OTTAWA — Michael Chong joined the Conservative leadership race Monday, breaking ranks with the party’s long-standing opposition to carbon pricing but falling in line on face coverings — a controversy many believe cost the party votes last October.
Chong, a southern Ontario member of Parliament, said with carbon pricing already in effect at the provincial level, the federal Tories must refocus their energies on ensuring the revenues go towards reducing taxes.
It’s part of a broad rethink of environmental policy Chong, 45, said he will bring to the race — one he considers necessary if the Conservatives are to attract new voters and win back the trust of those who deserted them last fall.
“We have to attract younger people to our party and that begins by shifting our positions on issues like the environment,” Chong told a news conference.
The Tories were thrust into a leadership contest after former prime minister Stephen Harper stepped down as party chief on election night.
His resignation followed a campaign that critics, and later Conservatives themselves, said was marked too much by divisive policies such as the call for a “barbaric practices” tip line and the relentless push for a ban on wearing face veils during citizenship ceremonies.
Chong said he didn’t see those two issues as the sole reasons his party was reduced to Opposition status.
But while he disagreed with the tip line, he said he does support the face covering ban, though wouldn’t necessarily push to have it enshrined in legislation.
“I agree with the government’s decision on the niqab in respect of citizenship ceremonies,” Chong said.
“We live in a free society and people can wear what they want. However, I also believe that in a free and democratic society it is reasonable under Section 1 of the charter for the state to put a limit on that right in very limited circumstances.” He called citizenship ceremonies one of those circumstances.
Chong, whose father was a Chinese immigrant from Hong Kong and mother a Dutch immigrant from the Netherlands, was first elected in 2004 in the riding of Wellington-Halton Hills. He went on to serve in Harper’s cabinet as intergovernmental affairs minister.
But he resigned from that position in 2006 because he didn’t support a motion recognizing Quebecers as a nation, calling it ethnic nationalism. He said Monday he stands by that position even today.
From his seat on the backbenches, he spearheaded legislation to give individual MPs more power. A bill to that effect became law last fall.
As the child of immigrants, Chong said his decision to run was influenced by his upbringing and his family’s past.
“My family’s Canadian story is also the conservative story: it’s a story of hard work, of perseverance, of counting your pennies and investing in your children’s future,” he said.
Ontario MP Kellie Leitch and Quebec MP Maxime Bernier are the other two candidates currently in the race but several others are considering putting their names forward as well.
The Conservatives will gather at the end of this month for a policy convention and will choose their next leader in May 2017.