Alberta Premier Jason Kenney told a room of Chinese-Canadian supporters of the federal Conservative Party on Sunday that it’s time to bring fairness back to this country’s immigration system, arguing the Liberals have blown “huge holes” in the process.
Mr. Kenney, a former federal immigration minister, spent the weekend campaigning for the federal Tories in Toronto and its suburbs, a key battleground in this election. His 23 scheduled events included visits to a synagogue and a Sikh gurdwara, a meeting with the Coptic Christian community and a Hindu organization, as well as a gathering over dim sum in Richmond Hill.
A Conservative spokesman said the Conservative Party paid for all of Mr. Kenney’s costs.
At the Richmond Hill event, he told about 300 members of the Chinese-Canadian community that the previous, Conservative government was dedicated to a fairer immigration system.
“We sent a message that if you wanted to come to Canada, you should come legally through the front door, waiting your turn in the line, not sneaking around it by cutting the queue," he said to applause.
“That’s not right. It’s not the Canadian way and we need a fair immigration system.”
He said Canada has to take immigration fraud, human-trafficking and “fake asylum claims” seriously.
“Unfortunately, [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau has blown huge holes in our immigration system and that jeopardizes public support for our country’s generosity towards newcomers."
Mr. Kenney did not elaborate, but his comments were widely perceived by members of the audience as references to asylum seekers who have entered Canada from the United States at unauthorized crossings. After criticisms from the Conservatives, the Trudeau government took a tougher line on such asylum seekers in last spring’s budget, a shift away from the openness that defined the Liberal Party’s 2015 campaign.
As she stood in line for a picture with Mr. Kenney after the event, Vivian Huang, 36, said the Premier’s message about border crossings resonated with her. She came to Canada in 2003 from China.
“This is so unfair. How about for people who’ve been waiting in line for years? How about those economic immigrants that are going to really contribute to this country?” she said.
Mr. Kenney’s intervention in the federal campaign has rankled the Liberals, who shadowed him and held news conferences at his events to ask why federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and Ontario Premier Doug Ford were absent.
Outside a Conservative campaign office in Brampton, northwest of Toronto, Liberal candidate Navdeep Bains told reporters he wanted to highlight the fact that “Conservatives are cut from the same cloth."
“We have Jason Kenney here in Ontario, but where’s the Premier of Ontario?” he said.
“Andrew Scheer is struggling. Andrew Scheer is not connecting with the residents of Ontario, and that’s why he’s asked his good friend Jason Kenney to come here."
Mr. Bains defended Liberal immigration policies, saying his government implemented global skills strategies that helped create jobs.
Brampton Conservative official Jaswinder Singh said Mr. Kenney is well-known in the area.
“He has done so much for the community in the past," Mr. Singh told reporters. “The community will recognize him and respect him.”
Mr. Kenney spent the weekend highlighting Conservative policies such as scrapping the carbon tax and touting Mr. Scheer’s “universal tax cut” at many events.
He also talked up the need to export oil from Alberta by building pipelines to other markets. “We cannot get our energy to the rest of the world. We are bottlenecked. We’re locked in," Mr. Kenney said.
“My province is facing a bleak future if [Mr. Trudeau] is re-elected."
He spoke about his relationship with Mr. Scheer, whom he has known for 20 years. He called him "one of the most honest and decent people that I know.
"People sometimes say to me: Why doesn’t Andrew get more aggressive and scrappy? … My answer is: Because he’s actually, truly, a very nice person and, unlike Justin Trudeau, he can’t fake it.”
However, he told reporters he was unaware Mr. Scheer held dual Canadian-U.S. citizenship, which has become an issue in the campaign.
“No, but I am aware that millions of Canadians have parentage from other countries and end up inheriting dual citizenship without their volition. I don’t think that’s exactly surprising,” he said.
Others attending the event in Richmond Hill, such as 87-year-old Albert Wong, said they believe Mr. Kenney will one day be leader of the federal party.
“Eventually, yes,” Mr. Wong said.
“He was supposed to be the successor to the Harper era, but he figured it was more important to go out to the West, to build the pipeline, to go export the Canadian oil.”