09/16/2016 04:54 EDT | Updated 09/16/2016 05:16 EDT

Conservatives Will Lose If We Obsess About Canadian 'Values'

Yanick Villeneuve

My colleague Kellie Leitch has been going on for days now talking about "Canadian values."

As I said when the issue first came up, I agree with her that there are fundamental values such as freedom, equality before the law, tolerance for diversity, and equality between men and women, that we should protect and promote.

However, I disagree that there is a major problem with the tools employed in screening immigrants. Her values test proposal is impractical. People can lie to a questionnaire.

Strengthening our immigration system requires ensuring that our border, immigration, and intelligence agencies have the resources they need to effectively do their job of screening candidates and guaranteeing our security. And the best way to integrate new Canadians is to offer them more opportunities into a more prosperous and dynamic society. This has been the basis of Canada's success for generations.

kellie leitch Conservative MP Kellie Leitch is running for the party leadership. (Photo: Canadian Press)

This week, Kellie went further and wrote in an email to supporters that "Tax cuts, deficits and other economic issues are very important to us all but who we are as Canadians and what unifies us is a much more important discussion right now."

To me, this shows that she's not trying to solve any practical problem with her discussion. She's just trying to score political points. And it can lead to very detrimental consequences. I know because I'm a Quebecer.

Politics in Quebec was dominated by identity issues for half a century. Instead of debating issues that have a real impact on people's daily lives, we endlessly debated language regulation, cultural protectionism, and the pros and cons of separating from Canada.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Quebecers left the province with their money and skills. Montreal lost head offices and businesses to Toronto and Calgary. Quebec became the region with the highest taxes, biggest debt and lowest level of economic freedom in North America. We paid dearly for that obsession.

pauline marois Pauline Marois is seen in this photo from 2014.

Three years ago, that debate was rekindled by the Parti Québécois' Charter of Values proposal. Everybody of course agrees that a public sector worker should not have her face covered when dealing with the public. But there had actually never been a case where this was a problem. And it's a simple matter of adopting a dress code for employees. It did not have to become a big debate about Quebec's identity.

But Pauline Marois' goal was not to find a practical solution to a problem. It was to exploit the fears of Quebecers, divide them and make this the centerpiece of her bid to get re-elected, all the while offering nothing concrete to solve the province's economic problems. It blew up in her face when a majority of Quebecers realized that this was her plan.

The mistake during last year's election campaign though, which everyone now recognizes, was to focus our message on identity issues like this one...

Similarly, most Canadians supported our government's decision that new Canadians attending swearing-in ceremonies should do so with an uncovered face. I supported it and still do. That's just common sense. Our society is based on trust and openness, and covered faces will inevitably undermine this if it becomes common. I believe that practice is not and should not be part of our culture. We should send a strong signal at swearing-in ceremonies.

The mistake during last year's election campaign though, which everyone now recognizes, was to focus our message on identity issues like this one and the misguided barbaric practices snitch line proposal, instead of running on our excellent economic record.

Yes, Canadians care about shared values and about these issues. But I would argue that they care a lot more about issues that impact their standard of living and quality of life.

Does Kellie really believe that debating Canadian identity is more important than solving all these problems?

They care about whether our economy is strong enough to provide job opportunities. They care about having to pay twice as much as Americans for basic food like milk, eggs, butter and chicken. They care about the fact that air travel prices in Canada are the highest in the world. They care about the tens of billions of dollars in lost annual growth due to interprovincial trade barriers. They care about the price of cellphone and Internet services, and about the taxes they pay to bail out big companies.

Does Kellie really believe that debating Canadian identity is more important than solving all these problems? That's what those obsessed with Quebec's identity also believe. And we've seen where it led.

I'm not going to stay silent as someone is trying to replicate the same experience for Canada as a whole. The Conservative Party I wish to lead will focus on providing practical solutions to the real problems that Canadians are facing.

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