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Justin Trudeau to pitch himself as the anti-Harper as campaign ends

Liberal leadership front-runner Justin Trudeau is pictured at a news conference on March 21, 2013. In his final speech of the leadership campaign, Mr. Trudeau will aim to reach beyond fellow Liberals to tell Canadians that he is the only alternative to Stephen Harper.


In the most important speech of his Liberal leadership campaign, Justin Trudeau will aim to reach beyond fellow Liberals to tell Canadians that he is the only alternative to Stephen Harper and will outline what a Trudeau-led government would look like.

The front-running candidate for the Liberal Party leadership has just 25 minutes on Saturday to make his case when he takes the stage for this last event of the campaign.

The six candidates will give their final speeches on Saturday afternoon in a "National Showcase" at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Liberal Party officials are billing it as a mini-convention, with buttons, signs and demonstrations before speeches. About 1,500 supporters are expected to attend.

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It will be followed by a week of online and telephone voting under the Liberal Party's new way of electing a leader. The party decided against holding a more dramatic delegated convention and instead adopted a process that it hoped would attract new and much-needed members. The winner will be announced in Ottawa on April 14.

A source close to Mr. Trudeau said he has been practising, drafting and redrafting his speech for several weeks.

He is not expected to talk about his Liberal leadership opponents, nor will he give much, if any, air time to the NDP's Thomas Mulcair, leader of the Official Opposition in the House of Commons, according to sources.

One senior Liberal noted that polls have shown Mr. Trudeau is draining support away from the NDP, suggesting that the "simple fact that he is standing" before Liberals poised to become leader is enough of a statement about the NDP and to Canadians.

Rather, he will focus on the Harper government as the real adversary of a Trudeau-led Liberal Party and will try to explain why he, as the potential leader of the third party in Parliament, should be considered the only alternative to the Tories, the source said.

Mr. Trudeau is also expected to touch on several of the themes he has emphasized during the campaign – the middle class, education, democratic reform and trying to engage a new generation of Canadians in leadership and politics.

Beyond repeating that he wants to see 70 per cent of Canadians attend universities and colleges or that the Liberal Party would become one of the most democratic parties in the world under his leadership by opening up nominations or making the Prime Minister's Office less controlling, there will be little in the way of policy.

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His strategists and supporters dismiss criticism that his campaign has been light on policy. In fact, the senior Trudeau supporter noted that Quebec MP Marc Garneau, considered to be the main opponent to Mr. Trudeau, tried to take him on over the issue and failed. Mr. Garneau abandoned the race, suggesting in a news conference that Mr. Trudeau was going to run away with the leadership.

In addition, some critics believed Mr. Trudeau, who declared his intention to run last October, would make a significant gaffe or falter badly during the campaign. Again, the source noted that this did not happen.

Instead, Mr. Trudeau has drawn significant crowds to his events – and more importantly for the party, has shown that he can raise money. He is expected to deliver nearly $1-million to the Liberal war chest when the campaign is over.

His closest competition now is British Columbia MP Joyce Murray, whose policies on co-operation with the NDP and the Green Party, and legalizing marijuana, have attracted support.

Ms. Murray's key messages in her Saturday speech will be about a sustainable society and how a Harper government cannot achieve that goal. She will argue that the only way to defeat the Conservatives is through a one-time deal with the other progressive parties, according to her spokesman, Brenden Johnstone.

Ms. Murray has been personally calling voters for support. She has also held three one-hour telephone town halls – talking to Liberals in the Atlantic provinces, Ontario, Quebec and in Western and Northern Canada. Mr. Johnstone said a poll of participants was taken after each town hall and the results showed 97-per-cent support for her proposal to legalize cannabis and 93-per-cent support for her position on one-time co-operation.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More


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