OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada’s Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer on Tuesday said the number of migrants admitted every year should be in line with the best interests of the country, as he laid out his position on immigration policy ahead of an October national election.
Scheer, 40, is leading Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the polls with some five months to go before the general election.
While the immigration debate in Canada has been much more muted than in the United States, Canadians are becoming more polarized and less tolerant, according to polls published in April by Ottawa-based Ekos Politics.
Trudeau has gradually increased the number of migrants and refugees Canada takes in every year with the goal of accepting the equivalent of 1% of the population annually.
Scheer, speaking outside of Toronto in a suburb where many new Canadians now live, said the Liberal government had damaged people’s confidence in the country’s immigration system, though he stopped short of saying numbers should be cut.
The Liberals “have managed to undermine the long-standing consensus that immigration is indeed a positive for this country. Under Trudeau, a record-high number of Canadians believe that immigration should be reduced,” he said.
“As prime minister, I will set immigration levels consistent with what is in Canada’s best interests. That number may change every year,” Scheer said.
It was the third of five promised policy speeches by Scheer, following one on foreign policy and another on the economy in recent weeks.
In his speech, Scheer said there should be better screening for migrants entering Canada, but he rejected racism and extremism and said the country still needed immigrants, as it always has.
“The history of immigration in Canada is fundamentally the history of Canada itself,” he said in French.
Promising more “fairness, order and compassion” in the immigration system, Scheer said: “We alone understand that immigration, done right, is good for the economy and good for jobs.”
Ahmed Hussen, the Liberal immigration minister, said in a statement that Scheer simply represented a return to the past.
“After ten years of failed Conservative immigration policy, our Liberal government is restoring confidence in the immigration system,” Hussen said. The Liberal government took over in 2015.
“Canadians don’t want to go back to the old days and old divisive ways of (former Conservative Prime Minister) Stephen Harper, and that’s what Andrew Sheer has to offer.”
Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Tom Brown