Conservative MP Kellie Leitch proclaimed her “common interests” with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump in the party’s first leadership debate tonight, as several of her opponents pushed back against her immigration policy.
“I have common interests with Mr. Trump, screening being one of them,” Leitch said several times, picking up where she left off in a fundraising email Tuesday night that told supporters Trump’s anti-elite message was one she was hoping to bring forward with her own campaign.
A Mainstreet Research telephone poll conducted on November 5 and 6 showed Leitch to be the preferred candidate in the race, with 19 per cent support among Conservative supporters — ahead of Andrew Scheer with 14 and Michael Chong with 12.
Leitch aggressively pushed her wedge issue — screening immigrants for their grasp of “Canadian values” — to draw a sharp contrast with her rivals.
“I will protect our Canadian values,” she told the audience, estimated to be around 500. “I am the only candidate who will require face-to-face interviews of new immigrants and screen for Canadian values.”
As he did earlier Wednesday, Chong pushed back.
“Stephen Harper’s government let in three million immigrants and refugees during the 10 years they were in power. Every single one of those immigrants and refugees was screened for security purposes, terrorism, war crimes, crime against humanity, and for health and economic reasons,” Chong said.
“He would not have let in one of those persons if they had not been properly screened.”
Chong also spoke passionately of his mixed-race children, calling them the “new face of Canada.”
It was Deepak Ohbrai, however — a Tanzania-born Indian-Canadian immigrant and an MP since 1997 — who took Leitch on most directly about her fondness for Trump’s approach to politics.
After saying he didn’t “give two hoots” about a woman wearing a niqab — a controversial subject in the last federal election — he momentarily started trending on Twitter.
“Donald Trump’s divisive policy on immigration and social policies have no room in the Canada that I believe in. Unfortunately one of my colleagues admires Donald Trump, but let me tell you as parliamentary secretary for international human rights, I will not stand for any erosion of any human rights of anybody whether in U.S. or in Canada,” he said.
All twelve official candidates took the stage in Saskatoon in an attempt to appeal to Conservative members. The long list of candidates include former Tory MPs Chris Alexander and Andrew Saxton, physician Daniel Lindsay, and current Conservative MPs Maxime Bernier, Leitch, Deepak Obhrai, Erin O’Toole, Lisa Raitt, Andrew Scheer, Brad Trost and Steven Blaney.