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Politics Tories announce consultation tour on immigration issues amid Bernier diversity debate

Conservative MP Maxime Bernier asks a question in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 31, 2017.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The federal Conservatives announced a cross-country immigration policy tour on Wednesday amid a fiery internal party debate about diversity in Canada, sparked by their own MP and former leadership candidate Maxime Bernier.

Speaking to reporters in Ottawa, Tory immigration critic Michelle Rempel and Treasury Board critic Gérard Deltell said their party would embark on the “Pathway to Canada Tour" in the fall to consult with Canadians on their immigration principles and policy ideas. The announcement comes ahead of this week’s Conservative convention in Halifax, where the caucus will grapple with how to handle Mr. Bernier’s recent attack on the party leadership.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Mr. Bernier accused his Conservative caucus colleagues of telling him to “shut up” after his recent Twitter tirade criticizing the Liberal government’s high immigration levels, “cult of diversity” and “extreme multiculturalism.” “Great example of strong leadership!” he tweeted sarcastically, without directly naming Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.

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Speaking to reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday, Ms. Rempel said Mr. Bernier has never raised his concerns with her as immigration critic. She declined to say whether she would support expelling Mr. Bernier from the Conservative caucus, rather encouraging him to participate in the party’s continuing policy discussions.

“Max has never come to talk to me about immigration,” Ms. Rempel said. “My colleague has a choice to make. Does he want Andrew Scheer to win [the next election] or Justin Trudeau to win?”

The Conservative critics also faced repeated questions about Mr. Scheer’s recent defence of a woman with ties to the far-right group Storm Alliance.

The woman, identified by La Presse Canadienne as Diane Blain, heckled Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week in Sabrevois, Que. where she asked him about the cost of the recent surge in asylum seekers along the Canada-U.S. border. She used the term “Québécois de souche,” which means white French Quebeckers, prompting Mr. Trudeau to respond in French, “Your racism has no place here."

In a tweet on Monday, Mr. Scheer accused the Prime Minister of dismissing legitimate questions about his government’s border policy with “vile personal insults." While Ms. Rempel said that she doesn’t support language that fails to maintain Canada’s pluralism, she defended the premise of the woman’s question.

“In that moment, she was asking a question that many, many people in Quebec, including the leader of their government, have been asking," Ms. Rempel said on Wednesday.

“Questions around budgets and [immigration] levels and support and integration are reasonable questions in the context of Canadian pluralism.”

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During Wednesday’s news conference, Ms. Rempel tried to keep the focus on the Conservatives’ countrywide feedback tour. The tour will seek input from stakeholders on a number of immigration-policy proposals, including the closure of a loophole in a border agreement with the United States that requires Canada to take in asylum seekers who cross between official ports of entry.

“A Conservative government led by Andrew Scheer would oversee an immigration system that is fair, orderly and compassionate," Ms. Rempel said.

When asked about the Conservative policy tour at a cabinet retreat in Nanaimo, B.C., Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen quipped that it might be best to first see what Maxime Bernier thinks of it.

“They have finally figured out that in order to reach a good immigration policy, they need to talk to Canadians,” Mr. Hussen told reporters. “We’ve been doing that for the last three years,” he said, noting he has done three such tours.

He said long wait times and huge backlogs are among the features that have typified Conservative management of immigration in Canada.

“I haven’t seen anything today that convinces me they have changed the channel on that.”

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