September 14, 2016 - 6:30 PM
HALIFAX - Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch says she's heard from Tories unhappy with her proposal to screen immigrants on their values, but predicts she will be elected leader because she's the one talking about what Canadians care about.
"I've heard from a number of people in our party and even from some caucus-mates that they may have a different opinion than myself. And that's fine," she told reporters at a caucus retreat in Halifax.
"I want to be clear: I will be the leader of the party in May of 2017 and it's because I am talking about the issues that Canadians care about, about Canadian values."
Leitch's proposal to vet would-be immigrants and refugees for "anti-Canadian values" has put her at the centre of the leadership race debate, and at the two-day caucus retreat that ended Wednesday.
Several other candidates have harshly criticized the proposal, and former prime Minister Brian Mulroney said Tuesday in Calgary the current immigration process works fine. Last Friday, former senior minister Jason Kenney, who is currently seeking the provincial leadership in Alberta, said Leitch had never put forward that position in all the years they worked together.
But Leitch cites a Forum poll that shows 87% of Conservatives favour having the discussion, and she has begun using the controversy in a fundraising note to supporters.
The poll was an automated phone survey of 1,370 adult Canadians conducted Sept. 6 and 7. Results were considered accurate within three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
"While the elites and most media harshly criticized even the mention of the discussion, you knew better," wrote Leitch in the fundraising note. "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."
Asked about the fundraising letter, interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose said Wednesday: "The great thing about living in a free country and about leadership races is that everyone gets to have an opinion."
After the caucus retreat Wednesday, Leitch said she expects her opponents will discuss who's proposing the biggest tax cut, while she goes where the voters actually are.
"For myself the thing that actually shows … how we distance ourselves from the public is when we only talk about money and wealth," she told reporters.
"I recognize others don't want to have this conversation and that's fine. But I will be having this conversation with Canadians."
Leitch called the values debate a "huge opportunity" for Conservatives.
"In their shirtless selfie delirium, Liberals have ceded the ground on who's the defender of Canadian values," she said.
— with files from Alison Auld.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016