November 14, 2018

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Bernier should decide if he wants Trudeau to win next election, Rempel says

OTTAWA - In an attempt to set the narrative for this week's policy convention in Halifax, Andrew Scheer's Conservative team laid out its policy agenda for "fair, orderly and compassionate" immigration, but once again was knocked off message by maverick caucus member Maxime Bernier.

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel and treasury board critic Gerard Deltell held a news conference in Ottawa on Wednesday to unveil the party's immigration platform, which includes a plan to travel across the country to hear Canadians' views.

Rempel criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for what she says has been the lack of a clear vision on immigration policy. This has led to a polarization of debate over how Canada should manage the flow of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, she said.

Canada needs a multi-pronged and detailed immigration plan given competing demands, Rempel said.

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Michelle Rempel, Shadow Minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, and Gerard Deltell, Shadow Minister for the Treasury Board, hold a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Michelle Rempel, Shadow Minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, and Gerard Deltell, Shadow Minister for the Treasury Board, hold a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA - In an attempt to set the narrative for this week's policy convention in Halifax, Andrew Scheer's Conservative team laid out its policy agenda for "fair, orderly and compassionate" immigration, but once again was knocked off message by maverick caucus member Maxime Bernier.

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel and treasury board critic Gerard Deltell held a news conference in Ottawa on Wednesday to unveil the party's immigration platform, which includes a plan to travel across the country to hear Canadians' views.

Rempel criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for what she says has been the lack of a clear vision on immigration policy. This has led to a polarization of debate over how Canada should manage the flow of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, she said.

Canada needs a multi-pronged and detailed immigration plan given competing demands, Rempel said.

She pointed to calls from advocacy groups for Canada to take more refugees amid an influx of tens of thousands of irregular border crossers, as well as requests from industry and business groups for more immigration to sustain local economies in areas that also face high unemployment rates.

"Canada is and should remain a country that welcomes newcomers," she said. "The question is under what principles and what policy — the question is how, not if."

Rempel said her party would:

— be more transparent about how immigration levels are determined;

— completely overhaul the low-skilled temporary foreign worker program;

— amend the Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S. to reduce the flow of irregular migrants;

— and revamp resettlement services for newcomers.

But try as they might to focus the discussion on policy, Rempel and Deltell found themselves fielding questions about Bernier's latest display of defiance on his Twitter feed.

In his most recent tweets, which surfaced Tuesday and Wednesday, Bernier said he believes immigration in Canada is at "too high a level" — one where it "ceases to be a tool to economically benefit Canadians and it turns instead into a burden."

"It becomes essentially a big-government policy of social engineering for ideological and electoral purposes," he wrote.

In response, Rempel — herself an often outspoken voice around the Tory caucus table — said it's time for Bernier to decide whether he wants his own party or the rival Liberals to form the next government.

"Max has never come to talk to me about immigration," Rempel told the news conference.

"I would also say my colleague has a choice to make — does he want Andrew Scheer to win or does he want Justin Trudeau to win?"

Bernier has spent the last week and a half using his Twitter account to accuse the Trudeau government of promoting too much diversity and "extreme multiculturalism," and beating back anyone calling his views into question.

He was at it again upon learning Rempel had scheduled the Wednesday news conference on immigration.

"After disavowing me last week for raising the issue and telling me to shut up, my colleagues have just realized that this is something Canadians find important and want to hear about? Great example of strong leadership!"

All of this comes as party members from across the country are convening in Halifax for their first policy convention since Scheer was elected chief last year.

The three-day event, which begins Thursday, will include break-out sessions on a list of 74 resolutions and feature a keynote speech by Scheer, with an introduction from former Conservative MP Peter MacKay. Ontario Premier Doug Ford will also make an appearance.

But party members and insiders have said they fear Bernier's outspokenness could divert focus from the official agenda and cause rifts within the big blue tent.

When asked whether she would support the necessary caucus vote to remove Bernier from the Tory team, Rempel says the Conservative party welcomes open debate, noting she has publicly differed with her party in the past without facing calls of expulsion.

"When you have different opinions, it leads to better public policy."

Last week, Scheer said he had asked his team to work together but wouldn’t say whether he’ll take any action against Bernier, who represents the Quebec riding of Beauce.

Speaking to reporters from the Liberal cabinet retreat in Nanaimo, B.C., Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen quipped he is looking forward to hearing what Bernier thinks of the Conservative immigration plan.

Hussen said he didn't see much difference between the Tory plan and current practices. "It looks like empty criticism for the sake of criticism."

— Follow @ReporterTeresa on Twitter

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