OTTAWA—Conservative leadership candidate Maxime Bernier says the best way to promote Canadian values is to provide new immigrants with economic opportunities to help them integrate into society—not screen them for unwelcome attitudes.
“I can tell you that new Canadians and people born in Canada agree with these values, so the best way to promote these Canadian values is to be sure to integrate new Canadians into our society, to offer them more opportunities and more freedom and that will help to promote these values,” Bernier said at a news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Sept. 7.
The Conservative Quebec MP was responding to an idea floated last week by leadership rival Kellie Leitch, whose campaign asked supporters in an email questionnaire whether the federal government should screen potential immigrants and refugees for what it called anti-Canadian values.
It generated a lot of reaction among political observers, including Conservatives, especially since Leitch had previously expressed regret for promoting a controversial Conservative election campaign promise last year to set up a tip line for so-called “barbaric cultural practices.”
Conservative strategist Jason Lietaer says it is clear the Leitch campaign believes this is a winning idea—even if it’s likely unworkable—and is trying to wedge rivals on the other side of the issue.
Some candidates have weighed in, with Deepak Obhrai calling the idea insulting to immigrants, and Michael Chong accusing Leitch of engaging in dog-whistle politics.
Leitch says her idea to vet newcomers for where they stand on issues such as religious tolerance and equality of opportunity would apply to visitors too, with her campaign saying she was referring to high-profile individuals such as the controversial American blogger known as Roosh V.
The Conservatives urged the Liberal government to bar the antifeminist pickup artist from visiting Canada earlier this year.
Leitch defended the provocative survey question, saying in a released statement that she feels strongly about screening out people who hold anti-Canadian values, including intolerance toward other religions, cultures, and sexual orientations; violent and/or misogynist behaviour; and a lack of acceptance of the “Canadian tradition of personal and economic freedoms.”
Bernier said he agrees with Leitch that Canadian values exist and he defined them as equality before the law and equality between men and women, as well as tolerance, freedom, and respect.
“They are fundamental. They are in line with Western society, and we must promote them in public policy,” he said.
But he disagreed with the idea of vetting immigrants, and not just because he doesn’t believe it would work.
“The problem of radical Islam does not concern only immigrants but also people born in this country,” he said.
Bernier noted that Michael Zehaf Bibeau, the gunman who stormed Parliament Hill nearly two years ago after fatally shooting an honour guard at the nearby National War Memorial, was born in Canada.
“I think the solution to that is to beef up our security agencies with more resources and more tools,” he said.
The survey sent to Leitch supporters, which her campaign said was based on issues that came up during her talks with Conservatives nationwide, did not refer specifically to Islam in its question about screening immigrants and refugees.
Neither did the statement from Leitch, but Bernier noted another question in the survey was about how Canada should respond to terrorist threats.
From The Canadian Press