On May 27, 2017, the Conservative Party of Canada will be electing a new leader.
This leadership race will ultimately determine who will lead the Conservative Party of Canada (Conservative Party) in the 2019 federal election.
As Canadian Muslims, it is important that we exercise our civic duty to help choose the next leader of the Conservative Party, who could be the next Prime Minister of Canada.
How to vote?
In order to vote for the next leader of the Conservative Party, you must hold active membership to the Conservative Party before March 28, 2017.
Over the next few weeks, the Canadian Muslim Vote will be sitting down with a few of the 14 candidates contesting for the leadership of the Conservative Party.
We will be profiling these candidates so that you (our readers) can make an informed voting decision on May 27, 2017.
Kellie Leitch (Conservative)
Member of Parliament
for Simcoe-Grey (Ontario)
Offices and Roles as a Parliamentarian
- Minister of Labour (2013-2015)
- Minister of Status of Women (2013-2015)
- Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour (2011-2013)
1. Tell us a bit about your background and why you decided to run for the nomination to be the next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC), and perhaps one day Prime Minister of Canada?
I am a pediatric orthopedic surgeon and former university professor at the University of Western Ontario and the University of Toronto. I have been involved in the conservative movement since 1984/85. I was elected in 2011 and I am running in the leadership race because I believe that we, as Canadians, have a shared value set, one that is shared by Canadians from all walks of life in this country.
2.Why do you feel you’re qualified to lead the CPC? Why should one vote for you over the 13 other candidates seeking the nomination?
I have a wide range of experience whether it be as a physician, a small business owner - I ran a small moving company to pay for my undergrad and med school. I have experience in government both as a cabinet minister and serving on treasury board. So, I have a wide range of experience in government, in the private sector, and some in public sector activities.
3. In the last federal election, some would argue that Conservatives ran on a platform that was somewhat divisive, do you agree with this statement? Do you believe this was the right approach?
I think the Conservative Party put forward a platform of ideas and asked Canadians if they agreed with them or not. Some people agreed with those ideas and others completely disagreed. I don’t think that it was a divisive platform. I think some people may have interpreted it that way and that’s their prerogative. In Canada, we have an open society, people can choose to interpret things in the way that they would like. But for myself, our focus on the economy, making sure Canadians had more money in their pockets, a sound economic record, were all good ideas.
4. Explain why you introduced the “Barbaric Cultural Practices Tip Line” around the last federal election in 2015?
So, the legislation that was originally put forward at the time and accepted by all parties in the House of Commons was one that talked about early forced marriages for girls. I personally do not believe that a young girl should be forced into a marriage, and that’s what our announcement was about.
As I’ve said to several people at the time, I don’t think the communication of it was clear. I think it was very poorly done. But the principle behind that legislation, which as I said, parliamentarians of all backgrounds supported - I think the principle of little girls not being forced into marriage, is a sound one. I think we, as Canadians, embrace that; all of us do.
5. What gap in legislation did you want to fill by introducing the “Barbaric Cultural Practices Tip Line”?
I became the Minister of the Status of Women in 2013, and one of the things our country was speaking about at the U.N. was eradicating early forced marriages for girls around the world. I thought that we as Canadians should make sure that we are on good moral ground before telling others what to do. So, one day, I asked the Minister of Justice what our legal age of marriage is in Canada. I was shocked by what I heard - the accepted legal age of marriage in Canada was seven (with the exception of Quebec). So, part of the legislation I was involved with was to increase the age of marriage in Canada to 16.
In addition, as Minister of the Status of Women, I received a research study that highlighted the issue of early forced marriages in Canada. The report stated that 219 children in Canada had been put in a position where they were married under the age of 16. I thought this was unacceptable and it was something that we had to move forward on.
Now, I’m sure that there are parts of the legislation that were decided upon by a Cabinet Committee that I was not a part of that some may have issue with, but as I said, all parliamentarians agreed to support this legislation. I’ve said many times and I’ll continue to say that how we communicated our announcement during the last election was terrible.
I think the core intent of the legislation that little girls or boys should not be forced into a marriage was a sound one, but did we communicate it poorly? Absolutely, and I take full responsibility for that.
Lastly, I am open to listening to your community’s suggestions as to how we can eradicate this problem. I think we have a responsibility as leaders to move to eradicate these practices from all communities.
6. In your opinion, why did the CPC lose the last federal election in 2015?
I think that we lost because we didn’t control the ballot question. You know for the Conservative Party consistently through many elections, if the ballot question is on the economy, we do really well. The ballot question was definitely not about the economy in 2015.
