HALIFAX — Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch is hoping her proposal to screen all prospective immigrants for "anti-Canadian values" is a moneymaker.
In a second fundraising email since she announced her policy, Leitch told her supporters two-thirds of Canadians agree with her. Eighty-seven percent of Conservatives polled support this "common-sense approach," Leitch said Tuesday, citing a recent poll by Forum Research.
Kellie Leitch speaks in the House of Commons on Oct. 21, 2013. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/CP)
"While the elites and most media harshly criticized even the mention of the discussion, you knew better," she wrote.
Canadians should "not shy away" from their Canadian values, she told supporters and Conservative party members. "We should be proud to talk about these values," she said. "And I want to keep these types of important conversations going.
But in order to keep talking, she said, her campaign needs more money.
"This leadership contest has nine months to go, and we need resources to make that happen."
Leitch asked for a tax-receiptable donation or help with making phone calls, selling memberships or campaigning on social media.
"Together we will stand up to those who don't want to discuss Canadian values and whose politically correct elitism remains tone deaf to the views of most Canadians."
"Together we will stand up to those who don't want to discuss Canadian values and whose politically correct elitism remains tone deaf to the views of most Canadians," she wrote. "With your support, we'll bring the voice of hardworking Canadians back to Parliament Hill."
Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth told The Huffington Post Canada that Canadian values are ever-moving.
"Nothing is ever stable in Canada, new generations, people from different countries bring different values all the time, it is one of the most wonderful gifts Canada has and to try to define it is ridiculous," she said.
What's more, the senator added, Leitch, as a former cabinet minister charged with the status of women portfolio, should be more concerned about poverty, day care and policies that impact women rather than this values business. "What on earth is she talking about, does she even know what Canadian values are?"
Ruth suggested Leitch is being tactical and that her polling data is likely very clear. "There are probably those who would like that, you know it's 'not in my backyard' stuff, 'I only want people like me.' Well, that's not the way the world is, and it's ungenerous of Canada, it's bad for the economy, it's great that there has been a protest within the party about it. I think it's fabulous."
Kellie Leitch arrives at the Conservative summer caucus retreat in Halifax on Sept. 13, 2016. (Photo: Andrew Vaughan/CP)
As she headed into the party's caucus meetings in Halifax Wednesday morning, Leitch told reporters that while others have their opinions, she plans to keep talking about a "unified Canadian identity" and looks forward to the debates.
"I'm running for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada and I will be the leader in May of 2017," she told reporters looking straight into the television cameras as she marched into the meeting room.
But after lunch, Leitch doubled down even further.
Yes, a number of people in her party and even some of her colleagues disagree with her, she said, but the leadership contest is the perfect time to speak about Canadian values.
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"I recognize others don't want to have that conversation and that's fine but I will be having that conversation with Canadians."
Many of her caucus mates were likely to talk about tax cuts and which candidate had the biggest or most interesting one, but only talking about "money and wealth," she said, is what would really distance the party from Canadians.
"For the first time, literally, for the first time in decades — I almost hesitate to say it, but it really is, the shirtless-selfie-induced delirium of the Liberals, for the first time in decades, the Liberals have ceded the ground on who defends Canadian values," Leitch said.
Perhaps, realizing she had messed up her sound bite, Leitch repeated her "shirtless selfie delirium" comment twice more to make her point. The Liberals couldn't be trusted to defend Canadian values, she suggested. Only the Conservatives would be the ones to "go out and protect Canadian values," she said.
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"For me, I'm a proud Canadian, I'm going to go out and talk to Canadians exactly about this issue they care about." There is no better time to do that, she added, than in the lead up to Canada's 150th birthday next year.
Interim party leader Rona Ambrose told reporters she would let the candidates debate and stay out of the race.
"Look leadership politics, all parties go through this, it is exciting, it is interesting to watch, there are a lot of candidates – there are still more candidates to come — but at the end of the day, there will be ideas discussed, and the membership will be the ones to judge," she said, throwing her hands in the air.
Leitch's proposal is already creating deep divisions.
Conservative leadership candidate Michael Chong suggested Tuesday that if Leitch were elected leader, the Tories would suffer the same fate as the Parti Québécois. That party lost nearly a quarter of its support after it introduced a controversial "values charter" that was viewed by many as being anti-immigrant or anti-Muslim.
"It's perfectly fine and reasonable to have debates on immigration or security screening, but we need to select words and a context that is positive about immigration because, if not, we are playing a game that is dangerous game," Chong, an Ontario MP, said.
Conservative MP Michael Chong speaks at a news conference in Ottawa on May 16, 2016. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)
Conservative leadership candidate and Alberta MP Deepak Obhrai said he disagreed strongly with Leitch and his "big concern" is that by talking that way the Tories were "sending an anti-immigrant message — which we do not want to do." Immigration built Canada, he said, and the bigger threat to Canadians' security comes from homegrown terrorism, not from newcomers.
Ontario MP and leadership contender Tony Clement, however, seemed to side with Leitch. He told reporters he spoke with her and told her it was "good for you for raising these issues.
"I don't think there is anything wrong with that," he said.
A day earlier, Ambrose had appealed for party unity. Conservatives have "no intentions" of going back to the days of political discord, she had told her caucus.
But with a leadership race nine months long that may prove to be difficult.
Conservatives pick a new leader on May 27, 2017.