Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is attempting to distance his party from a far-right German politician whose views have been condemned as hateful and racist, and who was photographed lunching with three Conservative MPs earlier this week.
Christine Anderson, a member of the European Parliament with Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party, is on a cross-Canada tour that ends tonight in Montreal.
On Tuesday, photos emerged online showing Anderson at a restaurant with a group that included three Conservative MPs — Niagara West MP Dean Allison, Oshawa MP Colin Carrie and Haldimand–Norfolk MP Leslyn Lewis.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, which describes itself as an advocate for Jewish federations across Canada, condemned the gathering, tweeting Thursday that it had raised the issue with the Conservative Party of Canada.
We’re deeply concerned by CPC MPs @LeslynLewis @DeanAllisonMP @ColinCarrieCPC meeting with @AndersonAfDMdEP – a member of the far-right German AFD Party known for Islamophobic and anti-immigrant views. We raised this directly with @CPC_HQ. pic.twitter.com/DgG8m5UjPk
Anderson’s views ‘not welcome here’
On Friday, Sebastian Skamski, director of media relations for the Opposition leader’s office, issued a statement attributed to Poilievre:
“Christine Anderson’s views are vile and have no place in our politics. The MPs were not aware of this visiting Member of the European Parliament’s opinions, and they regret meeting with her,” says the statement.
“Frankly, it would be better if Anderson never visited Canada in the first place. She and her racist, hateful views are not welcome here.”
Poilievre’s office issued a separate statement attributed to the three MPs who were photographed with Anderson.
“It is, of course, not uncommon for members of Parliament to meet with visiting elected officials from other countries. During a visit, we recently met with an elected representative of the European Parliament while she was in Canada,” said the statement.
“We were not aware of the views or associations of her and her political party. We do not share or endorse her views and strongly condemn any views that are racist or hateful.”
CBC News has contacted the offices of all three MPs for further comment but they have not yet responded. Carrie tweeted about the meeting on Friday.
“I profoundly regret attending a meeting without having sought the input of my staff and without having undertaken a fulsome vetting of the individuals or organizations with whom I was meeting — which is my usual practice. I, alone, own this mistake. I will do better,” he wrote in his tweet.
Former Conservative cabinet minister Chris Alexander — who called out his former colleagues on Twitter — said he accepts the explanation that they were unaware of Anderson’s views, but he also said they should have been.
“We don’t need these extremes in our mainstream political parties,” Alexander said. “I think the MPs made a mistake and it needed to be pointed out.”
Poilievre denies speaking with Anderson
In a video posted online by a Western Standard journalist on Feb. 19, Anderson is asked for her opinion of Poilievre. She replies that she’s spoken to the Conservative leader “a couple of times.”
“He seems to be a decent guy,” she continues. “We need people that actually do think and go back to what democracy’s all about and what elected representatives should do.”
But Skamski said Anderson’s claims are false and Poilievre has never spoken to her.
“Mr. Poilievre has never spoken to Christine Anderson, and any suggestion that he has is categorically false,” Skamski said in an email.
In another video that appeared online Friday afternoon, Anderson is asked to respond to Poilievre’s statement that it would be better if she hadn’t visited Canada.
“I feel very sorry that Mr. Poilievre feels this way,” Anderson says, adding that she had a “lovely time” meeting with the members of his party.
She also denies expressing “hateful and racist views,” as Poilievre accused her of doing.
“I feel very sorry that he feels that way, but no one gets to define me, not even Mr. Poilievre,” she says in the clip. “You do not get to define me. I know what I stand for, I know what I fight for, and I know that I will never cater to any democratic leader or any elected government that does not act in the best interest of the people.”
Meeting with the legendary @AndersonAfDMdEP with PPC supporters in Montreal.
She was more effective opposing Trudeau’s tyrannical policies from Germany during the pandemic than our lame “opposition” in the House of Commons! pic.twitter.com/oe8b8yb27D
Trudeau calls out Conservative ‘pattern’
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined in the condemnation Friday, criticizing the Conservatives for what he called a “pattern” of similar incidents.
“I think the Conservative Party of Canada owes some explanations to Canadians,” Trudeau said.
“Consistently, we see Conservative parliamentarians and people who should know better associating themselves with folks responsible for a particularly vile level of rhetoric and hatred, and their answer is always the same: ‘Oh, we didn’t know.’
“At one point, Canadians need to stop being treated like fools, and the Conservatives need to own up and either really disassociate themselves from hateful, vile, intolerant rhetoric, or tell the truth and explain that they actually have room for those rhetorics and that intolerance within their party.”
Anderson blasted Trudeau in Brussels
Anderson’s tour, dubbed “Strong and Free,” stopped in Calgary on Feb. 18, Toronto on Feb. 21 and Whitby, Ont., on Feb. 22.
On Friday, Anderson will attend a private event at an undisclosed location in Montreal, where her guest speaker will be a Laval University professor who was suspended over vaccine comments. Her guests in Calgary and Toronto have similar histories.
Anderson has endeared herself to certain right-wing groups in Canada, including those opposed to COVID-19 mandates, and was photographed in Calgary with Tamara Lich and other organizers of last winter’s convoy protests.
She’s no stranger to Canadian politics. Last March, Anderson, the political spokesperson for the Identity and Democracy (ID) parliamentary group, called Trudeau “a disgrace for any democracy” as he addressed the European Parliament in Brussels.
Anderson accused Trudeau of trampling protesters’ civil rights, labelling him a dictator who treats his own citizens as “terrorists.”
Anderson’s AfD has been described by the BBC as a far-right political party that employs rhetoric “tinged with Nazi overtones.”
University of Victoria professor Oliver Schmidtke — who studies far-right populist parties, including the AfD — said the party started off as a more moderate conservative party. But it later “morphed into a more anti-immigrant, homophobic and — at times — openly racist political party.”
Schmidtke said Anderson herself is in “the more extreme right-wing camp” of the AfD.
“She is a pretty vocal advocate for issues that mostly are based on issues of identity, German nationalism and those who the AfD deems as a threat to this very national identity,” he said.
Around the time of Trudeau’s appearance in Brussels, a German court called Anderson’s political party “a suspected threat to democracy” after an administrative court in Cologne found “sufficient indications of anti-constitutional goals within the AfD.”
The parliamentary group to which AfD belongs is made up of political parties opposed to the European Union. They also hold far-right positions on such issues as immigration and social welfare.
In March 2020, the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence service placed a faction of AfD under surveillance, saying “right-wing extremism and right-wing terrorism are currently the biggest danger for democracy in Germany.”