Jean Chrétien stepped into the Liberals' federal election campaign in British Columbia on Thursday, following on the heels of his former political rival, Stockwell Day, who was dispatched by the Conservatives to campaign in the province.
But the former prime minister took a less-regimented approach than the former head of the Canadian Alliance – now on the road in the borrowed bus of Conservative Leader Stephen Harper. On Thursday alone, Mr. Day was scheduled to do two events in Surrey and Vancouver.
The former three-term prime minister, who left politics in 2003, turned up at a news conference with no statement to deliver, but said he was there to take questions from the media. He was in Vancouver on business, and some Liberals say it made sense to simply make him available to comment on the election.
Asked to explain the appeal of some senior ex-politicians returning to campaign for their parties, an amused Mr. Chrétien said it was "because you come to see us," referring to the crowd of journalists hanging on his comments in the main hallway of the downtown Vancouver headquarters of the federal Liberal Party.
"Are you happy to be here or do you want me to go?" he asked The Globe and Mail reporter who raised the issue. "Apparently some people would like to listen to me, including you, sir," he told the questioner, referring to his record in government as an MP, cabinet minister and prime minister.
Mr. Chrétien, 81, has previously been in Vancouver doing Liberal Party events closed to the media and had more on Thursday, but he said he was happy to come out and talk.
"To be back in the ring and do a little bit of fighting is something I enjoy," he said, flanked by Liberal candidates in the Lower Mainland.
Mr. Chrétien has been back in the ring since 2003. He campaigned for successors Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, and has, during this campaign, stumped with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
As for Mr. Day, Mr. Chrétien asked, "Is he on his Sea-Doo?" referring to an infamous news conference in Pentiction in September, 2000, after Mr. Day won a by-election in the B.C. city.
Mr. Chrétien, indicating he only uses e-mail to send messages to his wife, said he did not think all candidates should have to drop out of the election campaign because of past comments on social media. "Because sometimes you said something stupid, it doesn't mean that you should be in a penalty box for the rest of your life," he said.
In the past several days alone, two Liberal candidates on Vancouver Island have stepped down over questionable Facebook posts. But NDP and Tory candidates elsewhere in Canada have also been in trouble over their social-media postings.
The Liberals went into the current election with only two seats in central Vancouver, but they are hoping to hold those and pick up more this time, with hopes focused, in particular, on the Lower Mainland.
B.C. has tended to shift between the NDP and Conservatives, and those parties are expected to win most of the province's 42 seats. In the 2000 election – Mr. Chrétien's last as leader – the Liberals won five seats.
Mr. Chrétien rejected the suggestion made in Conservative attack ads that Mr. Trudeau is "not ready" to govern, noting that previous prime ministers have had less elected experience than Mr. Trudeau.
And he pointed to Mr. Trudeau's upbringing as the son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.
"None of us had the privilege to have dinner every night with a prime minister," he said. "Pierre Trudeau was not talking hockey when he arrived home."
The former Liberal leader had a simple prescription for the party in B.C. "Win seats. Work hard. It's what they are doing," he said, referring to the Liberal candidates flanking him.