Chris Alexander on 'barbaric cultural practices': 'It's why we lost'
OTTAWA -- The Conservative proposal to set up a barbaric cultural practices tipline is one of the reasons the party lost the 2015 election, former immigration minister Chris Alexander says.
"I regret very much several issues that we blew up to a scale they should never have reached in the last campaign. It's why we lost," Alexander said in an interview with Evan Solomon, host of CTV's Question Period.
"It was a terrible campaign. That announcement was the wrong one for that time."
Alexander is now considering a run for the Conservative Party leadership. He says he's finalizing the paperwork and will make a formal announcement in the coming weeks.
He'll be facing off against Conservative MP Kellie Leitch, who appeared with Alexander last fall to promise the creation of the tipline, which was widely denounced and mocked on social media by people pointing out those in need of a tipline to report a crime could call 911. Leitch has distanced herself from the announcement, but says she stands by the message. She's also since promoted the idea of a Canadian values test for immigrants, which other Conservative leadership candidates have roundly criticized.
Despite disavowing the tipline, Alexander - like Leitch - said the underlying value behind the announcement is important.
"I'm not going to back away from my commitment to women and girls who are facing the horror of forced marriage. It happens in Canada, it happens to 15 million girls and young women around the world every year, and young men as well," Alexander said.
"I think Canadians get it. But we allowed ourselves to be portrayed in the last election as unwelcoming. That was a huge mistake."
'Not my policy'
While Conservative leadership candidate Michael Chong has been strongly critical of Leitch's proposal to apply a values test to new Canadians, calling it dog-whistle politics, Alexander took a gentler approach.
"It's certainly not my policy. It does make a lot of immigrants ... nervous," he said.
"It makes them feel unwelcome and it's not workable in immigration terms. I can tell you that as someone who was very committed to defending Canadian values as minister of citizenship and immigration for two and a half years."
Alexander also faced criticism as immigration minister over the slow pace of Syrian refugee approvals and lack of information made available under his leadership. The Conservatives pledged in January, 2015, to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. When the haunting photo of Alan Kurdi, a toddler who drowned while fleeing and who drew an emotional reaction from Canadians in the middle of the election, Alexander says the Conservative campaign didn't react quickly enough.
"I very much regret that after Alan Kurdi's body was photographed on that beach, and we all mourned his loss and what was happening in the Mediterranean and across Europe, we didn't respond as fast as we could have with a much stronger commitment to Syrian refugees," Alexander said.
"I wanted us to respond quickly after that day. It took us two weeks. I think that was a mistake as well."
Alexander says Canada has to do more to end the conflict in Syria, which has drive millions into neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan, and cost 400,000 lives. He says it was a mistake for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to pull Canadian fighter jets out of the mission to fight Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.
"This is the biggest terrorist challenge, [Syrian leader Bashar al-] Assad is the biggest thug on the block, and there's no plan to deal with them. Outsourcing management of Syria to Vladimir Putin should not be an option, either for Washington or Ottawa, but our current prime minister seems perfectly happy with that," Alexander said.
The Conservative Party will elect its next leader on May 27, 2017.