7. In your view, since the Liberals were elected in 2015, what have they done wrong? What have they done right?
I think the most substantive issue for Canadians is around the economy. They put forward a budget showing that there would be a deficit but that it would be over four years of a certain amount. We have now well surpassed that amount. We are now in a position where people are going to feel even more stretched in their pocket books through paying a larger debt due to a higher deficit that will eventually have to be paid. Those are substantive economic challenges that our country is going to have to face. I think that will be very challenging.
In terms of what they’ve done right? I can’t say much.
8. Tell us a bit about your policy platform, what are the top three policies you’re campaigning on?
I’ve been talking about Canadian values and how we as Canadians have a shared value set, civic values, which include: hard work, freedom, generosity, tolerance and equality of opportunity.
I’ve been talking about immigration policy. I believe that the Senate Standing Committee has put forward a policy of doing face-to-face interviews for each person coming to Canada, I think that we should implement that across the board. This is a policy that we had under Conservative and Liberal governments before 2002 and that has since been changed. I think we should bring this back.
I have an economic platform that has a number of components which includes making sure that we pay down our debt, capping government spending to the rate of inflation, removing taxes on taxes, and having public sector wages aligned with salaries and benefits of the private sector. I think we need to make sure that the public and private sectors are more in lock step with each other when it comes to salaries and benefits.
9. What do you think of the Trump administration’s current immigration policies, including the travel ban imposed on 6 Muslim majority countries?
The U.S. administration has chosen a policy that is suitable for their nation. They had an election last year and they made a choice. What I’m proposing here is fundamentally different. I’m not talking about banning any countries. What I’m talking about is a shared value set. People choose every day to come to this country because of their idea of what Canada is about. I think we should be talking about these values to each person coming to this country because it allows them to integrate.
You know, I’m sure many of you at some point in your life filled out a resume and someone invited you for an interview for a job, so that you would have a conversation about the employer’s company or firm and how you can best help that company or firm. This is the same type of process. I think we would help immigrants integrate in Canada and get off the ground running if we actually meet them face-to-face. The policy I’m proposing is a bit of “back to the future”. This is what our country did for decades up until 2002.
I am not talking about quotas on immigration, I’m talking about doing the process properly. The Senate Standing Committee has suggested that this be implemented across the board and there is new research that has come out highlighting how immigration officers are being trained to push through immigrants based on little documentation and spending 3-5 minutes with each person. I don’t think that’s how we get a full sense of the people coming to the country and I don’t think that’s how we help someone who is coming to the country. I just think that we should do the process properly. What those numbers end up being, I don’t know.
10. Does Canada have an immigration problem? If so, what is it?
I don’t think we have an immigration problem, I just think that we can make the process better.
The Senate Standing Committee has issued a report on this issue. I think you would all agree that immigration is a serious issue. We see nations around the world address this issue, but addressing it because something has been foisted upon them.
I think we as a nation need to have a thoughtful conversation about what we are going to be (i.e. as a nation) in the future. The Immigration and Refugee Act is very clear, it’s about nation building. The economic, social and cultural fabric of what our nation is and what it will be.
I think we are the beacon of hope because we have integrated people due to a shared value set. One that people choose every day to be a part of, no matter where they come from around the globe. It’s a civic value set that has made our country an extremely powerful nation. I want that value set to be protected and I think that we should be talking to people about it. Having a thoughtful dialogue about this isn’t something that people should be afraid of, especially in our sesquicentennial year, it is something we should embrace. The people that are here are part of who we will be in the future.
I recognize that I get depicted in certain ways, but please don’t believe what you hear. I’d rather have a thoughtful conversation with you. My family chose to come to Canada as did yours because it is a place where if you work hard, your family can get ahead, and you can be generous and give back to your community, but most importantly that you can live in freedom, that we can tolerate differences and resolve those differences by understanding each other. Sometimes we may walk away with a difference of opinion but that tolerance component is uniquely Canadian.
My father’s family came to Canada because he decided this was a better place to be, just as I am sure as did yours.
I’m here today, because I think we should be having this conversation. I recognize that CBC and CTV may portray me in a certain way, and all I can ask of you is to go back and listen to what I have said and really, what I can control is what I say.
I feel just as strongly about being against white supremacists the same way as I do about young girls being forced into marriage. I am actually the one candidate that has refused them (i.e. white supremacists) to obtain party membership. I have publicly said that I don’t condone their behaviour.
However, the public opinion polling has been very clear. 74% of Canadians agree that we should be having this conversation. Can I control what every single individual says about what I do? No I cannot. Can I do my best to seek out those people who are extremists and deal with them? Yes, but I won’t tell you that I can guarantee that I will find every single wrong-doer and deal with them.
11. With the recent refugee crisis in Europe and subsequent reaction by countries around world, the UK’s Brexit and the Trump administration’s controversial immigration policies, where do you see Canada’s role in this global context which is becoming increasingly framed by fear-mongering and alienation?
