Conservative Member of Canadian Parliament Kellie Leitch held a meet and greet organized by student political groups from Concordia University, Marianopolis College, John Abbott College, and McGill University at the downtown restaurant Chez Alexandre on Jan. 12. About a dozen McGill students stood outside the restaurant with signs, protesting the event and Leitch’s definition of what constitutes ‘Canadian values.’
Leitch is running for leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada; the election will be held on May 27 this year. Although she has received attention for controversial ideas, Leitch is reportedly polled to be in the middle of the leadership race, according to a Forum Research survey.
The Conservative Association at McGill University had a leadership role in organizing the event. Conservative Association President Adam Wilson, U3 Arts, commented on how Leitch is less controversial in person.
“I think [Kellie Leitch] is portrayed much differently in the media than she actually is, so I think these one-on-one interactions, which are unfiltered, when people can actually listen to her speak, people will come to appreciate what she has to say a lot more,” Wilson said. “When she hands out her business card, it is her cellphone, it is her email account [….] We have over a thousand registered volunteers across the country, so it’s really a grassroots type of campaign.”
Protesters outside the restaurant criticized Leitch’s idea of screening immigrants for ‘Canadian values’ as being a discriminatory and Fascist policy.
“We stop having a debate when racism and bigotry become part of the discourse,” said protester Malaya Powers, U3 Arts. “What we hope to accomplish by standing here is not only showing that Trump-style politics will not be tolerated in Canada, but also to stand in solidarity with those her politics are targeting.”
Powers carried a sign reading ‘Trump Style Politics = NOT WELCOMED’ in response to Leitch calling Trump’s victory an “exciting message that needs to be delivered to Canada as well.”
Powers expressed concern that Canada could be influenced by the recent political trends and rhetoric in the United States.
“We need to really be careful that Leitch’s policies don’t gain ground,” said Powers. “Trump’s messages were racist, they were sexist, they were homophobic, and if she thinks that those messages are exiting, we will show her that they have no place in the Canadian discourse, and they are not Canadian values.”
Leitch defended her concept of Canadian values as an important national inspiration.
“What I’m talking about is being a proud Canadian,” Leitch said. “For me hard work, generosity, freedom, and tolerance, those are Canadian values, and there’s nothing intolerant about them. What I find interesting is that we have a Prime Minister who believes we don’t have any values.”
Wilson echoed Leitch’s concept, defending the existence of Canadian values.
“We’re asking immigrants whether they believe in equality of opportunity, generosity, [and] freedom of speech,” Wilson said. “So by people saying that screening is racist, to me, it’s racist of them to be insinuating that people don’t hold those values.”
The Conservative Association at McGill will continue hosting candidates for the Conservative Party leadership. The next event will be held on Jan. 18 at Trois Brasseurs with candidate Erin O’Toole attending.