09/06/2016 03:29 EDT | Updated 09/06/2016 05:06 EDT

Maxime Bernier: 'Canadian Values' Exist, But Don't Vet Immigrants For Them

Tories are weighing in on Kellie Leitch's proposal.

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, is to offer them more opportunities and more freedom and that will help to promote these values," Bernier said Tuesday at a news conference in Ottawa.

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.

Tory MP Maxime Bernier arrives to the offices of the Conservative Party on April 7, 2016 in Ottawa. (Photo: Justin Tang/CP)

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."

Leitch defended the provocative survey question, saying she feels strongly about screening out people who hold anti-Canadian values, including intolerance towards 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.

"The problem of radical Islam does not concern only immigrants but also people born in this country."

"They are fundamental. They are in line with Western society, and we must promote them in public policy," Bernier said.

But he disagreed with the idea of vetting immigrants and not just because he does not believe it would work.

"The problem of radical Islam does not concern only immigrants but also people born in this country," said Bernier.

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.

Time to beef up security

"I think the solution to that is to beef up our security agencies with more resources and more tools," Bernier 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.

Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai stands in the House of Commons during question period in Ottawa on May 30, 2014. (Photo: Fred Chartrand/CP)

On Thursday, Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai became the fifth candidate, alongside Bernier, Leitch, Tony Clement and Michael Chong, to officially enter the race to replace former prime minister Stephen Harper as party leader.

In a news release announcing that he has submitted his paperwork, Obhrai said he would make promoting diversity part of his campaign.

"My campaign will not only focus on core conservative values but will also be based on inclusion practices and embracing the diversity that is Canada," Obhrai said.

"I wish to break the proverbial glass ceiling on institutional discrimination. I stand with young Canadians, new Canadians; with ALL Canadians."

'Ms. Leitch is opening a debate'

Bernier, who has been putting forward policy proposals promoting smaller government — including, on Thursday, calling for an end to the supply management system for maple syrup in Quebec — said there are Conservatives who want to discuss immigration but he wants to focus his leadership campaign on the economy.

"I think at the end of the day, the Conservatives will unite behind a candidate with positions that will unite Conservatives," Bernier said.

He added that if the Conservatives want to return to government after the 2019 election, the party will also have to convince other voters they have policies that work for the rest of Canadians too.

"That is what I want to do. So, Ms. Leitch is opening a debate — a debate that she wants to have. What will the consequences be? . . . Time will tell," Bernier said.

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