OTTAWA, Oct 11 — He was supposed to be touting his tough stance on crime but Canadian opposition leader Andrew Scheer found himself on the back foot today as his announcement was overshadowed by questions over his dual nationality.
The Conservative, who is aiming to unseat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in the October 21 election, has been on the defensive since disclosing yesterday that he is part-American.
As he unveiled plans for a crackdown on gangs and illegal firearms, his audience at a Toronto news conference appeared much more interested in his heritage.
“Everyone who knows me, or knows my family, knows that my father was born in the United States. I’ve been open with that. And so that’s that,” Scheer told reporters.
But that, apparently, is far from that.
In cosmopolitan Canada, it is no impediment to high office to have roots in other countries — but Scheer has sparked anger by leaving it so late in the campaign to front up with the public.
“It’s not a big deal in Canada for people to have dual citizenship,” Scheer said. “There’s millions of Canadians who had one or more parent born in another country.”
Scheer said he decided after becoming Conservative leader in 2017 to renounce his US citizenship. He only submitted the paperwork in August, however — just before the election campaign kicked off.
Critics have also highlighted what they see as double-standard: in past elections, Conservatives have attacked leaders of the New Democratic Party and Liberal Party because of dual citizenship.
Scheer himself in 2005 criticised the dual French-Canadian nationality of Canada’s former governor general Michaelle Jean.
“It should not disqualify you, but you must be honest when you’re looking to become prime minister of a country of 37 million,” said Trudeau, who was on his own campaign stop in Quebec City.
“Andrew Scheer should tell the whole truth.”
The Liberal campaign, meanwhile, played up the controversy to attack Scheer’s plan to address rising gun violence, accusing him of wanting to bring in “American-style gun laws for Canada.”
Scheer is proposing minimum five-year jail terms for possession of a smuggled firearm and said he would list gangs as criminal entities in much the same way terrorist groups are proscribed.
In the early evening, Scheer’s party also announced it had expelled election candidate Heather Leung for homophobic remarks.
“Recent media reports have brought to light offensive comments made by Ms Leung saying ‘homosexuals recruit’ children and describing the sexual orientation of the LGBTQ community as ‘perverted,’” said a party statement.
“There is no tolerance in the Conservative Party for those types of offensive comments.” — AFP