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Don Cherry, CBC's high-profile and sometimes controversial hockey commentator, is making automated calls to households in a Toronto-area riding endorsing the Conservative candidate in a federal by-election.

Audio of Mr. Cherry's endorsement has been posted on the website of a well-connected Conservative party blogger, and the federal party has distributed a written version of the endorsement to select journalists.

"Hi, it's Don Cherry," says the distinctive voice in the 20-second recording, before launching into an endorsement of his "good friend Julian Fantino."

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"I know he would make an excellent member of Parliament. Thanks."

Mr. Cherry, 76, is the public face of CBC's flagship sports property, Hockey Night in Canada, where he holds court during the first intermission of NHL games with his long-running "Coach's Corner" segment.

Last spring, the CBC ran a two-part, made-for-television movie on Mr. Cherry's life, based on a dramatic script written by his son Timothy Cherry.

Mr. Cherry has become an impassioned advocate for Canadian troops fighting in Afghanistan, and his weekly Coach's Corner segment includes tributes to soldiers killed in action.

He has also been reprimanded in the past for making on-air comments deemed anti-francophone, and in 2004 his show was put on a seven-second tape delay by CBC.

While the taxpayer-subsidized public broadcaster has strict rules governing political involvement by its news and current affairs staff, the CBC said Wednesday that Mr. Cherry's partisan political activity is not an issue.

"Don is acting as a private citizen and is not acting or speaking on behalf of, or associating his activity with, either CBC or 'Hockey Night in Canada,"' CBC spokesman Jeff Keay said in an e-mail.

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"Nor is he a news or current affairs person."

As for his regular commentary on the Canadian military, Mr. Keay said: "We consider his statements of support for Canadian soldiers to be personal comment and, while not related to hockey, generally within reasonable bounds of commentary."

Mr. Cherry is not a full-time CBC employee, but is under contract for a annual salary last reported to be in the high six figures.

The federal by-election in the riding of Vaughan, Ont., is one of three scheduled Monday.

Vaughan, north of Toronto, has been in Liberal hands for 22 years and a number of pundits have described the current by-election contest as a proxy vote on Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

There are eight candidates in Vaughan, including Mr. Fantino, the former commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police. Tony Genco is the Liberal candidate, Kevin Bordian is running for the NDP, and Claudia Rodriguez-Larrain is flying the Green party banner.

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