04/17/2013 04:00 EDT | Updated 06/17/2013 05:12 EDT

Trudeau accuses NDP of being 'lukewarm' about charter

On the 31st anniversary of the passing of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, new Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau accused the NDP of being "lukewarm" about the charter, particularly when NDP Leader Tom Mulcair speaks in Quebec.

Wednesday morning as he led his first caucus session, Trudeau told his MPs that the NDP was pandering to sovereigntists in Quebec.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Trudeau said, "The NDP has always been particularly lukewarm in its approach to the charter." Trudeau added that the charter is supported by "high levels of Quebecers" but that "there is a political game with hard-line sovereigntists and strong nationalists that Mr. Mulcair is continuing to play."

He went on to say, "The NDP has a very double-sided game it plays to say one thing outside Quebec and another thing inside Quebec that shows up on issues of import to the unity of the country, like the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Clarity Act."

The Clarity Act, passed by former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien's government, says that any separation of Quebec from the rest of Canada must be approved by "a clear majority" of Quebecers without defining what a clear majority would be. Mulcair has reiterated the NDP position that a clear majority is 50-plus-one.

Outside the NDP caucus meeting Wednesday, Mulcair said there has never been any hesitation on the part of the NDP as to the importance of the charter. However, he pointed out that "it's unacceptable" that one province — Quebec — is "excluded from the constitution." He continued, "We are a party that for the first time in a generation has won a majority of the federalist seats in Quebec."

Trudeau, by announcing that his first trip as Liberal leader will be a visit to Quebec City Wednesday evening, is signalling that he intends to try to win over NDP-held ridings in Quebec. Trudeau said he plans to meet with party activists as well as Quebec Liberal Leader Phillippe Couillard and Coalition Avenir Quebec Leader Francois Legault. A meeting with Parti Québécois Premier Pauline Marois didn't fit with his schedule, Trudeau said, but added he hopes to meet with her soon.

Trudeau's father, former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, ushered in the charter during the repatriation of Canada's constitution in 1982, also drew a bead on the Conservatives over the charter.

When asked about his reaction to the fact the government did not officially celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the charter last year, Trudeau replied that the Conservatives like to talk about freedom, but "they're deeply suspicious about any protection for those freedoms and institutions like the charter that actually guarantee those freedoms can't be taken away from Canadians."

New Liberal critics

Trudeau named his party's former interim leader Bob Rae as foreign affairs critic, and Marc Garneau, who was regarded as Trudeau's main challenger for leader before he quit the race early, as natural resources critic.

Joyce Murray, who ran a distant second to Trudeau, was not promoted but retains her posts as critic for the Asia Pacific Gateway and small business.

Ted Hsu, one of the few MPs who did not support Trudeau in the leadership contest, was given Trudeau's old post of critic for post-secondary education. Trudeau is keeping the youth portfolio for himself.

Trudeau won't shake up the rest of the shadow cabinet until after Parliament breaks for the summer in late June.

He also named Cyrus Reporter — an Ottawa lawyer, veteran political operative and one-time chief of staff to former minister Allan Rock — as his new chief of staff.

Katie Telford and Gerald Butts, who led Trudeau's leadership campaign, will now focus on preparing for the next election in 2015 and won't be joining his office staff. However, both will continue to be influential advisers.