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Kellie Leitch loses support of key Newfoundland and Labrador backer

Kellie Leitch’s most prominent Newfoundland and Labrador supporter has pulled his endorsement to protest the federal Conservative leadership candidate’s stance on screening immigrants for Canadian values.

Steve Kent, deputy premier and health minister in the former Progressive Conservative government of Paul Davis, yanked his support for Leitch in a post on his Facebook page.

“I have been struggling with her campaign’s divisive policy positions of late. Frankly, they are inconsistent with my beliefs and the welcoming spirit of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador in general,” Kent wrote in the statement.

“I have always believed strongly in Canadian values, and I believe those values are based on embracing diversity, not excluding it; and building bridges, not walls.”

Steve Kent

Kent, who is considering a run for leadership of the PC party in Newfoundland and Labrador, says he considers Leitch a friend but could not support her Canadian values stance. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

In addition to Leitch, current candidates for the Conservative leadership, to replace interim leader Rona Ambrose, are: Chris Alexander, Maxime Bernier, Steven Blaney, Michael Chong, Dan Lindsay, ​Deepak Obhrai, ​Erin O’Toole, Lisa Raitt. Andrew Saxton, Andrew Scheer and Brad Trost.

Kent said he considers Leitch a good friend. She sent volunteers to Newfoundland and Labrador to help Kent with his re-election to the House of Assembly in the 2015 provincial election. But Kent has privately told people he had no idea her leadership campaign would go in this direction and that he is uncomfortable with the tone it has taken.

For the past week, Kent has dodged reporters’ questions about his support for Leitch. He has also been the target of social media attacks from his opponents — especially the provincial Liberals, who are keen to link him to Leitch’s Canadian values stance.

Kent may also have personal political reasons. He previously ran for leader of the provincial PC party, and with current leader and former premier Paul Davis announcing his plans to step down, Kent says he is weighing another leadership bid.

Here is the full text of Kent’s statement Tuesday:

“I have not been active in the federal Conservative leadership campaign. In fact, I still have not ruled out a bid for leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Newfoundland and Labrador. To that end, I have been focusing all my energies on listening to the concerns and thoughtful solutions provided by the people of this province.

“As political and community leaders, we need to always listen carefully to what citizens are saying. I assure you that I am always listening.

“As difficult as this is for me, because Dr. Kellie Leitch is a good friend of mine, today, I want to confirm that I will not be providing my endorsement to her campaign. Kellie is an accomplished, bright, passionate and energetic woman. I admire so much about her – but I have been struggling with her campaign’s divisive policy positions of late. Frankly, they are inconsistent with my beliefs and the welcoming spirit of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador in general.‎ I have always believed strongly in Canadian values, and I believe those values are based on embracing diversity, not excluding it; and building bridges, not walls.

“I extend my best wishes to all the federal leadership candidates. I pledge that I will work with whoever rises to the position of Federal Leader. Also, as I am still contemplating a future leadership run, I do not believe that any potential PC leadership candidates should compromise that relationship by aligning with any federal campaign.