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In the midst of his final speech of the Liberal leadership campaign, full of uplifting sentiments about hope, optimism and doing politics differently, Justin Trudeau made an abrupt segue:

"And what is it with Conservative attacks on teachers?" the front-running candidate asked, rhetorically. "They've never met a teacher they wouldn't pick a fight with."

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Huh?

He went on: "I am fiercely proud to be one of the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who belong to the teaching profession. And let me tell you this, my friends, this teacher fully intends to fight back."

That was that. And Mr. Trudeau was back to the platitudes and warm and fuzzy stories about his father, Pierre Trudeau.

So, what was this teacher piece all about? Are they under attack? Teaching and education, after all, is a provincial responsibility.

A check with the Canadian Teachers' Federation, which represents 200,000 teachers across Canada, reveals the teaching profession does feel set upon by the Harper Tories.

"Well, we certainly appreciate it [the Trudeau shout-out] because we are facing some very difficult challenges with this government," CTF president Paul Taillefer told The Globe.

Mr. Taillefer noted that the Harper government cut funding in 2011 to international teaching programs, ending decades of co-operation with counterparts in developing countries. Canadian teachers worked one-on-one with teachers from countries including Ghana, Mozambique and Burkina Faso, to help them improve their practices.

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In addition, the Conservative government has brought in legislation focused on union accountability, which union leaders believe is a way of trying to hamstring unions by requiring very detailed and expensive reporting requirements.

Mr. Taillefer notes, too, that several months ago Immigration Minister Jason Kenney suggested Mr. Trudeau had absolutely no experience or ability in being able to run anything and that he wasn't in touch with ordinary Canadians.

This got the backs up of teachers as it was interpreted by the profession as a direct attack on the ability of teachers to lead.

"It's pretty disparaging," said Mr. Taillefer about Mr. Kenney's comments. "Why would you think a lawyer [would be better]?" he said.

The House of Commons has been traditionally populated by lawyers and businessmen. In 1867 there were no teachers in the Commons although there were 58 lawyers, 12 lumber merchants and eight millers among the 180 MPs.

In 2011, of the 308 MPs, 44 are lawyers and 31 are teachers. The top profession among MPs – 59 – is listed as business people.

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Trudeau strategists, meanwhile, say that it was a "funny" (their word) and a sharp way to remind the Tories that he is a "proud member" of a respected profession that won't take "attacks lying down."

Mr. Trudeau was a math and French teacher in British Columbia. (He was not, his handlers remind us, a drama teacher, as that is somehow a less significant subject to teach. He taught drama and poetry for a semester subbing for a colleague on maternity leave.)

By mentioning this in his speech, Mr. Trudeau is serving notice to the Conservatives that he will define his own story and will not have it defined for him as it was for Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff.

Attack ads launched by the Tories against the two former leaders proved to be destabilizing for the party that didn't have the funds to fight back. Mr. Trudeau, however, is a fundraising machine – and if he wins the leadership on Sunday, will have a significant war chest to defend himself and even go on the offensive against the Tories.

So this was a warning not to mess with him – or the man or woman at the front of the classroom with the chalk.

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