Conservative leadership candidate Maxime Bernier came out against fellow candidate Kellie Leitch’s idea to screen potential immigrants for “anti-Canadian values” Tuesday as Leitch continued to defend her plan.
Bernier told reporters in Gatineau, Que., Tuesday that he agrees with Leitch that there are core Canadian values “that must be protected and respected,” including equality before the law, equality between men and women, tolerance and freedom.
However, he said he believes the best way to promote those values is through “more opportunities and more freedom” for immigrants, in addition to giving security agencies fighting extremism “more resources and more tools.”
Bernier said the government should have policies in place to support the “core values that go with Western societies” but that “questionnaires and things like that” won’t work. He said Canada already has good screening in place for immigrants.
“The problem of radical Islam does not concern only immigrants also but people born in this country,” he went on.
“As you know, what happened in our country two years ago was from a Canadian born in Canada,” he said, apparently referring to the terror attack on Parliament Hill that killed Cpl. Nathan Cirillo on Oct. 22, 2014.
Bernier’s comments echo those made by interim party leader Rona Ambrose on CTV’s Question Period, which aired Sunday.
Ambrose said she “doesn’t support the idea” behind the proposal and that “no one talked about this” at the party’s recent convention.
MP Michael Chong, who is also running to replace Stephen Harper, posted on Facebook last week that Leitch’s proposal has been called “the worst of dog-whistle politics.”
“In order to win in 2019 we need to build a modern and inclusive Conservative Party that focuses squarely on pocket book issues that matter to Canadians, and not on issues that pit one Canadian against another,” he added.
Despite the criticism, Leitch stood by her plan Tuesday, telling The Canadian Press: "I don't think it's intolerant to believe in a set of values that we expect everyone to share here and include those people who are coming to visit or immigrate to Canada.”
Leitch said she believes in a "unified Canadian identity" that includes equality of opportunity, hard work, giving back to the community, equality of men and women, as well tolerance for all religions, cultures and sexual orientations and the rejection of violence.
She called it unfair to make parallels between her proposal and Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump’s plan for “extreme vetting.”
"This is about protecting Canadian values and people that believe that women are property, that they can be beaten and bought or sold, or believe that gays or lesbians should be stoned because of who they love, don't share in my opinion, basic Canadian values," Leitch said.
Bernier was asked Tuesday whether the debate over immigration might lead to a split in the Conservative Party.
He responded that there are “no taboo topics” for the party, so he is happy to discuss immigration.
However, he said he is focused on “topics that are of concern to Canadians” such as economic growth.
“I believe that, at the end of the day, Conservatives will unite…” he added.
“Beyond that, if we want to form the government in four years, we have to try to convince other Canadians who are not members of the Conservative Party that we have adequate policies for all Canadians.”
Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai, who is also running for leader, issued a statement Tuesday that said his campaign will “not only focus on core conservative values but will also be based on inclusion practices and embracing the diversity that is Canada.”
“My work in the last 19 years has had me do outreach to so many marginalized Canadians that are not just visible minorities, but also include young Canadians, Francophones, Aboriginals and so many more, who feel that their issues are not being fully addressed currently in the Conservative Party,” the campaign statement said.
“By bringing these Conservative core values and merging them with Inclusiveness and Diversity Policies, Deepak believes the Conservative Party will be a home for all Canadians, and ensure that Canada not only continues to be a leader on the world stage but is economically responsible to its citizens as well.”
With files from The Canadian Press