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Trudeau rejects personal attack he can’t relate to Canadians

Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau speaks to the Vancouver Board of Trade in Vancouver on Friday, April 11, 2014.

Jonatan Hayward/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is positioning his affluent upbringing as a selling point after partisan shots this week that his early home life means he just can't connect with most Canadians.

"I was lucky in my life," he told reporters Friday after a speech to a Vancouver business crowd. "But I believe from the way I was raised that it is important to do what one can to serve one's community and give back."

New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair aimed squarely at Trudeau's personal life Sunday while rallying party faithful in Ottawa ahead of the next election.

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"The problem is, Justin Trudeau will never know what middle-class means," he told the NDP's federal council on Sunday.

He said Trudeau "just doesn't understand" the challenges Canadian families are facing. "Never has. Never will."

The rebuff from Trudeau came after he made a campaign-style speech at a Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon, during which he outlined his broad proposals for creating sustained economic growth.

He told the well-heeled crowd that if he becomes prime minister, he'll contrast the current Conservative government tact by "strengthening the middle class."

It's a message the son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau has been cultivating for some time. The Liberals, under the guidance of their leader, have been seeking to win wide favour by appealing to mid-income voters.

Talk of consensus building, and synthesizing the talents of all Canadians, is a strategy he began employing even before he won party leadership.

His young life was criticized then, too.

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At a leadership debate in February 2013, then-candidate Martha Hall Findlay raised Trudeau's privileged background as a potential obstacle for him to empathize with Canadians. Hall Findlay later apologized, saying the jab overstepped her bounds and that she did not intend to question his character.

On Friday, Trudeau again swept aside Mulcair's attack. He said he plans to ignore the comments and carry forward meeting people from all walks of life.

"I've heard people are struggling and I've talked a lot about the kinds of solutions we need," he said. "I'm going to continue to work hard on that."

Trudeau began his speech to the sold-out crowd of nearly 800 business people by paying respects to former finance minister Jim Flaherty, who died on Thursday.

He said Flaherty was an "extraordinary man."

"(He) was a great public servant, someone who was committed to his community and to his province, to his country. Who listened and engaged with people who differed in ideas from him, and who really represented, for me, what was great about public service."

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The next election will be held Oct. 19, 2015.

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