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Trudeau scoffs at his critics

Exhorts Grits to crown him party leader

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TORONTO -- Justin Trudeau used his final sales pitch of the Liberal leadership race Saturday to pre-empt some of the likely Conservative attacks should he win, as expected.

The front-runner tackled head-on those who sneer that he's inexperienced, that his resume is light and that his popularity is fleeting, based on nostalgia for his late father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.

"There are those who ask me: 'What makes you think you can take this on?' " Trudeau told cheering supporters at a so-called national showcase aimed at giving the six contenders a last chance to impress Liberals before they begin voting today for their next leader.

"To them, I say this. I have lived and breathed every square kilometre of this country from the day I was born... I have been open to Canadians my entire life and, because of that, I have a strong sense of this country -- where it has been, where it is and where Canadians want it to go."

The 41-year-old Montreal MP noted Saturday marked the 45th anniversary of his father being chosen to lead the Liberal party. "I know there are those who say this movement we're building is all about nostalgia, that it's not really about me, or you, or Canada. Let's face it, they say that it's about my father."

"Well, to them I say this: It is. It is about my dad... It's about all our parents and the legacy they left us, the country they built for us," Trudeau said.

"It's more about the future than the past, it is always, in every instance, about our children more than our parents' legacy," he added.

Trudeau's critics -- including some of his rivals -- have suggested his background as a school teacher, snowboard instructor and public speaker before entering politics in 2008 has left him ill-prepared to lead the party, much less govern the country.

But the Montreal MP scoffed at what he termed "Conservative attacks on teachers."

"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."

None of Trudeau's rivals attacked him directly. However, former Toronto MP Martha Hall Findlay alluded to Trudeau's alleged lack of experience and gravitas by asking Liberals to imagine which candidate would be best equipped to meet with international leaders or square off against Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair in televised debates during the next election.

"You know that we will need someone on that stage who is experienced, clear, firm, decisive, no-nonsense and tough," Hall Findlay said, casting herself as a "business-conscious, market-oriented" Liberal who is "substantive, experienced, bold, tough."

The showcase was replete with chanting supporters, thunder sticks and placards, although long-shot contenders had a tough time garnering more than a smattering of applause at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. The hall, which seats 1,500, was not quite filled.

But apart from that brief display of hoopla, the contest features none of the excitement and suspense of a traditional delegated leadership convention. Rather, after Saturday's event, Liberals will spend the next week casting preferential ballots in the privacy of their own homes -- online or by phone -- with the results to be announced April 14 in Ottawa.

Some 127,000 Liberal party members and supporters are eligible to vote. Organizers with various camps privately said the event was unlikely to have changed many voters' minds.

Joyce Murray, who is thought to be running second, pitched her plan for one-time electoral co-operation among progressive parties in the 2015 election to ensure defeat of the Conservatives -- a proposal which has drawn the fire of her rivals but helped the Vancouver MP gain support from grassroots and online groups.

She likened her idea to hockey players who come together to win gold for Canada during the Olympics but then return to their various teams and resume being fierce competitors.

"This is not a merger, this is not a coalition, not a joint-party candidacy," she told the crowd, trying to dispel doubts. "Our party's distinct Liberal values and Liberal identity will be honoured and protected."

Nor is the motivation to win at all costs, as Trudeau and others have asserted, Murray added. "I'm talking about winning the next election for a purpose: to reform Canada's ailing electoral system to create a more representative and more collaborative Parliament."

While he largely ignored his rivals, preferring to direct his fire at Harper and Mulcair, Trudeau did use his final speech to reject Murray's co-operation plan in the harshest terms yet. He said it would create a "Frankenstein's monster" of Liberals, New Democrats and Greens that would be "at war with itself over fundamental issues like the Constitution, natural resources and free trade."

"The truth is," he added, "Canadians want to vote for something, not just against somebody."


-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 7, 2013 0

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