Conservative Party releases immigration plan as debate continues
Immigration likely to be a key campaign issue ahead of 2019 federal election
The Conservative Party released what it is calling a "fair, orderly and compassionate" vision for Canada's immigration system amidst a tense national — and internal — debate on the issue.
Immigration critic Michelle Rempel and her colleague Gérard Deltell outlined Wednesday how their party would handle the file, making it clear that immigration will be a key campaign issue in the 2019 federal election.
"We need to bring it back to policy," said Rempel, arguing that the Liberal government "has treated setting the number of immigrants allowed into Canada like an auction," without ensuring they can work in Canada.
The planks of the Conservative's principles are to encourage immigrants to become self-sufficient, to prioritize the most vulnerable when it comes to humanitarian immigration, and to match the skills of economic migrants with industries that need workers in Canada.
Rempel said the Conservative Party will tour the country over the next year to help shape its policies, including closing the loophole on the Safe Third Country Agreement.
Rempel wouldn't provide specifics on what immigration levels would be under a Conservative government.
"There's a reason why I started off my speech by talking about how I feel immigration levels have been set in Canada of late — and I do feel like it's like an auction," she said, calling the Liberals' Syrian refugee numbers "arbitrarily set."
"Prime Minister Andrew Scheer would set those numbers by putting first a formal process in place."
Liberal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen called it "empty criticism for the sake of criticism."
"I haven't see seen anything here today that convinces me that they've changed the channel," he said. "When they were asked repeatedly whether they think our numbers are too high or too low, five times they couldn't answer that question."
Heckler, Bernier questions
The Conservatives' announcement comes as the prime minister deals with a flurry of reaction to his handling of a heckler who last week shouted questions at him during a rally in Quebec.
The heckler had asked Justin Trudeau whether the federal government would repay Quebec for costs it has incurred as a result of an influx of "illegal immigrants" coming over the Canada-U.S. border, and if he's tolerant of "Québécois de souche," meaning white French Quebecers.
Responding in French, Trudeau told her "your racism has no place here."
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has accused Trudeau of resorting to personal attacks because he did not like being questioned about the issue.
"I'm not a Québécois, so I don't understand the term at large," Rempel said Wednesday of the woman's comments. "But if it holds offence to people and it's not productive toward maintaining Canadian pluralism, then of course I don't support that."
The Conservative Party has also been dealing with issues related to immigration internally.
Last week, Conservative MP Maxime Bernier, a former leadership contender, took to Twitter to condemn the Liberal approach to multiculturalism, warning "ever more" diversity is leading to the ghettoization of minorities and fostering a culture of government dependence.
His tweet storm sparked rebuke from within his caucus and from Scheer, who said Bernier "holds no official role in caucus and does not speak for the Conservative Party of Canada on any issue."
On Twitter, Bernier questioned the timing of Scheer's comments.
"So after disavowing me last week for raising the issue and telling me to shut up, my colleagues have just realized that this is something Canadians find important and want to hear about? Great example of strong leadership," he said Wednesday.
Responding to these latest tweets, Rempel said Bernier needs to decide who he wants to take the next election.
"Max has never come to talk to me about immigration," said Rempel. "My colleague has a choice to make: Does he want Andrew Scheer to win or Justin Trudeau to win?"
The topic is expected to dominate the Conservatives' biennial policy convention in Halifax later this week.
Meanwhile, NDP MP Alistair MacGregor described Bernier's comments as an ongoing headache for Scheer.
"The language coming from Mr. Bernier and other circles within the Conservative Party, it's unfortunate divisive language at a time when we need more empathy for the plight of our fellow humans," he said.
- This story has been edited from an earlier version that said Michelle Rempel wouldn't say how much a Conservative government would reduce immigration levels. In fact, Rempel did not mention a reduction when asked about numbers; she said a Conservative government would set levels following a "formal process."Aug 22, 2018 2:31 PM ET