Kellie Leitch loses support of key Newfoundland and Labrador backer

Kellie Leitch’s most prominent Newfoundland and Labrador supporter has pulled his endorsement to protest the federal Conservative leadership candidate’s stance on screening immigrants for Canadian values.

Former N.L. deputy premier yanks endorsement of Conservative leadership bid over stance on Canadian values

Former Newfoundland and Labrador deputy premier Steve Kent, right, has withdrawn support for Kellie Leitch's Conservative leadership bid, citing her stance on a Canadian values test for new immigrants. (Liam Richards/Andrew Vaughan Canadian Press)

Kellie Leitch's most prominent Newfoundland and Labrador supporter has pulled his endorsement to protest the federal Conservative leadership candidate's stance on screening immigrants for Canadian values.

Steve Kent, deputy premier and health minister in the former Progressive Conservative government of Paul Davis, yanked his support for Leitch in a post on his Facebook page.

"I have been struggling with her campaign's divisive policy positions of late. Frankly, they are inconsistent with my beliefs and the welcoming spirit of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador in general," Kent wrote in the statement.

Later in the day Kent spoke to reporters saying that he has been friends with Leitch for a long time, and hopes to be friends with her in the future, but could no longer support her campaign.

"Given what happened in the world one week ago this is not a time for us to be engaging in divisive politics," Kent said. "As Canadians we need to be talking about policies and ideas that are going to bring the country closer together as opposed to building walls and driving people apart."

"We're an open, caring, tolerant, inclusive people and I think that's where most Canadians are," he added.

Steve Kent, deputy premier and health minister in the former Progressive Conservative government of Paul Davis, yanked his support over the divisive nature of Leitch's campaign. 0:26

In addition to Leitch, current candidates for the Conservative leadership to replace interim leader Rona Ambrose include: Chris Alexander, Maxime Bernier, Steven Blaney, Michael Chong, Dan Lindsay, ​Deepak Obhrai, ​Erin O'Toole, Lisa Raitt. Andrew Saxton, Andrew Scheer and Brad Trost.

Kent said he considers Leitch a good friend. She sent volunteers to Newfoundland and Labrador to help Kent with his re-election to the House of Assembly in the 2015 provincial election. But Kent has privately told people he had no idea her leadership campaign would go in this direction and that he is uncomfortable with the tone it has taken.

For the past week, Kent has dodged reporters' questions about his support for Leitch. He has also been the target of social media attacks from his opponents — especially the provincial Liberals, who are keen to link him to Leitch's Canadian values stance.

Kent may also have political reasons of a more personal nature. He previously ran for leader of the provincial PC party, and with current leader and former premier Paul Davis announcing his plans to step down, Kent says he is weighing another leadership bid.

Leitch's campaign manager, Nick Kouvalis, went on Twitter to express his distaste for Kent and others who have recently pulled support for the MP's Tory leadership aspirations. 

Here is the full text of Kent's statement Tuesday:

"I have not been active in the federal Conservative leadership campaign. In fact, I still have not ruled out a bid for leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Newfoundland and Labrador. To that end, I have been focusing all my energies on listening to the concerns and thoughtful solutions provided by the people of this province.

"As political and community leaders, we need to always listen carefully to what citizens are saying. I assure you that I am always listening.

"As difficult as this is for me, because Dr. Kellie Leitch is a good friend of mine, today, I want to confirm that I will not be providing my endorsement to her campaign. Kellie is an accomplished, bright, passionate and energetic woman. I admire so much about her — but I have been struggling with her campaign's divisive policy positions of late. Frankly, they are inconsistent with my beliefs and the welcoming spirit of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador in general.‎ I have always believed strongly in Canadian values, and I believe those values are based on embracing diversity, not excluding it; and building bridges, not walls.

"I extend my best wishes to all the federal leadership candidates. I pledge that I will work with whoever rises to the position of Federal Leader. Also, as I am still contemplating a future leadership run, I do not believe that any potential PC leadership candidates should compromise that relationship by aligning with any federal campaign."

About the Author

David Cochrane

CBC News

David Cochrane is a senior reporter in CBC's Parliamentary bureau. He previously wrote for CBC Newfoundland and Labrador.