02/20/2014 07:18 EST | Updated 04/22/2014 05:59 EDT

Justin Trudeau kicks off Liberal convention with partisan speech

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's opening night speech Thursday evening at a policy convention in Montreal takes shots at the Harper government, saying Canadians are tired of the tactics of fear and division practised by the Conservatives. will carry Trudeau's speech live beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET.

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

Trudeau refers to the proposed fair elections act, recently introduced by the Harper government, saying the government will let people vote but would really prefer they didn't.

His speech Thursday will be 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.

His address will also involve a bit of theatre, as Trudeau phones home via Skype to say goodnight to his young children. His wife Sophie Grégoire is expecting another baby within weeks.

The convention taking place over three days at the Palais de Congrès in downtown Montreal will see over 150 policies debated, coming from 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 day 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.