Poilievre unveils House of Commons leadership team that includes two LGBT MPs

·5 min read
Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre addresses the caucus for the first time during a meeting in Ottawa on Monday. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre addresses the caucus for the first time during a meeting in Ottawa on Monday. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre revealed his Commons leadership team Tuesday in a social media post — a nine-member group that includes two LGBT MPs and one of the few persons of colour in the Conservative caucus.

Ontario MP Melissa Lantsman, a lesbian, and Alberta MP Tim Uppal, who is South Asian, will serve as Poilievre's deputy leaders. Both supported Poilievre in his successful bid to lead the party.

The team also includes representation from Atlantic Canada and Quebec, two regions where the party has struggled in recent elections.

Poilievre said these new faces are part of his "inflation-busting" leadership team. "First job: stop Trudeau's tax hikes and end #JustinFlation so workers and seniors can thrive," he said, using his gag name for inflation rates under the Liberal government.

Shortly after Poilievre announced his leadership team, long-time Quebec MP Alain Rayes announced he was quitting the Conservative caucus to sit as an independent. Rayes has criticized Poilievre publicly and has said he's pulling the party too far to the right.

Rayes served as the party's Quebec lieutenant, the most senior caucus position for a politician from that province. He said in a media statement Tuesday that some of his "political ideals, values and convictions are not compatible with the new path undertaken by our political formation."

The MP, who identifies as a "Progressive Conservative," backed former Quebec premier Jean Charest in the race. "I leave without bitterness and I remain driven by the deep desire to continue to serve the population on the political scene."

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press
Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Poilievre spoke to the media after Rayes' announcement.

The leader's office said Poilievre would deliver an on-camera statement about inflation — and would not take any questions from the press.

That prompted some cross-talk from at least one frustrated reporter, who interrupted Poilievre's remarks with some heckling. Poilievre ultimately agreed to take two questions from the assembled reporters.

When asked about the caucus defection, Poilievre said Rayes "decided not to fight Justin Trudeau's inflation."

"We are working to fight the deficits and the inflationary taxes that Justin Trudeau is imposing. The citizens of Rayes' riding agree. They voted for me during the leadership race," Poilievre said in French, citing his victory in Rayes's Richmond—Arthabaska seat in the leadership election.

"I think that all Conservatives that have stayed agree with me. We have to fight Justin Trudeau's inflation because Canadians can no longer pay their bills."

Two deputy leaders

Since her election last year, Lantsman, a former political staffer, lobbyist and CBC commentator, has been a fierce critic of the government's handling of the COVID-19 file.

As the party's transport "shadow minister," Lantsman has called for an end to vaccine mandates and the ArriveCAN app, which is used to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination at the border. She was an early supporter of some anti-vaccine mandate truckers who ultimately joined the Freedom Convoy.

Lantsman, 38, is younger than many of her caucus colleagues. She's also one of only two Tory MPs from the Greater Toronto Area.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press
Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Like Poilievre on the finance file, Lantsman has been active in question period, with incisive questions for Transport Minister Omar Alghabra.

Uppal, who represents Edmonton in the Commons, served as minister of state for democratic reform and later as minister of state for multiculturalism in former prime minister Stephen Harper's government. Under former leader Erin O'Toole, Uppal led the party's ethnic outreach efforts.

Uppal has apologized for his past support for the former Conservative government's proposal to introduce a "niqab ban" at citizenship ceremonies and a hotline to report "barbaric cultural practices" such as sexual slavery or "honour" killings.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press
Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Last year, Uppal told the Toronto Star these two policies still hang over the party's attempts to rebuild relationships with some racialized communities.

Only seven of the 119 Conservative MPs are Black, Indigenous or a person of colour (BIPOC).

Former Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, a vocal supporter of Poilievre in this race, will be the House leader, a prominent position that includes negotiating with the government on legislation and votes.

Scheer, a former Speaker, previously held this job under former interim leader Rona Ambrose. Quebec MP Luc Berthold will be his deputy.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press
Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay, who represents a suburban Vancouver riding, is the other woman on Poilievre's leadership team. Findlay will be the party's whip — an important position in any parliamentary democracy.

A party whip acts as an enforcer-in-chief, ensuring there are enough party members in the chamber for debates and votes. The whip also decides which committees a member will sit on and assigns office space and seats in the chamber.

Alberta MP Chris Warkentin will serve as the party's deputy whip and question period co-ordinator — the point person for the day's QP proceedings.

Ontario MP Eric Duncan, a gay man, will serve as Poilievre's party-caucus liaison, a position he also held when O'Toole was the party leader.

It will be Duncan's job to act as a go-between, connecting MPs and senators with party headquarters.

Duncan, who represents the eastern Ontario riding of Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry, was a popular surrogate in the last election, routinely stumping for would-be Conservative MPs in other areas of the province.

Pierre Paul-Hus will be the Quebec lieutenant, a reward of sorts for backing Poilievre's bid while a number of other prominent Tories from the province supported former Quebec premier Jean Charest.

New Brunswick MP Jake Stewart, one of only a handful of Conservative MPs from Atlantic Canada, will serve as the "caucus committee co-ordinator," a new position.