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Liberal leader Justin Trudeau introduces his family using a live video call during his speech at the Liberal Biennial Convention in Montreal, February 20, 2014. (CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/REUTERS)
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau introduces his family using a live video call during his speech at the Liberal Biennial Convention in Montreal, February 20, 2014. (CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/REUTERS)

Trudeau goes on the attack as Liberal convention opens Add to ...

While he is building a narrative of hope and optimism, Justin Trudeau showed he can also attack his rivals as he launched a convention that will start building his party’s platform for the 2015 general election.

The Liberal Leader took a series of shots at his opponents in Ottawa and Quebec City in his opening address to more than 2,000 delegates, accusing other party leaders of exploiting the economic worries of Canadians for their own political gains.

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Mr. Trudeau is facing pressure to spell out how he would tackle Canada’s economic challenges, and the four-day convention provides a key opportunity for his party to start sharpening its policies. Mr. Trudeau is front-and-centre at the event, giving two speeches, including one on Saturday afternoon that is supposed to provide further details on his agenda to fuel economic growth and help the middle class.

The welcoming statement to the convention on Thursday evening, however, was more partisan, with Mr. Trudeau using his initial speech to go after Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Quebec Premier Pauline Marois and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair.

He started off by slamming the Parti Québécois government’s proposed Charter of Values, which would prevent provincial employees from wearing religious symbols at work. Mr. Trudeau linked the rise in “identity politics” and “intolerance” in Quebec with the economic insecurities of all Canadians.

“In a growing and fair economy, the PQ’s divisive plan would not only be unrealistic, it would be unthinkable. But in the absence of a real and fair chance, fear and division can take root anywhere,” he said.

Stating that household debt is rising and that real wages are falling, Mr. Trudeau said the federal government is resorting to negative and divisive politics to try to stay in power.

“It’s always much easier to distract people from the problem than it is to solve it. People are susceptible to fearful, divisive messages when they are worried about their jobs, their debts, their retirement, their kids’ future,” Mr. Trudeau said.

Mr. Trudeau accused the Prime Minister and Mr. Mulcair of being “in a competition to see who can make Canadians angrier.” The alternative, Mr. Trudeau said, is in appealing to Canadians’ sense of fairness and optimism.

“We are here to hope, we are here to work hard, we are here to build, we are here to put together the team and the plan to make this country better,” he said. “After eight long years, Canadians are tired of Mr. Harper’s party and of their negative approach to politics. … But they don’t just want a different government, they want a better government.”

Over all, Mr. Trudeau called on Liberals to come up with an “ambitious” agenda for the country, stating it was time to “get this work done.”

The first day of the convention also featured a conversation between Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland and U.S. economist Larry Summers. Mr. Summers, the adviser to American President Barack Obama said that governments must go beyond ensuring the soundness of their country’s financial system, and that the biggest test facing governments is ensuring the growth and prosperity of the middle class.

Mr. Summers touched on a number of themes that will be debated by Liberals at the convention, including investing in infrastructure and education. Instead of cutting on spending, Mr. Summers said governments should aim to fuel prosperity as a way to lower the debt-to-GDP ratio.

“Let’s invest and grow,” Mr. Summers said.

Mr. Trudeau ended his speech with a video call to his family in Ottawa, given that his wife, Sophie Grégoire, is due to give birth to the couple’s third child very soon. He said during his rehearsal that if Ms. Grégoire goes into labour during the convention, he will go back home.

Other parties have sent observers to the convention to offer their appraisal of Mr. Trudeau’s performance and the Liberal policy choices, including NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice and Conservative minister Pierre Poilievre.

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