Conservative leadership hopeful downplays ‘Canadian values’

Deciding ‘good’ or ‘bad’ Canadians ‘unworkable and undesirable,’ says Tony Clement

Martin C. Barry

Conservative leadership

On a stop in Laval last week while campaigning in Quebec for the leadership of the Conservative Party, longtime Conservative stalwart Tony Clement appeared to back away from rival leadership candidate Kellie Leitch’s recent statements that Canada should start screening newly-arriving immigrants for “Canadian values.”

Would focus on security

“I think quite frankly that focusing government’s time and attention and resources on having some bureaucrats somewhere deciding whether someone might be a good Canadian or a bad Canadian in the future is probably unworkable and undesirable,” said Clement, while adding that he would be elaborating his position in a national security policy to be released in a few days time.

“I’m going to define my campaign by my policies,” he said. “The Conservative Party of Canada has to be pro-Canadian values, of course, but we also have to be pro-immigration, pro-national security and pro-jobs. So these are my focus as someone who wants to be leader.”

Tony Clement, Sen. Leo Housakos
Conservative Party leadership candidate Tony Clement, right, was in Laval last week with Sen. Leo Housakos who is fully backing Clement’s bid.

An immigrant himself

Clement, who was born in England and immigrated to Canada with his parents when he was four years old, said the experience left him with the impression that almost all immigrants come here with peaceful intentions while seeking to become part of Canadian society.

“What I wanted to do was to be part of the fabric of Canadian society and I think that’s what most immigrants want,” he said. “They want to be successful here for themselves, for their kids, for their grandkids. I think that approach is what every immigrant aspires to, and that’s what I can represent as the leader of the Conservative Party and as a future prime minister.”

Walls figure prominently these days in political rhetoric, be it in Europe where a barrier is now being erected along the cliffs of Calais in France to prevent immigrants from crossing the channel to Britain, or in the U.S. where Donald Trump has long promised a wall along the country’s southern border to stem the flow of illegal immigrants from Mexico.

‘We’re pro-national security’

Asked where he stands with regard to such extreme responses, Clement cited the Conservative Party’s longstanding pro-immigration record. “But at the same time we’re pro-national security,” he pointed out. “So to the extent that there are people who want to tear down our values, tear down our civilization, want to wreak violence in our society, that’s where our focus should be – to prevent them from doing so.”

On another issue, the country’s economy, Clement is critical of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government for failing badly – especially with regards to rising national jobless rates. “We’re in the midst right now of what I call the Trudeau jobs recession,” said Clement, a former Minister of Industry and Treasury Board President in several Conservative governments.

Trudeau’s lost jobs record

“The last two months of job numbers indicate that we’ve lost 100,000 full-time jobs in this country, despite Mr. Trudeau’s policies: his tax and spend policies, driving us into deficit, misspending on critical infrastructure priorities. These indicate that his plans are not working. So over the next weeks and months I will be outlining a better economic strategy for Canada which involves lower taxes, innovation, more startups and more creative activity. I believe that’s our path forward.”

Commenting on Prime Minister Trudeau’s recent completion of a mission to China, Clement said he didn’t see any major problems with it, but took exception to Trudeau’s handling of the overlapping issues of economic interests and human rights. “When it comes to China, we have values we want to express to them on human rights issues, for instance, and Mr. Trudeau did do that,” he said. “I want to give him the acknowledgement that he did raise human rights.

Safeguarding Canadian interests

“But when it comes to the interests of the country, I do worry that in his headlong dash to make nice to the Chinese leadership, our economic interests will not be protected,” he added. “That’s something I’m going to be watching very closely. If the Chinese want to make investments in this country that’s fine. But they have to be on our terms, on the terms of our national interest. China has to protect Canadian investments on their soil through the rule of law, and these are the kinds of issues that have to be nailed down before we can have a very good commercial relationship with China.”

As a former provincial and federal health minister, Clement said he is not pledging any radical changes in the federal government’s constitutionally guaranteed role in defining public health care in Canada. “One of the things the federal government can do is to promote innovation in our health care system,” he said, adding that this might consist of helping the provinces develop new models of health care management and delivery “that puts the patient first. Those are the kinds of things that I want to have a dialogue with the provinces on.”

Supported by Housakos

During the interview at the Mirage New York restaurant on Saint-Martin Blvd., Clement, whose father was a Greek Cypriot, was accompanied by Conservative Senator Leo Housakos who is supporting his candidacy.  “Experience has value,” Housakos said, explaining his support.

“I thought it was imperative that we have a leader of the official opposition in Canada who is experienced, responsible and with a proven track record making in government. Mr. Clement has done that at the federal and provincial levels.”