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Canada Chrétien to use world stage to outline election platform

ANNE McILROY in Ottawa ALAN FREEMAN in London

Prime Minister Jean Chrétien will use an international summit of left-leaning world leaders that starts tomorrow in Berlin to outline a rough version of the Liberals' election platform.

Mr. Chrétien, who has been criticized for lacking vision, will tell U.S. President Bill Clinton and a dozen other leaders what he has accomplished since 1993 and where he will take Canada if he wins a third term. A federal election is expected within a year.

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"I think it will be safe to assume that the paper that will inspire his remarks in Berlin will be the basis of the platform," a senior government official said at a background briefing yesterday.

The trip is meant to reposition Mr. Chrétien as a politician in the vanguard of the so-called Third Way, the term used by British Prime Minister Tony Blair for his electorally successful path between traditional left-wing interventionism and right-wing conservatism.

The conference is intended to bring left-leaning politicians together to discuss adapting social democracy to global economic competition. Canadian officials, who spoke on the condition they not be identified, insisted yesterday that other world leaders recognize Canada as a pioneer in this area.

Yet Mr. Chrétien was a late addition to the Berlin summit and without a good word from Mr. Clinton probably never would have been invited to the meeting.

According to officials in the office of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, invitations to participate in the summit, held under the theme "Modern Governance in the 21st Century," were sent to 13 heads of state and government on April 12.

But it wasn't until a week later that Canada and Greece were added to the list.

"I remember that Canada and Greece were added later," an official in the Chancellor's office said yesterday. "On April 12, the invitations were issued to the first group but on April 19, both [Mr. Chrétien and Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis]were added."

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Inexplicably, when the German government finally issued a public statement announcing the conference on April 25, Greece and Canada were still left off the list. German officials now say the omission was due to internal communications problems.

Françoise Ducros, Mr. Chrétien's director of communications, confirmed yesterday that Mr. Clinton intervened to get Canada an invitation to the conference.

"We do believe that Mr. Clinton made interventions," Ms. Ducros said in an interview. She said the Prime Minister was formally invited on April 19.

At the background briefing in Ottawa, Canadian officials made it clear that Mr. Chrétien's visit is aimed at a domestic audience.

His office released a 23-page document yesterday, titled The Canadian Way in the 21st Century, that will be the basis of Mr. Chrétien's speech. Senior government officials said it distinguishes the Liberals from their political opponents. The government must move to create opportunity in the new economy, but also must make sure that all members of society can share in those opportunities, they said.

"The success we have achieved as a nation has come not only from strong growth but from an abiding commitment to strong values -- caring, and compassion, an insistence that there will be an equitable sharing of the benefits of economic growth."

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The paper is mostly about what Mr. Chrétien says the government has accomplished since it was first elected in 1993. It is a rosy view that ends with a list of general goals the government is proposing as part of "a vision of a modern Canada."

Those goals include making Canada the most inclusive country in the world, a place where all children get a good start in life, all classrooms are connected to the Internet, and all citizens can afford a good education and can breathe clean air and drink clean water.

The document also says the Liberals want the economy to continue to grow strongly and for Canada to be a world leader in research and science.

It is hard to predict whether Mr. Chrétien's stump speech will be out of place at a international meeting.

The formal part of the summit, which consists of a dinner of government leaders tomorrow evening and a three-hour session on Saturday morning, is unfocused in its subject matter.

"We want to come up with concrete ideas on how globalization can be mastered," was how a German official explained it at a press briefing earlier this week.

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Nevertheless, there's been a big push to get an invitation, especially among the left-of-centre political leaders who want to bask in the electoral successes of Mr. Blair, Mr. Schroeder and Mr. Clinton.

Mr. Blair won't be attending after giving in to his wife's entreaties to stay home with their new baby Leo.

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