Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer attempted Friday to distance himself from his party’s past criticism of federal leaders who, like him, hold dual citizenship.
“I wasn’t leading the party at that time,” the Tory leader twice told reporters in Toronto asking about his party’s treatment of other political figures in the same boat as him.
“It’s not a big deal in Canada for people to have dual citizenship. There are millions of Canadians who have one or another parent born in another country.”
The Globe and Mail reported Thursday that Scheer holds dual citizenship because his father was born in the U.S. The Conservative leader said he let his American passport expire and met U.S. consular officials in August to start the process of renouncing his U.S. citizenship.
Watch: 5 things to know about Andrew Scheer
The revelation sparked controversy because Scheer’s party criticized two former aspirants for the prime minister’s job — former Liberal leader Stephane Dion and former NDP leader Thomas Mulcair — because they both held dual Canadian-French citizenship.
“I’m very clear. I’m a Canadian and only a Canadian,” former prime minister Stephen Harper said in 2012 of Mulcair’s citizenship.
And, as a backbencher, Scheer published a blog post in 2005 that appeared to take a swipe at incoming governor general Michaëlle Jean for having dual citizenship. “Does it bother you that she is a dual citizen (France and Canada)? Would it bother you if instead of French citizenship, she held U.S. citizenship?″ he wrote at the time.
A Conservative spokesperson told The Globe this week that while Scheer has not voted in the U.S., he regularly filed tax returns to the country. But on Friday, Scheer would not say how many times he filed returns to the U.S. and how much in taxes he paid to the States.
“I’ve always been tax compliant. I’ve always followed those laws,” he said, adding that all of his income has been earned in Canada and that his salary is “publicly available” on the House of Commons website.
Tory leader asked about taxes, U.S. draft
Scheer also told reporters he wasn’t sure if he registered for the United States draft, something that is legally required of most adult men who, like him, hold dual Canada-U.S. citizenship.
“I would have to check and get back to you on that,” Scheer said when asked if he registered within with the U.S. Selective Service System within 30 days of turning 18.
The agency keeps a registry of men between the ages of 18 to 25 who could be forced into military service in the event of a national emergency. The U.S. has not had a draft since the Vietnam War and military service has been voluntary since 1973.
The party has since confirmed Scheer did register with the agency.
The Tory leader pushed back against suggestions he hid his dual citizenship from voters and his party.
“As I said, everyone who knows me or knows my family knows that my father was born in the United States.”
He couldn’t say when he last used his U.S. passport, but reiterated that he never renewed the documents as an adult.
Scheer was also pressed about why he waited until August, mere weeks before the start of the election campaign, to take the steps to renounce his U.S. citizenship. Scheer became Conservative leader in May of 2017.
“I made a decision after becoming leader of the party this would be something that I would address before the election campaign. It was a personal decision that I made and so I took those steps before the election,” he said.
A day earlier, Scheer suggested he did not move more quickly on the issue because he was focused instead on “rebuilding the party,” working on his platform and preparing for the campaign.
Not as advertised?
Conservatives have argued on the campaign trail that Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is “not as advertised.” But Liberal spokeswoman Zita Astravas told The Canadian Press in a statement Thursday that it is Scheer who has been “fundamentally dishonest” about who he is.
“He’s been caught hiding his American citizenship even while ridiculing others for holding dual citizenship,” she said.
At a campaign event in Quebec City Friday, Trudeau said there is nothing about having dual citizenship that should disqualify anyone from being a politician.
“But I do think that you have to be honest with Canadians when you’re applying for a job to be prime minister of 37 million Canadians,” he said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters in Saskatoon that while Scheer was “hypocritical” on the issue, that comes as no surprise.
“But I think that this is a distraction, to be perfectly honest with you. I can criticize Mr. Scheer for a lot of reasons. This isn’t one of them,” he said.
With files from The Canadian Press and a file from Zi-Ann Lum