OTTAWA -- Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch is defending herself against criticism she's using Donald Trump-style politics to try to win her bid to take charge of the party.
Leitch accused Michael Chong, another leadership hopeful, of calling her racist during a debate on CTV's Question Period.
"The prime minister has to work with the incoming American administration, of course. But I think that's a whole lot different than importing Trump-style politics north of the border, which has been so divisive south of the border," Chong said in response to a question about how he would get along with Trump, the U.S. president-elect who has vowed to block Muslim visitors from entering the country and who drew support from the Ku Klux Klan.
Critics of Trump’s plan say visitors aren’t screened for the faith.
Leitch suggested Chong was dealing her a low blow in that response.
"Michael, I will say that I thought you were a little bit above that," Leitch said.
"I am not a racist. I am not a person who's out groping other individuals. I do not do those things and I don't think that the Canadians who support the ideas I'm talking about do those types of things."
Leitch has proposed screening immigrants for Canadian values, though she hasn't said exactly what that would entail. During Wednesday's Conservative leadership debate, she also referred several times to sharing Trump's view on immigration screening.
Chong, on the other hand, has described his upbringing as the son of Dutch and Chinese immigrants, and condemned Leitch's Canadian-values screening proposal.
Asked whether Leitch was saying Trump is a racist who gropes people, Leitch returned to her previous point.
"I don't do those things. I never have, I never will, I don't condone them. I think that anyone who tries to, by inference, say that I do, I'm disappointed in that," she said to Evan Solomon, host of CTV's Question Period.
"I found it concerning, as I say, what Mr. Chong was just saying about myself, and I guess what you were inferring as well, Evan."
Neither Solomon nor Chong said Lietch was racist.
Chong says he's running for the Conservative Party leadership because he wants to build a party that welcomes everyone.
"Kellie Leitch has clearly indicated that she admires Trump's style of politics. I think that style of campaigning has no place north of the border," Chong said.
"Of course we can differ on policy issues like immigration, like the economy, but at the end of the day, Canada is not the United States and the Conservative Party is not the Republican Party."
Former Conservative cabinet minister Peter MacKay says he doesn’t think Leitch’s strategy of aligning herself with Trump’s immigration policies will be effective.
"There's a different tone and a certainly different tolerance in Canada when it comes to this debate," MacKay said in a discussion on CTV’s Question Period.
"I don't think the broader message that Kellie's talking about, quite frankly, right now has resonance with the broader population."
MacKay says a more effective strategy would be to discuss the stagnant economy.
"That to me is a more successful path to leadership," he said.