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Mike Harcourt joins former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien and former Conservative cabinet minister Stockwell Day in campaigning for their respective parties in B.C.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Former B.C. premier Mike Harcourt, who infamously quit the NDP last year, has rejoined the party and is working to elect federal New Democrats – the latest example of a party elder returning to stump ahead of this month's vote.

Mr. Harcourt, who was B.C.'s second NDP premier, joins former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien and former Conservative cabinet minister Stockwell Day, who have also made appearances for their parties. Industry Minister James Moore, who is not seeking re-election in his Vancouver-area riding, is on the road with Mr. Day.

On Tuesday, Mr. Harcourt introduced federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair at a rally in Surrey – an event Mr. Harcourt described as his highest-profile support for the party since he rejoined in August.

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Mr. Harcourt said it can be valuable for former party leaders to return to the fray.

"People will listen to us because we have been there, done that, don't have anything to lose," Mr. Harcourt said in an interview on Tuesday. "I think we can have an impact on firing up the troops and, maybe, persuading people who are not sure which way to go to vote."

Asked about the same issue last week, a bemused Mr. Chrétien pointed to the crowd of journalists who crammed into a downtown Vancouver office to see him as proof of the helpful media attention former leaders can attract.

Some observers have seized on the Conservative tour by Mr. Day and Mr. Moore as a sign the party may be in trouble in competitive B.C., while others have suggested the use of the departed and departing cabinet minister raises questions about why the party is not using communicators who are on a ballot.

Mr. Day has said he simply is not taking the election for granted.

"I'm a genuinely concerned volunteer on this campaign," he said in a recent interview. This week, he has done events in West Vancouver and North Vancouver – a mix of news conferences and door-knocking with candidates that he describes as "real-life road-testing of the message we just gave."

Political scientist Gerald Baier of the University of British Columbia said the upside of old pros is they have name recognition and can fire up factions within the party for partisan duty.

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He also said they tend to be low maintenance, but can also can cause controversy. Last week, Mr. Chrétien mused that the West should support Russian bombing of rebels in Syria – comments the Conservatives seized on to criticize Justin Trudeau for being associated with the former prime minister.

Dr. Baier also noted that time tends to make voters more sentimental about leaders, referring to Brian Mulroney, Preston Manning and Mr. Chrétien, who had issues during their careers, but are now regarded somewhat fondly.

"Former politicians tend to become statesmanlike by being out of the spotlight."

Mr. Harcourt said he is not ruling out travel on the campaign trail and has been "working quietly behind the scenes" helping the NDP prepare options for the party if it wins power.

Among other things, he said he is looking at areas of agreement between the NDP and the Liberals, such as investing in cities, dealing with climate change, fundamentally changing the situation of First Nations and restoring Canada's reputation internationally. "You go down the list and there's check-check-check in terms of agreement."

However, he said he did not see a Liberal-NDP coalition government as likely.

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In April, 2014, Mr. Harcourt said he had quit the B.C. party he led back to provincial power after 20 years in the political wilderness, declaring it had failed to bridge urban and rural areas and was not ready to govern. Before Mr. Harcourt, B.C.'s only other NDP premier was David Barrett in the 1970s.

His departure came after the unexpected defeat of the NDP in the 2013 provincial election. The NDP went into the campaign with a lead in the polls, but the B.C. Liberals won a fourth straight majority. (The B.C. Liberals are not affiliated with the federal Liberal Party.)

In severing ties with the provincial party, Mr. Harcourt cited the "astonishingly stupid decision" of then-leader Adrian Dix to change position mid-campaign on the proposed expansion of the Kinder-Morgan pipeline between Alberta and the Lower Mainland – a shift thought to have alienated blue-collar workers in resource communities.

But Mr. Harcourt, 72, said he was pleased with John Horgan, Mr. Dix's successor, and especially with Mr. Mulcair, whom he said is smart and has the toughness required to govern.

"I just decided it was time to get back involved. I've noticed enough improvements. I thought Tom was, by far, the best [for] prime minister, and I liked the way the policies were stacking up, particularly around cities and climate change and aboriginal [issues]."

The Vancouver lawyer was the city's mayor for three terms and became premier in 1991. He stepped down in 1996, taking responsibility for a scandal involving the NDP use of funds raised through bingo for party needs, although he had no role in it. He has since been involved in issues including sustainability, planning and communities.

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Mr. Harcourt has joked about being a member of a club of ex-politicians fighting not to relapse and return to politics, adding that he may need help again from that group.

"They think I need to go back for another session," he quipped. "Oct. 21, I have to go back to Step One. That's okay. I think it's an important election and I want to have a say in it."

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