OTTAWA — Lisa Raitt chose to enter the Conservative party leadership race after a kitchen-table conversation with family and friends in her hometown of Sydney, N.S.
But it's the conversations she's had since that she believes hold her key to victory.
"The typical Conservative voter will go up to my counterparts, but who I get are the women over 60, and the moms and the younger single women who come up to talk to me about what's important to them," Raitt said in a roundtable interview with The Canadian Press.
Lisa Raitt poses for a photo on Parliament Hill on May 9, 2017. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
So as party members begin ranking their choices for leadership, with results to be announced on May 27, Raitt is focusing her energies on tracking down those women and encouraging them to vote for her.
She sees them as akin to the disenfranchised men believed crucial to U.S. President Donald Trump's upset victory in that country's election last year — no one saw those votes coming.
And Raitt said that of the 259,000 eligible to vote in the Conservative campaign, there's about 70,000 who appear to have signed up on their own and not as part of any leadership campaign or third-party effort.
"(They are) looking for somebody who understands the unique circumstances that aren't middle class or millennial because that's what everybody is talking about," she said.
'I see you, I know who you are'
She admittedly doesn't know how many of the mystery voters are women, but she's had enough conversations along the way to begin adjusting her campaign to speak to them, talking about her life as a suburban working mother, her policies on health care, getting young people working and emphasizing a simple idea.
"I see you, I know who you are, I won't forget you when I'm making policy."
Raitt said getting attention for her policies on a national level has been a challenge.
She's rolled out national infrastructure idea, a pledge to create a dementia strategy and a targeted tax program, but nothing had as big a bang as her steadfast opposition to celebrity businessman Kevin O'Leary's presence in the race.
Explains the French issue
Her efforts included launching a website devoted to stopping him, and having campaign staff dress up as faux American presidents bearing O'Leary name tag at conservative events.
O'Leary is gone now, arguing he couldn't get enough support in Quebec to win a general election in 2019.
One reason? He doesn't speak French. That's a knock against Raitt, too, though she said she's well on her way there.
The reason she's not bilingual already is due to how her political career rolled out after becoming an MP and a cabinet minister in 2008.
"I made that lifestyle choice that I was going to focus on minister, MP and family," she said.
"Bringing in French to the mix was too much of a strain in terms of other things were going to be hurt and, quite frankly, at that point in time I was more worried about the effect of being a minister on my babies as opposed to anything else in the future coming down my path."
There are some Conservatives who mutter that Raitt's time ought to be focused on something else coming down her path — her husband was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's just before she declared her candidacy.
She's aware of the whisper campaign, she said.
"If that person wants to tell people, 'Lisa really shouldn't be doing this because she has all these other responsibilities,' that kind of stuff, I pity that contender in the future when they encounter difficulties in their life time," she said.
"Because life isn't perfect and no one is ever going to have a perfect home-life balance."
Where Raitt wants to shift the balance is in the House of Commons.
'I'm not nice'
The last two years have been "nicey-nice," she said, with the Liberals holding back their punches on interim Opposition leader Rona Ambrose.
"But Rona's nice," she said.
"I'm not nice. And how (Trudeau) deals with that will be interesting. Does he go to what his innate feeling may be versus what he told he should do? And I am going to have an awful lot of fun poking at that sore."
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