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Trudeau blasts Poilievre as angry and unserious at Liberal party convention

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in the Liberal convention in Ottawa on Thursday, May 4, 2023. Federal Liberals are billing their party convention this week as a chance to contrast what they say is their more positive and optimistic vision for Canada with the "politics of anger" being stoked by their chief opponents. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA — Canadians chose hope over fear and anger in 2015 and they will be faced with that choice again the next time they go to the polls, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday as he delivered an opening night keynote speech to Liberal faithful at the party's policy convention in Ottawa.

The next election could still be more than two years away but Trudeau left no doubt   that we are already hurtling toward it, that he intends to run in it, and that he knows who poses the biggest threat to his hold on power.

"Pierre Poilievre’s populism, his slogans and buzzwords, are not serious solutions to the serious challenges we’re facing," Trudeau said.

Conservatives, he said, call Liberals "too woke" for investing in people, in economic growth, in families and in climate change.

"Too woke?" Trudeau hissed. "Hey, Pierre Poilievre, it’s time for you to wake up."

And the crowd roared to life, leaping to their feet, chanting his name.

Then he launched into a list of Conservative actions the Liberals are clearly planning to use as ammunition. Poilievre's advice last year to invest in cryptocurrencies to "opt out of inflation" just before the market for many of the biggest crypto companies flopped.

His dalliance with the "Freedom Convoy" and his recent meme exchange online with Tesla billionaire and new Twitter owner Elon Musk, making fun of the CBC.

And his caucus being chastised by President Joe Biden in the House of Commons for failing to stand up when Biden applauded the gender-equal cabinets in both Canada and the United States.

"Wake up to the fact that a gender-balanced cabinet is a good thing," Trudeau thundered.

He also heavily promoted the Liberals' child tax benefit increase that helped pull thousands of Canadian children out of poverty, and the recent national child-care program to reduce fees to as little as $10 a day.

It's a program still in progress, but is proving popular enough conservative premiers in at least four provinces have, or are, campaigning on it.

"By the way, when we see that women’s participation in the economy has reached an all-time high, let me tell you something — $10-a-day child care is not 'woke' policy, it’s economic policy," Trudeau said.

There was, however, no mention of the current headache plaguing his government: foreign interference.

He could not escape it entirely, peppered with questions from reporters trying to get his latest explanation to allegations that senior officials in his government were briefed two years ago about threats to Conservative MP Michael Chong by the Chinese government. Trudeau said Wednesday he only learned about it on Monday.

He had no comment.

Leading into the event, Liberal MPs and supporters said they saw the three days as a chance to regroup and recharge after an exhausting and difficult couple of years, and there was certainly more fatigue than fire around the hall during the cabinet minister panel prior to Trudeau.

But the room erupted as he walked in, the clearest indication that they have no designs on pushing him out.

"Did you see when he came into this room? He's got the energy," said Liam Olsen, 23, who is running for chair of Young Liberals.

"I think everyone understands that Trudeau is the reason that this party is where it is today. The progress that we're all building on is his progress."

The convention comes 10 years exactly after Trudeau won the party leadership in a landslide victory at the hotel right next door. Less than three years later, he led the party to a majority government.

He made crystal clear again Thursday that he will lead the party into the next election too.

"My friends, when the election comes, when Canadians need to make a consequential choice in this consequential moment, it will be the honour of my life to lead us through it and continue building a better future."

The Trudeaumania 2.0 that surrounded him in 2015 has faded somewhat, and the party has struggled in recent national polls. Poilievre, the third Conservative leader Trudeau has faced as prime minister, is hammering into the cracks in the Liberal brand, screaming that "Canada is broken" and Trudeau and his government are "incompetent."

The Liberals have trailed the Conservatives in the polls for months, the most recent party fundraising numbers saw Poilievre's party outraise the Liberals by more than $5 million in just the first three months of 2023.

Beating back Poilievre's message won't be simple, Associate Finance Minister Randy Boissonnault acknowledged as he spoke to a room of young Liberals earlier Thursday.

"Pierre Poilievre believes that the angrier and the more hopeless he can make Canadians, the better his poll numbers will be," he said. "And you know what? He might be right. 

"But anger is no plan to build the future and no one ever improves things by making people believe that they are hopeless. So it is our job to give Canadians hope. It is our fundamental purpose to build that better future."

The job for the Liberals in the convention hall, Trudeau said, is to carry the message back out to their hometowns, to the people who would never join a political party or attend a convention, why the party's optimistic pitch to address climate change and inequality is the one to back.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 4, 2023.

Mia Rabson and Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press

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