Conservative leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch has shot back at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, after he warned that “fringe voices” like Leitch could gain traction under a new voting system.

Leitch also added some confusion as to why her controversial former campaign manager Nick Kouvalis resigned, saying he quit over “health reasons” rather than Kouvalis’ explanation that he was attracting too much attention from her campaign.

Speaking to CTV’s Power Play on Friday, Leitch said she was “quite surprised” by the prime minister’s recent comments.

“Justin Trudeau and his elite friends, they are the fringe,” Leitch said.

On Thursday, a live microphone caught a one-on-one conversation between Trudeau and a woman in Iqaluit as the pair discussed proportional representation, an electoral system that some advocates say would be a more accurate reflection of the wide range of Canadian voters.

“Do you think that Kellie Leitch should have her own party?” Trudeau asked.

When the woman insisted that Leitch’s policies -- which include the controversial proposal to screen immigrants for so-called “Canadian values” -- are part of a different conversation, Trudeau argued they are not.

“Because if you have a party that represents the fringe voices … or the periphery of our perspectives, and they hold 10, 15, 20 seats in the House, they end up holding the balance of power.”

Leitch did not directly respond to a question asking whether she’d consider helming her own political party if she doesn’t become Conservative party leader and insisted her sole focus is winning the vote in May.

“And I’m looking forward to having these discussions with Justin Trudeau, because I know the average Canadian out there is with me. They are not the fringe. And newsflash for Justin Trudeau: they aren’t the fringe. He is.”

Leitch's take on Trump

Leitch wasn’t willing to weigh in on the prime minister’s reasoning that proportional representation could amplify some radical views, instead saying that she could not “speculate” on Trudeau’s plan.

“He obviously realized that average Canadians out there want something that’s common sense. I’ve been talking about common-sense ideas, and I’ll continue to do that,” she said.

Leitch, an Ontario MP and former surgeon, has been a divisive figure in the Conservative leadership race for months. She’s drawn criticism from her fellow candidates, with Quebec MP Maxime Bernier calling her a “karaoke version of Donald Trump."

Regardless, recent financial reports released in late January suggest that Leitch’s message has struck a chord with some supporters. Leitch raked in $355,000 worth of donations in the final three months of 2016, second only to Bernier at $586,000

Leitch said she has no plans to back away from any of her policies, including her stance on immigration, reiterating that they are “common sense” policies that “the majority of Canadians support,” citing multiple public opinion polls on the issue.

Asked about her stance on U.S. President Donald Trump’s travel ban, which has been temporarily blocked by a U.S. court and withstood a legal challenge Thursday from the U.S. Justice Department, Leitch said the United States “will make choices about what’s best for their country.”

“They made a choice in that country of who would be president. They’ll make choices for their country,” she said.

Kouvalis confusion

The abrupt departure of Leitch’s campaign manager, Nick Kouvalis, made Canadian political headlines last week. Kouvalis had apologized for using a profane word on Twitter to describe a political science professor, and he was the subject of a recent Maclean’s Magazine article that addressed his brash political tactics, which included the spread of false information on social media that the Canadian government directly funded terrorist groups overseas.

Kouvalis explained his departure in a Facebook statement, saying that when “a member of a campaign team becomes the focus of media coverage, the time comes to resign.” He added that the pressures of the campaign “are not conducive to my personal wellbeing.”

Leitch said that Kouvalis has apologized for his Twitter comments and remains on her team on a volunteer basis. But the reason for his departure, she said, was “health reasons.”

“It was a decision that was taken by his family. And I was very clear with him from the beginning of the campaign, he and I had an agreement, which was if his health became an issue for him and his family, his family and his health came first. And so he stepped aside,” she said.

It was the second time Kouvalis resigned from Leitch’s team. In April 2016, he quit after he was charged with impaired driving. At the time, he said he’d struggled with alcohol addiction for years.