Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said on Tuesday that bigots, extremists and racists are not welcome in his party as he vowed to “restore fairness” to Canada’s immigration system if he becomes prime minister after the October general election.
In a speech on immigration, Mr. Scheer sought to dispel Liberal attempts to portray the Conservative Party as anti-immigrant, saying his government would be open to all races and religions, and lauded newcomers for making Canada a better place.
“There is absolutely no room in a peaceful and free country like Canada for intolerance, racism and extremism of any kind. And the Conservative Party of Canada will always make that absolutely clear,” Mr. Scheer told a Toronto audience.
“I find the notion that one’s race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation would make anyone in any way superior or inferior to anyone else absolutely repugnant. And if there’s anyone who disagrees with that, there’s the door. You are not welcome here.”
This is the third policy speech Mr. Scheer has given to lay out his ideas for the coming election. He has already outlined his foreign and economic policy, and plans to deliver a speech on Confederation and federal-provincial relations, and unveil an environmental agenda.
Mr. Scheer vowed a Conservative government would reunite spouses and children, reunite genocide survivors more expeditiously, and improve language training for newcomers. He said he would also do more to promote private sponsorships of refugees.
But he also used his speech to criticize the governing style of Justin Trudeau, saying the Prime Minister can’t brook dissent and is intolerant of Canadians who don’t accept his views.
“We have all seen how the Liberal Leader reacts to dissent and disagreement within his ranks. He silences it. He and his party are also intolerant of and openly hostile toward the personal beliefs and convictions of millions of Canadians,” he said.
In his speech about the many refugees and immigrants Canada has welcomed, Mr. Scheer said newcomers have helped the country grow, but took aim at the Liberals for the way they responded to criticism over their handling of the file – particularly the issue of asylum seekers arriving through unauthorized border crossings.
“Like you, Conservatives have questioned the current government’s ability to preserve the integrity of our immigration system. Now, Justin Trudeau and his ministers responded how they always do when confronted with criticism – with more rhetoric and personal attacks.”
Mr. Scheer called that approach “dangerous” because it reduces legitimate criticisms to partisanship, making it easier for the government to ignore the system’s problems. He said it also devalues “the threats that are still, unfortunately, all too real in our society. Racism is real. Bigotry is real. Extremism is real.”
Mr. Scheer said he would close a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States that has allowed asylum-seekers who enter the country by avoiding border checkpoints to make refugee claims that would be automatically rejected at official crossings. “I will work to put an end to illegal border crossings at unofficial points of entry like Roxham Road,” he said, citing the busiest such crossing point where two rural roads in Quebec and New York practically touch. He added that he believes the loophole in the agreement allows these irregular migrants to “skip the line and avoid the queue.”
After about two years of pressure from the Conservatives over the government’s handling of asylum seekers along the U.S.-Canada border, the government proposed major changes in last month’s budget bill. Asylum seekers who have already made a refugee claim in the United States, Britain, Australia or New Zealand would be prevented from having access to a full refugee hearing by an independent tribunal. Rather, they would be offered a preremoval risk assessment, which is overseen by the Immigration Department instead of the Immigration and Refugee Board, the tribunal responsible for making decisions on most asylum cases.
The Auditor-General said in his spring report that the government has struggled to keep up with the arrival of the tens of thousands of asylum seekers who have crossed the Canada-U.S. border between official entry points since 2017.
Mr. Scheer steered clear of saying how many immigrants Canada would welcome under his leadership, acknowledging that some say immigration levels are too high and others say they are too low.
“In both cases, political purposes trump economic and social reality. As prime minister, I will set immigration levels consistent with what is in Canada’s best interests,” he said.
“That number may change every year, and I’m not going to get into a political debate, or, worse, an auction about immigration numbers. The number will reflect what Canada needs and, just as importantly, who needs Canada.”
Mr. Scheer also told a personal story about his mother, who died a couple of years ago, and who he said was committed to helping Syrian refugees.
“It was deeply moving for me to see, as my mother received medical treatment before her death, how those same refugees visited her in the hospital to return the love and compassion that she had shown to them.”
He said it reinforced for him that “Canada must continue to be that place for those truly in need.”
Mathieu Genest, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, said Mr. Scheer should commit to not cutting refugee levels.
With a report from The Canadian Press.