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Politics Leitch asks if immigrants should be screened for 'anti-Canadian values'

Labour Minister Kellie Leitch answers a question in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Feb. 26, 2015.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch wants to know what her supporters think about vetting would-be immigrants and refugees for "anti-Canadian values."

The question comes in a survey that was emailed to people who signed up for news from her campaign. It seeks opinions and gauges support for a variety of positions and issues, including electoral reform, corporate tax cuts and the legalization and regulation of marijuana for recreational use.

The question reads: "Should the Canadian government screen potential immigrants for anti-Canadian values as part of its normal screening for refugees and landed immigrants?"

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Some of the other questions are fairly straightforward, such as whether the federal government should retain the supply management system for farm products such as eggs and dairy, summarizing the common arguments for and against.

Others are more provocative, such as the one about screening immigrants.

JOHN IBBITSON: In a world of closing doors, Canada is embracing inclusion

U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has called for would-be immigrants to undergo what he calls "extreme vetting" to determine their stance on things like religious freedom, gender equality and LGBTQ rights.

The Leitch survey does not spell out what is meant by "anti-Canadian values," nor otherwise declare where Leitch herself stands on the issue.

Neither did her campaign manager Nick Kouvalis, who said Thursday he would not comment on the substance of the survey.

Kouvalis did say more than 8,000 people had responded to the survey since Tuesday and that it was based on subjects Leitch had been hearing about from Conservatives during her travels across Canada since launching her leadership bid this spring.

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During the 2015 federal election campaign, Leitch helped promote a controversial Conservative promise to establish a tip line for so-called "barbaric cultural practices," aimed at helping the RCMP enforce a law aimed at cracking down on forced marriages and keeping polygamists out of Canada.

Not long after she began her Conservative leadership campaign, Leitch expressed regret for that position, even becoming visibly emotional during an interview this past April on CBC News Network's panel show "Power & Politics."

She said her goal of protecting woman and girls was lost in the broader conversation about the role that ethnic and cultural identity politics played in the Conservative campaign, which included a proposed ban on the niqab — a face covering worn by some Muslim women — during Canadian citizenship ceremonies.

Reaction to the news Thursday was swift.

Conservative strategist Chad Rogers called on Leitch to withdraw her candidacy.

"You don't get to apologize twice for the same mistake," said Rogers, a founding partner at Crestview Strategy.

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"She's done something stupid and if she apologizes now and leaves the race, she has a chance to rebuild her reputation within the party."

The Conservative party otherwise risks undoing the work it has done to encourage immigration to Canada, especially at a time when Trump is espousing anti-immigration views below the border, Rogers added.

"This potentially taints the entire party and the entire movement and she has to be made an example of."

Tim Powers, another Conservative analyst, said data-gathering campaign exercises like Leitch's survey are often deliberately meant to generate buzz among a targeted audience.

"They are clearly wanting a bit of a dialogue to be out there about who the harder-edge, on-your-side, security-pure candidate is going to be," said Powers, vice-chairman of Summa Strategies.

He questioned why Leitch would want to be the one to embrace it. "It's the kind of stuff that's gotten her into trouble before."

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Other questions are liable to raise eyebrows as well.

One refers to denying citizenship to someone who recants the pledge to the Queen after taking it; another asks about incarcerating terrorists instead of providing "therapy and counselling."

Says a third: "Some people say that our politicians and political parties should encourage multiculturalism that celebrates our differences, while other people say that our politicians and political parties should encourage a unifying Canadian identity based on historic Canadian values."

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