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Former prime minister Jean Chrétien speaks to reporters in Montreal on April 14, 2011. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)
Former prime minister Jean Chrétien speaks to reporters in Montreal on April 14, 2011. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Liberals bring in big guns for crucial final stretch Add to ...

Stuck in the polls with no sign of a post-debate bounce, the Liberals are turning to former prime ministers Paul Martin and Jean Chrétien to rally the troops down the final stretch.

Mr. Martin will be joining Michael Ignatieff's national tour Saturday, and Mr. Chrétien is scheduled to address a rally in the Greater Toronto Area in the last week before the May 2 vote.

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Mr. Martin has been quietly campaigning in two western ridings: Vancouver South, where Ujjal Dosanjh won by only 20 votes in 2008, and Edmonton Centre, a riding formerly held by Liberal minister Anne McLellan that the party feels has an outside chance of turning red. That's in spite of the fact that the Liberals lost to Conservative Laurie Hawn there last time by nearly 10,000 votes.

It was Mr. Hawn who defeated Ms. McLellan in 2006 after many close calls for the Liberals in previous elections. This time the Liberals are running Mary MacDonald, a lawyer in the riding who once worked as Ms. McLellan's deputy chief of staff.

A big rally is planned in Edmonton Saturday night as part of Mr. Ignatieff's national tour, and Mr. Martin will address the crowd. He then hops on Mr. Ignatieff's plane for campaign stops in Vancouver Sunday.

Both Mr. Martin and Mr. Chrétien appeared with former Liberal leader Stéphane Dion during the 2008 campaign.

The Liberal approach of using past leaders contrasts with Stephen Harper. Although he's the first leader of the merged Conservative Party of Canada, it was founded in 2003 via a merger of the Canadian Alliance (a successor to the Reform Party) and the Progressive Conservative Party.

Mr. Harper is a former Reform Party MP who was a strong critic of the Progressive Conservative Party. Former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, who now heads the Manning Centre, sets up organizational workshops to support the Conservative Party. He does not normally appear at rallies with Mr. Harper, however. The former leader of the Canadian Alliance, Stockwell Day, has been a loyal Harper minister, but he is not running for re-election.

Mr. Harper's relations with two former Tory prime ministers is strained. One, Joe Clark, never endorsed the unite-the-right merger. While he has yet to endorse a party this campaign, he did weigh in to say Green Party Leader Elizabeth May should be included in the leaders' debates.

There is also tension between Mr. Harper and former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney. Mr. Harper ordered his government members not to have anything to do with Mr. Mulroney as a result of the revelations - which led to a 2009 public inquiry - that lobbyist Karlheinz Schreiber gave Mr. Mulroney large amounts of cash for little work after Mr. Mulroney left office.

In an interview this month with TV Ontario's Steve Paikin, Mr. Mulroney was asked: "You're voting for Mr. Harper, I presume."

Mr. Mulroney paused, before saying: "At this point, I'll vote for the Conservative candidate in my constituency," he said.

A third former Conservative prime minister, Kim Campbell, has largely stayed out of Canadian politics since her government was reduced to two seats in the 1993 election.

The Liberals can boast that their party is free of tension between current and former leaders. Mr. Ignatieff told reporters earlier this week that he consults Mr. Martin and Mr. Chrétien regularly.

However, that doesn't mean the former prime ministers will necessarily help the cause. Speaking to reporters earlier this week, Mr. Chrétien said the Liberal Party's campaign was going better than he expected. As for his assessment of Mr. Ignatieff, he said: "not bad."

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