Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau didn't hold back on expressing his concerns about Quebec's proposed "charter of values" on Thursday, saying he's worried people will have to choose between their jobs and their religion.
Trudeau made the comments when he met with reporters at the end of his party's summer caucus gathering in Georgetown, P.E.I. He was asked about proposed plan that would ban the wearing of religious symbols or headwear by public workers because of a speech he gave to party faithful the night before.
At a Liberal rally Wednesday night, Trudeau noted the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech at a rally in Washington and then made reference to the charter proposed by the Parti Québécois. He said Thursday he was not drawing a parallel between segregation and Quebec's plan.
"My concern with the Quebec charter is that people are going to have to choose between their freedom of religion and freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and their economic well-being and their acceptance in the workplace. That for me is a real concern," said Trudeau, a Montreal MP.
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"And it goes to the very core values that were certainly celebrated in that famous speech but continue to be defended by the Liberal Party, by myself and Quebecers and Canadians through their charters."
He said Canada and Quebec are open and tolerant societies and he wants to keep them that way. "I intend to keep us as an open society and that is the position I have against this charter," he said.
Trudeau said he doesn't regret commenting on the Quebec proposal and he also reiterated his position on the legalization of marijuana Thursday. He said legalizing it would help keep it out of the hands of young people who currently have easier access to buying the drug than alcohol and cigarettes.
"That is where the current approach that Mr. Harper has on the war on drugs is not working," he said.
Harper in turn said Trudeau is showing poor judgment, when he was asked about the legalization of marijuana.
"I look at the contrast with, you know, him promoting marijuana use for our children versus saying yesterday that he will have no economic policy for several years. Our priority as a government is not encouraging the spread of drugs, it's encouraging job creation in this country," Harper told reporters.
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The prime minister was referring to Trudeau saying Wednesday that his party is not rushing policies out the door and will have a platform ready in time for the next election in 2015.
Trudeau said as the caucus meeting came to a close that his party will continue to hold town halls and stakeholder meetings to gather input for its policy positions. He said it is the Liberals who are stimulating a discussion about the struggles facing the middle class while Harper is ignoring them.
"Once again, Mr. Harper is playing cheap politics and should apologize for misleading Canadians," Trudeau spokesperson Kate Purchase told CBC News, referring to Harper's comments on Trudeau's stance favouring marijuana legalization.
Liberals stress transparency
Liberals left their caucus meeting in a good mood and many over the last three days said they feel energized and enthusiastic about where their party is and where it is headed.
Montreal MP Irwin Cotler said the mood at caucus was "very positive."
"The discussions have been good. I think Justin inspires an approach of transparency and frankness," he said. Cotler said the party is demonstrating that it offers an open, transparent, accountable alternative to the Conservatives.
Honesty and transparency is a theme Trudeau hit on during his nearly 20-minute speech Wednesday night where he also addressed the controversy he prompted last week with his admission about smoking marijuana about three years ago.
"Only in Stephen Harper's Canada could people actually argue that being honest was a calculated risk," Trudeau said.
The Montreal MP said he wanted to be honest because of the policy position he's taking that calls for the legalization of marijuana.
Trudeau pumped up the crowd and said that through his travels across Canada this summer, he has learned people are open and hopeful about the Liberal Party, but that they still have work to do to win back Canadians' trust and confidence.
He also took a few shots at Harper, saying people are tired of his leadership. "He's unambitious, he lacks hopes and dreams for this country," he said.
Harper's office, when asked for comment, rejected Trudeau's assessment.
"Prime Minister Harper has a proven plan for the economy that is creating jobs and growth right across Canada. In contrast, Mr. Trudeau openly admits that he has no economic policy or plan," Andrew MacDougall, Harper's director of communications, said in an email.
The big crowd drawn to local MP Lawrence MacAulay's home for the BBQ wasn't a surprise given that Prince Edward Island is mostly Liberal territory — the party holds three out of the four federal seats — but organizers said attendance surpassed their expectations. People arrived on buses from different parts of P.E.I. and MacAulay's lawn was packed with cars.
Trudeau 'building a movement'
Beth Butland had never been to any kind of political event, but when she heard Trudeau was going to be on the Island, she wanted to come see him. She said she's tired of the way politics is being done in Canada and that "we need a change."
"He is building a movement," she said. "We need fresh and we need new, and we need accountability."
Trudeau's admission that he smoked marijuana since getting elected as an MP didn't bother her. "He gave a direct answer instead of a direct lie."
It didn't bother Butland's mother, who is in her 80s, either. "Oh no," Frances Hanscome said, shrugging it off.
Hanscome brought a book to the event that she wrote about her brother, a fighter pilot who died in the Second World War, and planned to give it to Trudeau as a gift. She wrote a message inside telling him he hopes it will one day be on his bookshelf at 24 Sussex Dr.
Liberal MPs said Canadians are enthusiastic about the hope and hard work that Trudeau has been showing since he took over the leadership in April.
"I feel that we've been rejuvenated by the expressions of confidence from Canadians to us over the summer," said Frank Valeriote, MP for Guelph in Ontario.
Kevin Lamoureux, MP for Winnipeg North, credited Trudeau for generating excitement among Canadians. "People love the guy, they want pictures with him. Trudeau Mania 2, whatever you want to call it, it's great to see," he said.
The MPs said they have no problem with the decision to post their expenses online, and they have nothing to hide.
The Liberals will begin doing that this fall on the party's website. They also announced Wednesday that they would be back at work in Ottawa the third week of September, as scheduled, despite Harper's plan to ask the Governor General to prorogue Parliament until later in October.