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Trudeau Defends 'Fortunate' Upbringing Amid Tory Jabs At Personal Finances

Conservatives pounced on him for saying "low-income Canadians don't pay taxes."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to a question in the House of Commons on Feb. 4, 2019 in Ottawa.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to a question in the House of Commons on Feb. 4, 2019 in Ottawa.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave a spirited defence of his privileged upbringing Wednesday amid Conservative jabs about both his "family fortune" and comments about tax breaks for low-income Canadians.

"While we continue to stay focused on Canadians, Conservatives keep focusing, once again, on how I grew up," Trudeau said in question period.

"I've always been very clear. I've been fortunate in my life to have great opportunities that very few people had but, in life, we're always defined by the choices we make.

"And the choice I made was to serve. To serve as a high school teacher, to serve as a member of Parliament for Papineau, and now to serve Canadians as prime minister. And the choices we make as a government (are) to help the middle class and those working hard to join it."

Watch Trudeau's full exchange with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer:

Since Parliament resumed this month, Tory MPs have made repeated references to Trudeau's personal finances and inheritance in order to paint him as an out-of-touch leader who can't control government spending. Earlier this week, Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre dubbed Trudeau a "trust fund baby."

Those attacks sharpened after Trudeau defended his decision to scrap boutique tax credits introduced by the Stephen Harper government, such as the public transit tax credit and the fitness tax credit for kids' sports.

Liberals have championed changes they have made to enhance the Canada Child Benefit, which provides more tax-free money to lower-income families each month with the goal of lifting them out of poverty.

"We see proof that the Conservatives simply do not understand that low-income families do not benefit from tax breaks because they don't pay taxes," Trudeau said Tuesday. "We will move forward on investing directly in low and middle-income families with the Canada Child Benefit that will actually directly benefit them."

Tories quickly fired back that Canadians who earn more than $11,809 pay income taxes. The party released an edited clip of the exchange online, with Tory Leader Andrew Scheer accusing Trudeau — "a man who inherited everything he has" — of being condescending and insulting.

Scheer picked up the issue in the House of Commons Wednesday, asking Trudeau in both languages if he truly believes low-income Canadians don't pay income tax, the GST, and more.

"Has his luxurious lifestyle made him so out of touch that he doesn't understand the everyday struggles of low-income Canadians?" Scheer asked.

Trudeau charged that for nearly 10 years under Harper, Tories put forward an economic plan for the "one per cent," while neglecting those who were struggling. He also noted measures that the Tories have voted against since Liberals formed government, including a middle-class tax cut in 2015.

"Non-refundable tax credits do not help the low-income Canadians who need it the most," the prime minister said.

"The prime minister has other people manage his vast family fortune so it's no surprise that he doesn't understand how the tax system actually works," Scheer said.

When he ran for the Liberal leadership years ago, Trudeau voluntarily disclosed details about his personal wealth to the Ottawa Citizen, including an inheritance from his father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, valued at $1.2 million in 2013.

"We know the members opposite do not understand anything about transparency and accountability," Trudeau said in the House Tuesday. "I put my portfolio in a blind trust so I could work on the responsibilities as a leader, and indeed as a prime minister, with impartiality."

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