Melissa Lantsman has completed the leap from Thornhill to Ottawa

(Credit: @MelissaLantsman)

When the new session of Parliament started in late November, the job of asking the first question in the House of Commons after the Speech from the Throne was given to Melissa Lantsman, the rookie Conservative MP from the riding of Thornhill.

It put a new spotlight on the former political strategist, even if she was no stranger to media attention, after years of appearing on political pundit panels. (For a few months, she also co-hosted the Bonjour Chai podcast on The CJN Podcast Network.)

“Mr. Speaker: It is an honour to rise in the House of Commons for the very first time as the Member of Parliament for the riding of Thornhill,” Lantsman said, as her colleagues cheered and clapped.

Then she went on the attack, gesturing animatedly with her arms, as she scolded the Liberal government for barely talking about the inflation crisis that is impacting her constituents.

“Can the Member opposite tell Canadians what measures in today’s speech, in which inflation was mentioned a grand total of one time, will address the cost of living in my community, in Thornhill?”

Being tapped to ask the lead off question was just another display of the confidence which Opposition Leader Erin O’Toole has in Lantsman, 38, who handily won her seat in Canada’s most Jewish federal riding, north of Toronto. (Jews represent 37 percent of the population.) It was previously held by former broadcaster Peter Kent—who threw his support behind his successor when he decided to retire after a 13-year political career.

Lantsman was named to the Tories’ shadow cabinet on Nov. 9, as official opposition critic for the transportation file. She’s the only Jewish MP in that high profile role, and is one of only two Conservative MPs elected in the 44th Parliament—along with Winnipeg’s Marty Morantz, from Winnipeg. Lantsman is also the first MP who’s both Jewish and LGBTQ+.

Soon after, another sign of her importance to the party: Lantsman prominently appeared in a well-received Conservative video declaring how they are ready to fight for Canada.

Embracing her role

Whether it’s keeping on top of how the government is responding to the flooded roads and damaged rail lines in B.C., or criticizing the new rules for COVID-19 testing at airports that are impacting returning Canadians, Lantsman has embraced her new life as the go-to questioner in Ottawa.

“I’m not unfamiliar with how much time it is going to take, and how much you have to devote to being a good parliamentarian, because there are a lot of different hats that you’ve got to wear,” Lantsman told The CJN Daily, referring to her previous stints as a former political staffer herself, beginning with the Stephen Harper government.

Later, she headed the war room for Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s 2018 election campaign, and after his victory, she joined Hill and Knowlton, a Toronto public relations firm.

“I thrive in those kind of environments,” she added. “I’m a little bit less rubber-chicken dinner and a little bit more giving out packages of chicken to those who need it.”

Blue and white colours

In late October, Lantsman was sworn in during a special ceremony in Ottawa and she chose to bring an ArtScroll bible. Her move-in plans for the Ottawa office in the Confederation Building included a distinctive mezuzah to the door. The artifact is made out of parts of an Iron Dome rocket, and had previously been a gift from the late Rabbi Reuven Bulka to Peter Kent.

“Let’s have fun in the office, put a mezuzah up, and make sure that the constituents of Thornhill know that this is a welcoming place to choose,” she said, “and that a Jewish person now occupies that seat.”

Representing such a heavily Jewish riding did not make her campaign completely smooth. Lantsman was the target of mysterious attack leaflets claiming to be from members of the Jewish religious community, although she actually did have the support of several prominent rabbis. She also faced what she called “threats” that required beefed-up security measures and consultations with York Regional Police.

While she supports more police enforcement of existing laws outlawing hate crimes and other antisemitic acts, such as the recent discovery of a swastika on an public utility box in her riding, Lantsman is leery of the Liberals’ pledge to enact new legislation within the first 100 days in office to clamp down on online hate-speech.

“I’m not sure that the answer is just ‘Get rid of all of it and it will magically go away’,” she said. “I think there has to be another piece of this and there have to be powerful deterrents to see if somebody is painting a swastika on something, when somebody is flying a flag, when antisemitism exists right here at home in my community… that there is a consequence for doing that and right now we haven’t seen any of that.”

The day after Hanukkah, Lantsman wore a blue blazer and a white shirt to work, as she joined other politicians and educators from across Ontario for a day of silently calling attention to antisemitism. An initiative launched by Jewish groups—including NCSY and Hasbara Fellowships in Canada—saw participants wear blue and white, and share photo evidence on social media.

Not only are her verbal skills and her lively social media presence garnering plenty of attention since her debut on the federal scene, her wardrobe choices are also getting her noticed.

Lantsman unlocked a new achievement on the fourth day of her new duties, when a satirical Twitter account that looks at fashion on Parliament Hill tipped their hats to her white blouse tied to look like a bow tie, and her statement blazers. But they didn’t heed her preferred footwear.

“I think there should be more sneakers in the House of Commons, and that’s totally allowed,” Lantsman said, adding that the accessory she wore to work on the first day of Parliament was something much more sentimental.

Although she declined to say exactly what it was, it belonged to her late mother Ora Lantsman, who died on Oct. 28, 2020, nearly a year to the date of her daughter’s swearing-in ceremony.

“I will wear one of the many, many things that I got from her, because there is one thing that is missing in all of this journey, and it’s her seeing me, so when I take my seat in the House of Commons, she will be there.”

LISTEN AND WATCH: The CJN Daily interviews with Melissa Lantsman and Ya’ara Saks