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Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau gestures for media to leave so he can begin his first caucus meeting as leader, Wednesday April 17, 2013 in Ottawa.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Justin Trudeau is using the 31st anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in a bid to distinguish his third-place party from the Official Opposition NDP.

The new Liberal Leader raised the historical date after running his first caucus meeting, arguing that NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair is pandering to Quebeckers who oppose the 1982 repatriation of the Constitution.

"The NDP has always been particularly lukewarm in its approach to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms because of the unfortunate way that Quebec has chosen not to sign on the Constitution," Mr. Trudeau said at a post-caucus news conference. "There is a political game with hard-line sovereigntists and strong nationalists, and Mr. Mulcair is continuing to play with it."

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Mr. Trudeau has long accused the NDP of playing with fire on the national unity file by adopting the 50-per-cent-plus-one rule to accept the results of an eventual referendum on Quebec sovereignty. The Liberals continue to abide by the Clarity Act that calls for a "clear majority," with Mr. Trudeau having argued that a 66-per-cent threshold would be more acceptable.

The NDP shot back that Mr. Trudeau was engaging in the same negative and divisive politics that he has denounced.

In a statement, the party insisted on its support for the Charter, calling it "an example the world over." However, the NDP added that it wants to correct the historical fact that Quebec is still not a signatory to the Constitution.

"As such, New Democrats will continue on the path laid out by Jack Layton, working to create the conditions that will one day allow Quebec to embrace the Canadian constitutional framework. We will work tirelessly to give real meaning to the unanimous recognition that the Québécois form a nation within Canada," the NDP said.

Mr. Trudeau is holding a partisan event in Quebec City on Wednesday evening, and will hold meetings the following day with Liberal Party of Quebec Leader Philippe Couillard and Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault. He added that he will meet Quebec Premier Pauline Marois "on another occasion," blaming scheduling matters for the lack of a meeting on Thursday.

After his caucus meeting, Mr. Trudeau announced former interim Liberal leader Bob Rae will become his foreign affairs critic, taking over from Liberal MP and House leader Dominic LeBlanc. Former leadership contender Marc Garneau takes over as critic for natural resources from Ted Hsu, who inherits the post-secondary education file.

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