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Leitch says Trudeau a ‘Canadian identity denier,’ but he’s pointed to ‘shared values, openness, respect’

By Tim Naumetz      

The Conservative leadership contender appears to have quoted from a Toronto Sun column quoting an extensive New York Times Magazine interview with Trudeau.

'We as a people do have a core identity, we have Canadian values. And I think we’re very proud of them,' says Conservative leadership contender Kellie Leitch. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright
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A New York Times Magazine story about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last December that prompted Conservative leadership contender Kellie Leitch to accuse Mr. Trudeau of practising “dangerous” politics and being a “Canadian identity denier” also contains references by the newly elected prime minister to values Canadians share, including “openness, respect, [and] compassion.”

Ms. Leitch surprised a handful of journalists as she was entering the House of Commons on Monday, into the first sitting of the Commons following a 12-week parliamentary recess, and took several minutes to criticize Mr. Trudeau for allegedly denying Canadians have a national identity.

A journalist noted it had been a “very, very big summer” for Ms. Leitch, following a controversy she stirred at the beginning of September by floating the possibility Canada should screen would-be immigrants for “anti-Canadian values,” and asked the leadership hopeful what “tone” she was expecting in the Commons.

“Look, you know, I had a great time and a great campaign, but I do have a concern today and my concern is that our prime minister has denied that we have a core Canadian identity. He’s a Canadian identity denier,” Ms. Leitch replied.

“I’m looking forward to the discussions in our party, but also in the House, over the course of the next number of weeks and months, you know, I think focusing on Canadian values is extremely important,” said Ms. Leitch (Simcoe Grey, Ont.).

“We as a people do have a core identity, we have Canadian values. And I think we’re very proud of them,” Ms. Leitch, who several times described Mr. Trudeau’s position as dangerous.

Asked what she meant, Ms. Leitch replied: “The prime minister of Canada is playing a dangerous game. He denies that we have a core Canadian identity. He’s a Canadian identity denier. I think that is dangerous politics because we as Canadians share a common set of values, and that’s made our country extremely strong.”

The journalists present were later perplexed over the cause of Ms. Leitch’s complaint against Mr. Trudeau, and The Hill Times found a column published in the Toronto Sun that had expressed similar sentiment.

The columnist, Candice Malcolm, weighing in on the critical comments Ms. Leitch experienced in response to a Sept. 1 news report of a survey in which she asked prospective leadership supporters whether Canada should screen refugees and potential immigrants for Canadian values, criticized Mr. Trudeau and briefly quoted a portion of comments Mr. Trudeau made to The New York Times late last year.

“There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada,” Ms. Malcolm quoted Mr. Trudeau as saying in an interview with the newspaper, adding that Mr. Trudeau also said in the interview he sees Canada as “the first post-national state.” Ms. Malcolm was a press secretary to Conservative MP Jason Kenney (Calgary Midnapore, Alta.) when he was immigration minister.

A search on the New York Times newspaper website failed to find a report containing Mr. Trudeau’s comments, but the quotations appear in an article in the Dec. 13, 2015, edition of the weekly New York Times Magazine.

The Toronto Sun columnist, seemingly on whose description Ms. Leitch was depending, quoted only a small portion of the interview comments.

The journalist, who interviewed Mr. Trudeau following the election, in his lead-up to the contested comments noted how Mr. Trudeau and his party had campaigned on a promise to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees into Canada by the end of the year.

The journalist, Guy Lawson, also referred to the November 2015 terrorist attacks that had just rocked Paris.

“Trudeau said he wants Canada to be free from the politics of fear and division,” Mr. Lawson wrote.

“Countries with a strong national identity, linguistic, religious or cultural, are finding it a challenge to effectively integrate people from different backgrounds. In France, there is still a typical citizen and an atypical citizen. Canada doesn’t have that dynamic.”

Mr. Lawson described Mr. Trudeau’s “most radical argument” as his statement that “Canada is becoming a new kind of state, defined not by its European history but by the multiplicity of its identities from all over the world.”

Mr. Trudeau described a recent vandalism attack against a mosque in Cold Lake, Alta. and said “the entire town came out the next day to scrub the graffiti of the walls and help them fix the damage.”

‘‘Countries with a strong national identity—linguistic, religious, or cultural—are finding it a challenge to effectively integrate people from different backgrounds. In France, there is still a typical citizen and an atypical citizen. Canada doesn’t have that dynamic.’’ said Mr. Trudeau.

Mr. Lawson recalled how Mr. Trudeau’s father, former prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, had argued against cultural and historical nationalism and its negative effect on Quebec prior to the 1960s social and political change in the province.

“There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada,” Mr. Lawson quoted Mr. Trudeau as saying.

‘‘There are shared values—openness, respect, compassion, willingness to work hard, to be there for each other, to search for equality and justice. Those qualities are what make us the first postnational state,” Mr. Trudeau said, in remarkable similarity even to some of the values Ms. Leitch has mentioned in response to her critics.

In a statement to reporters earlier this month, Ms. Leitch said: “Screening potential immigrants for anti-Canadian values that include intolerance towards other religions, cultures, and sexual orientations, violent and/or misogynist behaviour and/or a lack of acceptance of our Canadian tradition of personal and economic freedoms is a policy proposal that I feel very strongly about.”

Ms. Leitch was not in Ottawa on Tuesday and was by press time unavailable for an interview. An assistant said Ms. Leitch’s campaign manager, Nick Kouvalis, would call The Hill Times.

But as of deadline, Mr. Kouvalis had not called.

tnaumetz@hilltimes.com

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