Two Tory MPs silent after Poilievre says they 'regret' meeting German politician

OTTAWA — Two Conservative members of Parliament are remaining tight-lipped about whether they regret meeting with a German politician, which is something Pierre Poilievre has said they do.

Neither Leslyn Lewis nor Dean Allison have responded to direct questions about whether they agree with the Conservative leader's characterization of their feelings about their choice to take part in a recent luncheon with Christine Anderson.

The German politician visited Canada as part of a tour organized by supporters of last winter's "Freedom Convoy" staged around Parliament Hill and at several border crossings to protest against COVID-19 vaccines, health restrictions, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government.

Anderson, who is a member of European Parliament representing the Alternative for Germany party, expressed support for protesters at the time and spoke out against Trudeau.

The right-wing populist party has been under surveillance as a suspected extremist group in Germany since 2021 and has been accused of downplaying Nazi crimes, opposing immigration and pushing anti-Muslim ideology.

Bethan Nodwell, one of the organizers who arranged for Anderson to visit Canada and meet with three Conservative MPs during a lunch last week, said their discussion centred around Trudeau, vaccines, the convoy and pandemic-related restrictions, such as lockdowns.

She said it lasted about two hours and that "we parted ways with smiles and waving."

Concerns about Lewis, Allison and fellow caucus member Colin Carrie choosing to meet Anderson emerged last week shortly after photographs of the luncheon began circulating on social media.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said it raised concerns directly with the Conservative party, and the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center also condemned the meeting.

Both groups said it was "deeply concerning" and "troubling" that elected leaders in Canada met with Anderson when her party espouses "Islamophobic" and "hateful views."

Poilievre's office responded by releasing a statement from the official Opposition leader, saying it would have been better if Anderson never visited Canada and that his MPs were unaware of her opinions and "regret meeting with her."

In the same email, his office also included a statement from Allison, Lewis and Carrie. It said that while it is not uncommon for elected officials to meet with counterparts from other countries, the trio were not "aware of the views or associations of her and her political party." It added: "We do not share or endorse her views and strongly condemn any views that are racist or hateful."

Carrie, who represents the riding of Oshawa, hours later tweeted that he "profoundly" regrets meeting with Anderson "without having sought the input of my staff" and taking a closer look at who he was meeting with.

The offices of Allison and Lewis, however, have not answered direct questions about whether Poilievre's assertion that they regret attending the meeting is true. A spokesman for Poilievre also did not specify how he confirmed the MPs regret the meeting.

A staffer in Lewis's office provided a statement to The Canadian Press on Monday, where the MP reiterates how her job requires her to meet with foreign officials "quite frequently and often do not share the views of those officials or their parties."

She went on to defend her record as a lawyer where she says she stood up for the rights of immigrants and members of the LGBTQ community.

"Before becoming a member of Parliament one of my practice areas was human rights, and as such, I've always, and continue to, condemn any views that are racist or hateful," said Lewis.

"As an immigrant to Canada myself I am blessed to have grown up here in Canada, and have seen, first hand, the vital role that immigration plays, both to us as Canadians and to those seeking to build a better life."

Lewis also took to social media last week following an interview with the Toronto Sun to say she rejects criticism coming from Trudeau over her meeting with Anderson, pointing to how during the 2019 federal election he was discovered to have worn brown- and blackface several times before entering politics. After the news came out, Trudeau apologized on the campaign trail.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2023.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press