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Liberal MP and leadership hopeful Justin Trudeau walks along the Gatineau River in Wakefield, Quebec, on Tuesday, Dec. 12.

Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

Justin Trudeau disagrees with the Harper government's new restrictions on future investments in the oil sands, saying he would want to offer a more welcoming environment to state-owned enterprises.

The Liberal leadership candidate applauded the government for approving the takeover of Nexen Inc. by China-owned CNOOC Ltd. Friday, but said Ottawa's hard new stand against future acquisitions by state-owned enterprises is wrong for the economy.

"They've managed to come through with a political solution that is neither here nor there, that still leaves a tremendous lack of clarity for Canadians and for any potential foreign investors," Mr. Trudeau said. "My policy would certainly be clearer than them."

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper said last week his government would only approve future takeover deals by state-owned enterprises in "exceptional circumstances," although the definition of the criteria remains unclear.

Mr. Trudeau said he wants the government to promote trade, with any exceptions to takeovers being spelled out clearly ahead of time.

"In terms of restrictions, we have to make sure that we are very careful about foreign investors and how they are willing to follow Canadian labour laws, environmental regulations and such," he said. "But clarity is what businesses here at home and all around the world need before they invest the millions involved in mounting a bid."

Mr. Trudeau spoke to reporters after a rally in Wakefield as part of a one-day swing through three ridings in a traditionally Liberal part of Quebec that is now entirely in the hands of the NDP.

Speaking at a pub with a pint of ale in his hands, he pointed to the Gatineau hills behind him, reminding supporters that he grew up in large part at his father's prime ministerial retreat at nearby Harrington Lake.

The front-runner in the race to lead the third-place Liberal Party of Canada spent much of his speech in front of more than 100 supporters attacking Mr. Harper for his "divisive" style of politics.

He lamented the fact that opposition MPs have little ability to effect change in Ottawa these days, saying a large majority of ministers are sidelined as "the kids in the [Prime Minister's Office]" make all the decisions.

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He said he feels he is more useful doing politics away from Parliament, even as the House of Commons is still sitting.

"I'd rather be here, because nothing that the opposition seems to say actually has any impact," he said. "Unfortunately, nothing much we can do in the House these days matters at all, and I hate that."

Mr. Trudeau said that western Quebec, with its mix of francophones and anglophones, represents what can happen when Canadians overcome their differences to work together. But under the Harper government, he said, "the very fabric that makes this country strong is now in danger."

Mr. Trudeau welcomed the support to his campaign of Dwight Duncan, the Ontario Finance Minister who is expected to run federally if Mr. Trudeau wins the leadership. However, Mr. Trudeau said he is focused for now on getting a majority of the votes at the Liberal leadership convention in Ottawa in April.

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