MONTREAL — Canada needs to reduce the number of immigrants and refugees it accepts in order to better integrate them, Conservative leadership hopeful Steven Blaney said Wednesday.
The Quebec MP said the Trudeau government’s targets have been “improvised for political purposes” and don’t take into account the ability of cities and provinces to integrate newcomers.
He accused the current government of “breaking the dreams” of immigrants and refugees who have not been able to find work in their fields or learn English or French.
“The most important thing is to be able to offer those immigrants opportunities,” he told a Montreal news conference where he unveiled his immigration strategy.
“If you are not offered a job and are not able to master one or two of the official languages, we have a big problem,” he said.
The former public safety minister also said the screening process for immigrants and refugees needs to be strengthened to ensure none of the newcomers pose a threat.
He also reiterated a promise to “beef up” the citizenship test to ensure newcomers understand “basic principles of Canadian identity” such as the charter of rights, freedom of speech and equality between the sexes.
Another leadership candidate, Kellie Leitch, has raised eyebrows over her proposal that new immigrants be screened for what she calls “anti-Canadian values.”
Blaney said Canada would remain a “welcoming country” under his plan, which involves rolling back immigration numbers to roughly where they were under Stephen Harper’s former Conservative government.
“We are welcoming those people, but citizenship comes with rights and responsibilities, and we need to make sure immigrants are aware of both,” he said.
He said immigration targets would be set in partnership with provinces and cities based on their labour needs and ability to integrate newcomers socially, economically and linguistically.
Blaney and Leitch are two of more than a dozen candidates vying for the Conservative party’s top job.
Another possible candidate, Kevin O’Leary, has drawn criticism this week from declared contenders Andrew Scheer and Lisa Raitt.
On Tuesday, Scheer accused O’Leary, who doesn’t speak French, of delaying his entry into the race in order to avoid a French-language debate on Jan. 17.
But Blaney said Wednesday he admires the efforts of his fellow candidates to learn French, and added he would welcome O’Leary into the race.
“The more candidates there are, the better this race will be,” he said.
The Tories will choose Harper’s successor in May.