Opinion

Enough, Kellie Leitch — put down the script

Leitch is a university professor in a stolen Trump hat, reading from a script she found on the floor of a suburban Boston Pizza.

Leitch — politician, professor, MD, MBA — is the embodiment of everything she purports to run against

Kellie Leitch, a politician, a university professor, a pediatric surgeon, a community leader and a former cabinet minister, is attempting to run a campaign on behalf of Canada's everyman against the establishment elite. (Liam Richards/Canadian Press)

There is probably a market in Canada for what Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch is selling. Despite what many smug Canadians would like to believe, there are those among us who, for example, worry about proper screening at the border, or about integration among new immigrants — there are even those who use the phrase "left-wing elite" non-ironically.

Canada is not somehow immune to this type of anti-establishment, anti-immigrant (Leitch would call it "pro-Canadian values") messaging: it resonated through the U.S. during the recent election, it resonated in Britain during the Brexit vote and it continues to resonate throughout the rest of Europe with the proliferation of right-wing nationalist parties. If assembled, packaged and delivered correctly, there's no reason why some sort of atrocious Trump-lite pledge to "Make Canada Great Again" couldn't find a following up here.

The problem so far has not been the message, but the messenger. Leitch, who got teary-eyed talking about her involvement in the Harper campaign's proposed tip line to report barbaric cultural practices, is now proposing to screen immigrants for supposed "anti-Canadian values." Leitch, a politician, a university professor, a pediatric surgeon, a community leader and a former cabinet minister, is now attempting to run a campaign on behalf of Canada's everyman against the establishment elite.

Conservative leadership hopeful gets emotional discussing barbaric cultural practices tip line 0:42

Indeed, following Donald Trump's win, Leitch issued a release celebrating that "our American cousins threw out the elites and elected Donald Trump as their next president," adding that "it's an exciting message and one that we need delivered in Canada, as well."

If that's true, let me be the first to say: Goodbye, Prof. Leitch!

Cover your eyes

There is a burgeoning theory among those distraught with Trump's victory that if only the media hadn't gifted him with so much attention, he might not have gone on to win the election.

That's possible, though unlikely. Trump's infamy predates his candidacy, and even if the media had issued a blackout on Trump coverage, politicians simply don't need the mainstream media the way they used to — they have Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and paid volunteers in ugly suits.

Donald Trump's anti-establishment message helped him win the U.S. presidential election. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Canadians have since adopted the cover-your-eyes theory and applied it to Leitch, insisting that journalists should simply pretend she doesn't exist, lest they provide her with any more undue attention.

The thing is, Leitch is leading the Conservative leadership race in fundraising dollars. She has a smart political strategist in Nick Kouvalis in her corner (Kouvalis ran the campaigns of both Toronto mayors John Tory and Rob Ford) and it's possible the Conservative Party is myopic enough to anoint her as their new leader, even if that would all but guarantee a second Justin Trudeau term.

Leitch has raised more money than her Conservative leadership rivals. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

So rather than pretending Leitch doesn't exist and feign surprise at her continued success, how about we acknowledge that she does exist, and at the same time recognize that she is running a completely inauthentic, deliberately provocative campaign?

With Trump, one at least got the impression that he actually believed the things he was saying about border security and immigration; Leitch is a university professor in a stolen Trump hat, reading from a script she found on the floor of a suburban Boston Pizza.

Denouncing racists

She had trouble answering a question from CTV's Evan Solomon about whether her "values test" would prohibit a Catholic who doesn't support same-sex marriage from entering Canada. She had difficulty answering another question from a Toronto Life interviewer about who, exactly, is threatening Canadian values. And she had trouble denouncing racists when presented with a clear opportunity to do so during a recent interview with Kelly Cutrara on AM640.

These are the symptoms of an ill-fitting campaign: an off-the-rack strategy applied to a candidate for whom it was never really intended.

It didn't work for NDP Leader Tom Mulcair when he tried to appeal to centrist voters by adopting the balanced budget language of the Conservatives during the last federal election; it didn't work for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton when she tried to appeal to Bernie Sanders voters by usurping his rhetoric about cracking down on Wall Street; and it shouldn't work for Leitch — politician, MD, MBA — who is the embodiment of everything she purports to run against.

Voters should be able to smell inauthenticity from miles away. Leitch reeks of it.

This column is part of CBC's new Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Robyn Urback

Columnist

Robyn Urback is an opinion columnist with CBC News and a producer with the CBC's Opinion section. She previously worked as a columnist and editorial board member at the National Post. Follow her on Twitter at:

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