People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier was directly challenged during the federal leaders’ debate over his past comments about “extreme multiculturalism” and the effects diversity has on Canada.
Debate moderator Lisa LaFlamme read several of Bernier’s past tweets about immigration and diversity aloud, challenging the leader over his use of the words “ghettos” and “tribes” in describing new immigrants to Canada.
LaFlamme also pressed Bernier over his concerns that newcomers bring with them “distrust” and “potential violence.”
“Are these the words of someone with the character and integrity to lead all Canadians and represent us on the world stage?” LaFlamme asked.
“You must tell the truth to Canadians if you want to be the leader of this country,” Bernier said.
“What I’m saying about extreme multiculturalism, it is not the way to build this country. Yes, this country is a diverse country and we must be proud of that, but we don’t need legislation like the Multiculturalism Act to tell us who we are.”
Bernier has campaigned on a promise to significantly reduce immigration levels to Canada. He says the number of people allowed to enter the country as permanent residents should be cut in half — to about 150,000 new immigrants a year.
“We must have fewer immigrants in this country to be sure for these people to participate in our society,” he said.
Other leaders respond
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was quick to attack Bernier on his past positions regarding immigration, calling his tweets “pretty horrible.”
“It should come as no surpise to you that I believe a leader is not someone who tries to divide people or to pit people against each other. A true leader is someone who tries to find bridges, bring people together,” Singh said.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer also criticized Bernier.
“What Mr. Bernier fails to understand is that you can absolutely be proud of Canada’s history, you can be proud of our identity, be proud of the things we’ve done and accomplished in the world, while at the same time welcoming people from all around the world,” he said.
Scheer also said Bernier had changed from someone who used to believe in an immigration system that was fair, orderly and compassionate to someone who bases his policies on the number of likes and retweets he gets on social media from the “darkest parts of Twitter.”
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May also called Bernier’s past comments about immigration “completely appalling,” while Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet asked Bernier if he realized that his own family decended from immigrants.
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Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau said polarization and fear over immigration issues has become “easy currency for politicians who do want to strike up uncertainties in peoples hearts.”
He said Bernier is “playing a role” to make people more fearful about migration, globalization and what it means to be Canadian.
Bernier, meanwhile, defended himself against the other leaders, saying he’s not a “radical” because he believes in lower immigration levels.