since the Harper era. She quickly established herself as a high-level communications specialist, and then successfully transitioned to become a private-sector lobbyist after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected in 2015.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

Given her extensive network and formidable reputation, her candidacy in Thornhill was endorsed by some big-name Conservatives, including former prime minister Stephen Harper, which contributed to her decisive victory last week.

Despite being generally well received by the party, Lantsman hasn’t been shy about criticizing the Tories in the past. In 2019, she wrote a passionate op-ed arguing that the party needed to modernize its positions on LGBTQ rights, noting that LGBTQ people are now widely accepted by Canadians and that ignoring this would be unwise.

Her analysis was evidently on-point, given that, even today, LGBTQ issues are used as a wedge through which other parties position Conservatives as prejudiced and out-of-touch with majoritarian values.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

Lantsman also appealed to social conservatives by arguing that LGBTQ rights are compatible with family values, since families come in all shapes and sizes. She made the case that supporting these rights is not anti-religious, as equality of opportunity is not a zero-sum game: everyone benefits when they have the freedom to live their lives as they choose.

Her perspective provides a common-sense, libertarian-minded compromise between social conservatism and progressivism. It is wrong to limit individuals’ freedoms based on who they are or what they believe, and that is as true for sexual orientation and gender as it is for religion.

Her focus on expanding traditional values to encapsulate previously excluded groups is a constructive alternative to viewing social conservative values as inherently antagonistic to gender and sexual minorities. “This is about individual rights and less government intrusion, and fundamentally this is about equality for every individual,” said Lantsman.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

Her libertarian views on social issues make sense, given her family history. Her Jewish parents fled the Soviet Union to escape repression and anti-Semitism, and this legacy imbued her with a lifelong appreciation for free choice and the value of tradition, as well as a distrust of big government.

Lantsman is the type of moderate Conservative who can appeal to urban and suburban voters. But given that she was one of only three Tories to win in the Greater Toronto Area — a region Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole hoped to make deep inroads into — there are questions about whether the party will continue to pivot toward the centre.

Yet the narrative that the Conservatives failed to make inroads in Ontario isn’t completely true. In the 2019 election, the Liberals ended up getting 25.6 per cent more votes than the Conservatives in Ontario; in 2021, that lead was halved to 12.9 per cent (and that’s after the People’s party siphoned away Conservative votes).

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

As everyone has been hyper-focused on seat counts, the Conservatives’ popular vote gains in Ontario have largely been missed. If the Conservatives want to continue to push these gains until they translate into flipped seats, prematurely abandoning O’Toole-style politics would be unwise.

, Adam Zivo: LGBTQ Conservative MP highlights the party’s changing mores, The Evepost National News

“All voices are important to Canadian conservatism,” noted Lantsman. “This has to be a place that any Canadian, no matter who they are, feels welcome — that’s the basis of any successful party.”

A major driver of the Conservatives’ current identity crisis is their abandonment of fiscal conservatism, but this is inextricably tied to the pandemic, which made it impossible to embrace spending reductions without committing political suicide.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

As the pandemic continues to subside and Canadians begin to feel the hangover of outsized stimulus spending, fiscal conservatism will likely see a resurgence, naturally fixing the Conservatives’ current struggle to differentiate themselves from the Liberals. This should then give the party more leeway to adjust its stances on social issues, without coming across as Liberal copycats.

If the Conservative party remains moderate on social issues — and if it wants that moderation to be believed by Canadian voters — it will need figures like Lantsman to help facilitate that change. As a conservative, she can support modernization in a way that respects conservative values. As a lesbian, she can provide the kind of community-based knowledge and authenticity that shows Canadians that modernization efforts, at least in this area, are genuine.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

This isn’t to suggest that Lantsman is defined by her sexuality, which she considers just part of the larger mosaic of her life. She said she is focused on championing the causes that matter to her constituents. “We’re far behind on building the infrastructure we need to move forward,” she said. “I also have a large Jewish constituency and they’re concerned about the rise of anti-Semitism and polarization.”

Luckily, she has found a home in the Conservative party, which has made this all possible. “There are many people who ask how it is that I’m a Conservative, but Erin O’Toole has been nothing but welcoming,” said Lantsman. “There’s been generational change and this attitude has become commonplace.”

National Post

The big issues are far from settled. Sign up for the NP Comment newsletter, NP Platformed.

  1. , Adam Zivo: LGBTQ Conservative MP highlights the party’s changing mores, The Evepost National News

    Adam Zivo: The Conservative trans candidate who’s being conveniently ignored by the left-wing media

  2. , Adam Zivo: LGBTQ Conservative MP highlights the party’s changing mores, The Evepost National News

    Adam Zivo: Justin Trudeau has failed LGBTQ Canadians

Advertisement

Story continues below

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.