With respect to the international context, I agree we have a responsibility on a couple of fronts, one is that we being a beacon of hope around the world need to be that place that continues to be generous, accepting refugees and individuals that are experiencing the most substantive of persecution. That maybe Sikhs from Afghanistan, Coptic Christians from Egypt, and individuals in your own homelands that are experiencing atrocities that we don’t appreciate here. We need to continue to be the place where they know they can seek refuge. We have a responsibility to export those values, and you know one of the best examples of that is our Canadian Armed Forces in Afghanistan. Not only were they there for reasons of creating democracy, they were also there to build schools for girls, to create an opportunity for younger people to have a better life. I think the picture of Canadian Armed Forces building schools and making sure that kids can go to school is what we’re all about.
With respect to our tolerance, we do live in a free open society and part of that tolerance is that you may disagree with my immigration policy but as I said before, we in this country often agree to disagree and walk away peacefully.
My opinion may be different than yours, and my opinion is obviously different than those in the media, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a right to my opinion and I shouldn’t be devoiced, especially when I don’t think I’m inciting violence with any of it. Part of what this country is about is that people should be free to speak about what they care about. I think we’ve gotten to the point where some organizations get quite defensive. But I’m hopeful that we get back to a place where there is a little less political correctness where people feel like they can voice their opinions openly without being bullied, because that isn’t healthy or tolerant.
12. Nationally, hate crimes are on the rise. Statistics Canada released figures in 2016 that showed Islamophobia had doubled in a three-year time frame. During that time, we saw a mosque firebombed in Peterborough, and in January of this year we saw six innocent men murdered in their place of worship in Quebec. Do you think this Islamophobia is a problem for our country? Why did you vote against Motion-103?
I think there are several groups in country that feel persecuted, whether it be individuals who are black, gay, Muslim or Jewish. On M-103, I believe that every religion in this country should be treated equally. I don’t think there is any place for the State in houses of worship and houses of worship in the State. For me this has been a freedom of speech issue and I think that we should be treating every religion the same. We have hate speech laws, we have laws that govern across this country equally, and that is why I voted against it. It’s now going to Committee and we will see what the result of the Committee is.
13. More specifically, do you think there is a problem with Islamophobia?
Well, we didn’t define the term in our motion. I think there are crimes perpetuated against different groups in this country. But do I think that M-103 was a motion that had to be passed? No, I don’t.
I don’t think any Canadian should experience a hate crime, we should all be treated equally.
14. As Prime Minister, what practical steps would you take to protect other mosques in Canada from experiencing the tragedy we felt in Quebec?
I think all houses of worship whether it be a mosque, synagogue, temple or church, I think people who visit these places of worship should feel safe to worship. We have laws in place to make sure that these places of public of worship should not experience any hate crimes or the tragedy that took place in Quebec. It’s completely unacceptable.
15. Given the multicultural fabric that makes up our country, what does diversity mean to you as a Canadian?
It means that people from all walks of life, all corners of the world can come here and have the same shared value set.
16. Could you explain your policy about screening immigrants for Canadian values?
I have talked about how we have a shared value set: hard work, generosity, equal opportunity, freedom, and tolerance. I think each visitor and immigrant to Canada should have an interview with a trained immigration officer and in addition to educating themselves on our constitution and the immigration guide with which these values are aligned, they accept them.
17. Do you fear that your values test could restrict Canada’s ability to attract skilled labour, talent and capital to our country?
Not at all.
18. Why should a Canadian Muslim vote for you?
Because I know that your family has made a choice to come to this country just as mine did because of what you thought Canada was about. That you believe just as deeply as I do, that this nation is a nation where if you show up and work hard you can get ahead and take care of your family and others, that you wanted to come here and live in freedom, knowing that we all practice a Canadian way of where men and women are equal, that you can practice whichever religion you want or none, that you can marry who you wish or no one, that you can practice your cultural identity as you wish. But in Canada, violence and misogyny are not acceptable. There is a Canadian way, and I believe that your families made the same choice as mine did to come to Canada because that’s what it was all about. That means a shared Canadian identity that I believe we can all share, one that our current Prime Minister doesn’t believe exists. This country is strong because of that value set. This country is the beacon of hope for the world because of that value set. And it’s one that we should be very proud of, it’s one we should protect, and it’s one that we should be exporting.
19. On a lighter note, tell us what you like to do to relax when you are not campaigning?
Running, I used to ski but blew my ACL so I don’t do that anymore, and I cycle. What I primarily do now, is that I spend quite a bit of time with my father and following my campaign I will be taking him to Peru - it’s something we established when I graduated, he picks where to go and I pay!