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Updated: Fri, 21 Feb 2014 05:47:23 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Justin Trudeau kicks off Liberal convention with partisan speech



Liberal leader Justin Trudeau introduces his family using a live video call during his speech at the Liberal Biennial Convention in Montreal, February 20, 2014. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi (© CANADA - Tags: POLITICS)

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau introduces his family using a live video call during his speech at the Liberal Biennial Convention in Montreal, February 20, 2014. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi (CANADA - Tags: POLITICS) - RTX197YG REUTERS

As Liberals gathered in Montreal for a policy convention this weekend, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's opening speech Thursday evening took shots at the Harper government, saying Canadians are tired of the tactics of fear and division practised by the Conservatives.

Trudeau also aimed broadsides at the Quebec government of Pauline Marois and the NDP.

In a speech that was earlier broadcast by mistake on closed-circuit television to the media room as it was being rehearsed, Trudeau said Canadians should have trust in the diversity of Quebec despite the Quebec charter of values bill proposed by Marois's government that would ban the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols in provincially funded jobs.

Trudeau praised the diversity he says he knows exists in Quebec, despite "the divisions that are being stoked in this province these days."

He said he has no wish to join "Mr. Harper and Mr. Mulcair in a contest to see who can make Canadians angrier."

Trudeau also referred to the election reform bill recently introduced by the Harper government. "For me, the legislation can be summed up as this: the government will let you vote, if you insist, But really, they'd rather you didn't," he said. 

His speech Thursday was short — about 10 minutes — with a much more substantial address expected Saturday. One delegate suggested he may offer something new about economic policy that will give observers "something to chew on," in the longer speech.

There was a bit of theatre, as Trudeau dialed home to Ottawa via Skype to say goodnight to his young children. His wife Sophie Grégoire is expecting another baby "at any moment," he said. 

"My friends, we all have personal reasons for being here. People who are dear to us, places that matter to us," he began. "For me, there are three in particular. Well, three for now. But really, close to four."

It was a rehearsed moment and reporters in the media room had already seen one version, but the combination of cute kids and a baby on the way was probably the hit of the evening for the Liberal crowd.

2,500-3,000 Liberals registered

Between 2,500 and 3,000 Liberal members have registered for the convention, which is taking place over three days at the Palais de Congrès in downtown Montreal. Over 150 policies will be debated, with resolutions that originated with the Liberal caucus, Liberal associations and Liberal commissions for women, youth, seniors and aboriginal people.

One resolution attracting controversy is a proposal for democratic reform from the Liberal national caucus that invites debate on a proportional representation system of voting. Delegates at the convention are handing out leaflets urging members to "Vote no on 31."

The leaflets ask whether Liberals want to force Trudeau to implement something he said was wrong. The flyers quote Trudeau's words from his own website, in which he states he does not support proportional representation, but would support a preferential ballot.

In some systems of proportional representation, seats are allotted to parties based on the proportion of the popular vote won by each party, and not on who garnered the most votes in a riding in a "first past the post" election. Trudeau is quoted saying, "I believe deeply that every member of Parliament should represent actual Canadians and Canadian communities, not just political parties.

Former Liberal senators

The presence of former Liberal senators at the gathering is bound to attract attention, with people tweeting sightings of senators who were kicked out of the Liberal caucus just weeks before the convention.

As many as eight senators may show up and under rules not yet changed will be able to vote on policy resolutions and elections for new party officers as ex-officio delegates.

The leader of the former Liberal senators, who have formed an official opposition in the Senate, arrived Thursday. James Cowan pointed out his senators have a right to be at the convention, as they are Liberal Party members. Senator David Smith has also been spotted.

It's expected that former Liberal senators Dennis Dawson, Céline Hervieux-Payette, Jim Munson, Joseph Day and Terry Mercer will also show up.

Although party officials are portraying the convention as the first step of the 2015 election campaign, some delegates say they don't expect much more than a chance to meet old friends. One said that it's important Liberal members experience a sense of "psychic well-being" from the gathering, a change, he implied, from far less optimistic sentiments felt in the 2009 and 2012 conventions. 

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