Politics

Canadians care about values, not just tax cuts, Kellie Leitch says

Conservatives came to their strategy meeting in Halifax this week expecting to sharpen their focus on jobs and the economy. But Kellie Leitch wanted to talk about something else.

Liberals have 'ceded the ground on who's the defender of Canadian values,' Tory leadership candidate says

Leadership candidate Kelli Leitch told reporters three times Wednesday that the Liberals in their 'shirtless selfie delirium' were ceding ground as defenders of Canadian values. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Many Conservative MPs and senators, from interim leader Rona Ambrose on down, came to their strategy meeting in Halifax this week expecting to sharpen their focus on jobs and the economy in preparation for this fall's sitting of Parliament.

And then there's leadership candidate Kellie Leitch.

"I know my colleagues, some of them want to talk about tax cuts," she told reporters summoned to a scrum she called just after Ambrose finished delivering her closing message to the media, during which the interim leader had emphasized again the party's growing concerns about the economy and its determination to be the voice of the taxpayer.

"There's probably going to be a rigorous debate about.… Who has the most interesting tax cut? What tax cut is the biggest?" Leitch said. "But for myself, the thing that actually shows how we distance ourselves from the public is we only talk about money and wealth."

"I will be the leader of the party in May of 2017, and it's because I'm talking about the issues that Canadians care about: about Canadian values," she said.

To defend against criticism from her competitors in the leadership race, as well as other caucus colleagues who have been speaking to reporters this week, she introduced a new rationale.

"This is the first time in decades when the Liberals, in their shirtless selfie delirium, have actually ceded the ground on who's the defender of Canadian values," she said.

A poll published last weekend in the Toronto Star proves Conservatives want this discussion, she said. 

"We are the ones who are going to go out and defend this," she said.

Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch says Liberals' "selfie-induced delirium" leaves her alone to discuss Canadian values. 2:41

She repeated the "shirtless selfie delirium" line two other times.

In her scrums in Halifax this week, she's been noticed looking away from her questioners and facing directly into camera lenses as she makes her points.

'Mulroney can have his opinion'

Leitch was asked about criticism last night from former prime minister Brian Mulroney, who told reporters after a speech in Calgary that there was no need to screen newcomers for "anti-Canadian values," a possibility Leitch's campaign had raised.

"We have a good process now. People don't just walk in the front door here," he told reporters.

Mulroney's views still carry weight in some circles, particularly when it comes to organizing and funding campaigns.

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney told reporters in Calgary on Tuesday night that Canada has a good immigration screening process now. (Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press)

With family friend Peter MacKay out of the race, an endorsement from Mulroney might give another leadership candidate a boost.

"Mr. Mulroney can have his opinion and I'll have mine. And that's what's wonderful about the Conservative Party," Leitch said.

Criticism by 'elites'

Leitch's campaign sent out an email to supporters about the Canadian values controversy Tuesday night that said "while the elites and most media harshly [criticized] even the mention of the discussion, you knew better." 

A reporter asked Wednesday if Leitch was concerned she might offend some Conservatives by calling them "elites."

"There's differences of opinion in our caucus, in our party, maybe it is amongst the elites," she said. "Having that robust discussion, that's what this country's about."

Before Leitch's scrum, Ambrose was asked about that fundraising email.

Interim leader Rona Ambrose told reporters that one of the great things about leadership races is 'everyone gets an opinion.' (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

"The great thing about living in a free country, and frankly about leadership races, is everybody gets to have an opinion in terms of our membership," Ambrose said.

"All parties go through this. It's exciting, it's interesting to watch … but at the end of the day there will be ideas discussed and the membership will be the ones to judge."

Ambrose had cautioned caucus in her opening remarks Tuesday about creating "drama" and division in the ranks, suggesting it was important for the party's future to remain united.

'I'm sick of this issue'

While Leitch scrummed Wednesday afternoon — one of several times she made herself available to talk about this issue over the course of the two-day meeting — some of Leitch's caucus colleagues were watching.

The scrum blocked a door they needed to get through to return to their meeting after lunch.

One MP was seen making a face and throwing up her hands at Leitch's repeated mention of "shirtless selfie delirium."

Another, fed up with having to wait for the scrum, led a small group of them in squeezing past reporters.

"I'm going to push my way in," he was heard saying as he went by. "I'm sick of this issue."

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