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Liberal leader Justin Trudeau , right, stands with newly elected members Emmanuel Dubourg, left, and Chrystia Freeland, middle, as they are welcomed by the Liberal caucus on Parliament on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, November 27, 2013.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Saying he was "inspired" by Jack Layton, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau again invoked the late NDP leader in attacking the party's new look under successor Thomas Mulcair.

In a victory speech in Montreal after a by-election Monday, Mr. Trudeau said the NDP was "no longer the hopeful, optimistic party of Jack Layton" and that the Liberals "proved that hope is stronger than fear." That direct attack led the NDP to fire back.

"That Justin Trudeau would use Jack Layton's dying words as a political tool says everything that needs to be said about Justin Trudeau's judgment and character," NDP leader Thomas Mulcair said Tuesday.

Before his 2011 death, Mr. Layton wrote that "love is better than anger, hope is better than fear." Mr. Trudeau says he admires politicians with similarly rosy messaging, including former Liberal prime minister Wilfrid Laurier, who said "love is better than hate."

On Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau was asked about the issue, and whether Mr. Layton's legacy would be considered off-limits. He stuck by the comments.

"I have spoken at length about Sir Wilfrid Laurier, and his sunny ways that inspire me. I have also made no apologies for the fact that Jack Layton has inspired me as well, as he has many, many Canadians, in his approach to politics and his dedication. I think the NDP need to realize they have strayed very much from the kind of positive focus that many great politicians have pushed in the past," Mr. Trudeau said Wednesday.

The second round of comments again drew a reply from Mr. Mulcair.

"It was completely wrong for Justin Trudeau to try and appropriate the legacy of Jack Layton and the NDP's hard work over the years," Mr. Mulcair told CTV. "If he has things that he's ever going to accomplish in his life, maybe we'll eventually hear about them. For now, he should leave Jack Layton alone."

The by-election races in Toronto Centre, and the Montreal riding of Bourassa, largely pitted the Liberals against the NDP in campaigns that included, at times, bitter attacks – it was in one of the victory speeches that Mr. Trudeau made the initial comments. The NDP failed to unseat the Liberals in either riding.

But Mr. Mulcair also referenced the vision of Mr. Layton Wednesday, saying that the party held its ground in Bourassa – showing Mr. Layton's success in Quebec wasn't a fluke and that the party's fortunes remain strong.

"We've always tried and since Jack to create winning conditions for Canada in Quebec. That's resonated. The Bloc is gone, and the NDP is now there in Quebec with a positive offer about Quebec in Canada. We're going to continue with that sort of positive offer," Mr. Mulcair said.

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