Justin Trudeau promised all Canadians will get a “fair shot at success” if he forms the next government, using his keynote speech to a Liberal convention to depict the Harper government as uncaring in the face of growing economic anxiety across the country.
While remaining vague on policy, the Liberal Leader’s speech contained a pledge not to increase taxes on the middle-class, and a renewed commitment to invest in education and push for increased international trade.
Mr. Trudeau is trying to build a case that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party are uncaring and cannot be trusted to restore a sense of optimism among the Canadian population. Mr. Trudeau not only criticized Mr. Harper’s decisions in government, but also strived to highlight the compromises and flip-flops that the Conservatives have made since forming government in 2006.
A clear goal for Liberals at this four-day policy convention in Montreal is to attract voters who supported Mr. Harper in recent elections, but are now tired of his party’s style and policy direction.
“I believe that as a young idealistic reformer, [Mr. Harper] was a principled man. But over eight years as Prime Minister, he has abandoned the principles he held dear,” Mr. Trudeau said.
Speaking to more than 2,000 delegates, Mr. Trudeau said that he will remain true to the key values that are guiding him as a politician.
“I ask you to help me build a party that will stay committed to its principles: fairness, freedom, progress, opportunity, compassion,” he said.
Mr. Trudeau used a character called “Nathalie” to illustrate his economic policy. He said that the fictional mother making $40,000 a year was increasingly worried about her debts and her prospects for retirement. Mr. Trudeau argued that Mr. Harper and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair are trying to transform the economic concerns of Canadian like Nathalie’s into anger and resentment for their own political gains.
“I don’t want to practice politics in a way that turns Nathalie’s anxiety into resentment. Both of our opponents feel, for their own reasons, that the angrier Canadians get, the better they will do,” Mr. Trudeau said.
Later, he added to a standing ovation: “Negativity cannot be this country’s lifeblood.”
Mr. Trudeau said Canadians “don’t expect miracles” from the government, but they want a chance at upward mobility.
“No matter where and to whom you were born, you start free and should have a fair shot at success,” he said.
He asked the crowd whether “Canada is a fairer country than it was a decade ago?” and the answer was a resounding “no.”
In his 35-minute address, Mr. Trudeau said he is building on his father’s heritage. Former prime minister and Liberal leader Pierre Trudeau called for a “just society” at the 1968 Liberal leadership race, a phrase that Justin Trudeau repeated on Saturday.
“It was the idea that this place, so uniquely blessed with resources and opportunity, could write an entirely new chapter in the story of human progress,” the 42-year-old Liberal Leader said.
He argued that while he drives Conservatives “nutty,” he will work with his growing Liberal team to form the next government.
“Let them focus on me, we’ll stay focussed on Canadians,” Mr. Trudeau told his Liberal supporters.
Mr. Trudeau attacked the Harper government for retreating from a promise to implement income-splitting for families, and for its unfulfilled pledge to reform the Senate, which could lead to constitutional negotiations with the provinces. In particular, Mr. Trudeau slammed the Prime Minister’s Senate appointments, including three of whom named to the Upper Chamber as Conservatives but who have since been suspended over their controversial expense accounts.
“Anyone who put Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau in the Senate might want to be careful about making judgement a campaign issue,” Mr. Trudeau said. “For me, Mike Duffy is not worth another Meech Lake.”
The Liberal convention is helping to build the party’s 2015 election platform, while leaving plenty of wiggle room for Mr. Trudeau to adjust to events and announce new policies between now and the next election.
So far, the convention has served to shore up the party’s economic credentials, showcasing businessman Bill Morneau as a potential star candidate in Toronto, and Manitoba business-community leader Jim Carr from Winnipeg.
Mr. Trudeau is trying to build a centrist platform that will reassure Canadians that his government would be different than Mr. Harper’s, while offering few surprises. The Liberals are making a clear appeal to the “Conservative base,” hoping to attract “red Tories” and small-c conservatives to their movement.
“The millions of Canadians who voted Conservative aren’t your enemies, they’re your neighbours,” Mr. Trudeau told the Liberal crowd.
The speech contained few details on Mr. Trudeau’s plans for the environment, suggesting that future debates and discussions would be held on the matter. He promised a “robust” policy that would satisfy Canada’s trade partners, while shying from providing details on the controversial issue of restricting emissions of greenhouse gases.
Speaking in his hometown of Montreal, Mr. Trudeau also called on Quebeckers to stop aligning with opposition parties and help the Liberal Party to form government in the next election.
“In 2015, Quebeckers will be able to choose action instead of opposition,” Mr. Trudeau said.