NEWS
11/09/2016 18:57 EST | Updated 11/10/2017 00:12 EST

Tories talk immigration, economy, environment, trade at first leadership debate

SASKATOON — The 12 people vying to lead the federal Conservative Party took jabs at the Trudeau government's proposed carbon tax and backed the idea of pipelines in their first leadership debate.

But when it came to immigration, the contenders had more to politely spar about.

MP Kellie Leitch said she shares the idea of U.S. president-elect Donald Trump that newcomers should get more screening. Leitch said only one in 10 people coming to Canada sees a trained immigration officer.

"Everyone on this stage supports immigration, but I'm the only candidate who will require face-to-face interviews of new immigrants and screen for Canadian values," said Leitch.

Former MP Andrew Saxton said Canada needs the right immigrants with the right skills to fill jobs, while Winnipeg Dr. Daniel Lindsay said Canadians need to be safe but added that "immigrants make this country."

MP Deepak Obhrai, who is an immigrant, took Leitch to task.

"Donald Trump's divisive policy on immigration and social policies have no room in Canada that I believe in," said Obhrai. "Unfortunately one of my colleagues admires Donald Trump. But let me tell you ... I will not stand for any erosion of any human rights, whether in the U.S. or in Canada."

After the debate, MP Brad Trost also took aim at Leitch and her immigration stance.

"Kelly Leitch should quit beating around the bush," said Trost, whose wife was born in Mongolia.

"The real issue is simply this — we need to screen for Islamic extremism, that's what Canadians are most concerned about, plain and simple. All this talk about Canadian values, that's what it boils down to."

Trump's U.S. election victory weighed in heavily in the Conservative leadership debate, amid concern that he wants to renegotiate trade agreements.

MP Michael Chong said the election result should concern Canadians when it comes to trade.

Fellow MP Andrew Scheer said he would put pressure on Trump to keep trade deals.

MP Lisa Raitt said she's concerned with word that Canada's ambassador to the United States has already indicated he's willing to open up the North American Free Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA.

"That causes me to pause because I'd like to hear a little bit more about exactly what Mr. Trudeau plans on negotiating with respect to NAFTA," said Raitt. "We have much to be proud of in NAFTA. Our country's much better off than it was before NAFTA."

In a statement, the Liberal Party claimed the debate showed that the Conservative Party is out of touch with the priorities of Canadians.

This was the first of five official party leadership debates.

The Conservatives are to elect their new leader May 27.