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Leadership candidate Kelli Leitch, MP for the riding of Simcoe-Grey, talks with reporters at the national Conservative summer caucus retreat in Halifax on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016. The leadership campaign of Conservative party hopeful Kellie Leitch is jumping on Donald Trump's surprise U.S. victory to fire a shot at so-called Canadian elites. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

The Canadian Press

Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch is praising American voters for throwing out "the elites" to elect billionaire Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency and says that same message needs to come to Canada.

In a fundraising e-mail to supporters, the Ontario MP expands on her plan to screen immigrants and refugees for "Canadian values" to also include visitors – although how such a system would work remains unclear.

"Tonight, our American cousins threw out the elites and elected Donald Trump as their next president," Ms. Leitch, a pediatric surgeon, said in the e-mail sent to supporters early Wednesday morning after Mr. Trump was declared the winner.

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"It's an exciting message and one that we need delivered in Canada, as well."

In a followup interview, Ms. Leitch said that "message" means the growing gap between what so-called elites and the average Canadian thinks. When asked whether she qualifies as elite due to her professional background, Ms. Leitch said, "You may call me an elite but look, I dealt with the most challenging old boys' club there is in the country. They're called surgeons." When asked about Mr. Trump, she said "I'm not going to comment on Mr. Trump, whether he's an elite or not."

Ms. Leitch said she never endorsed Mr. Trump's candidacy nor what he's said about "women or people with disabilities or others."

"I don't have the good fortune of being able to have my personal feelings known. I have to put those aside," she said. "I recognize and I share some of the concerns. I know people have reservations with the president-elect. But the fact of the matter is, is he is now the president. And we have to have a working relationship with him to make sure that Canadians are successful in the long term."

Fellow leadership candidate Michael Chong quickly slammed Ms. Leitch's written remarks. "My caucus colleague, Kellie Leitch, is urging Canadian conservatives to ape Donald Trump's divisive path to the presidency of the United States of America. This is a mistake," Mr. Chong wrote in a statement. "Canadian conservatives win when we offer voters an ambitious, inspiring and inclusive vision of our country and its potential."

Another leadership candidate, former immigration minister Chris Alexander, said Ms. Leitch's rhetoric is unhelpful. Mr. Alexander, along with Ms. Leitch, presented the idea for the Conservatives' "barbaric cultural practices" tip line during the 2015 federal election. Mr. Alexander, who lost his seat, said the announcement was at the wrong stage in the campaign and has since pledged an increase in immigration.

"I don't think it is productive to import the kind of anger we've seen in middle America to Canada, because we have a different reality here," Mr. Alexander said in an interview. "Conservatives … tried some of those formulas in the past, which were exclusionary, which were intolerant. They don't work for Canada."

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Ms. Leitch, one of 12 candidates vying for the Conservative leadership, also proposes a screening test at the border. "I'm the only candidate who will ensure that every visitor, immigrant, and refugee will be screened for Canadian values," Ms. Leitch wrote in her e-mail.

In her interview, she said the screening would include "face-to-face interviews" by trained immigration officers, but couldn't explain how visitors would be affected.

Ms. Leitch has previously characterized "Canadian values" as equality of opportunity, hard work, generosity and freedom. She has defended her proposal as the promotion of tolerance and equality.

Meanwhile, interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government to resolve to pursue "a strong free-trade agenda" with the new U.S. administration and to ensure Canadian businesses reap the benefits of the North American free-trade agreement – which Mr. Trump has threatened to dismantle. She also said Mr. Trudeau should advocate for the implementation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that Mr. Trump has described as "horrible," as well as seek approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The 12 Conservative leadership candidates, who also include Ontario MP Lisa Raitt, Quebec MP Maxime Bernier and Saskatchewan's Andrew Scheer, were to participate in the first of five debates on Wednesday evening in Saskatoon.

The four themes up for debate include the economy, trade and prosperity, environment and climate change, and immigration and citizenship.

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