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Michael Ignatieff visits a daycare while campaigning in his Etobicoke, Ont., riding on Sep 19, 2008.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Michael Ignatieff's Liberals are offering up big prizes - tickets to Ottawa Senators games and even a $150 gift certificate to Hy's Steakhouse - to round up volunteers to help them identify the Grit vote in upcoming by-elections.

But this odd pitch for help has some Liberals wondering where the Grit spirit has gone. Why do volunteers have to be cajoled?

"It's time to up the stakes," writes Jane Kennedy, an official in the Opposition Leader's Office, in an email sent to the offices of Liberal MPs and staffers. "With less than two weeks until Election Day for the by-elections, we need your help."


Three by-elections are scheduled for Nov. 29, two in Manitoba and one in Ontario. And the Liberals appear to be targeting two of them.

"Both Vaughan and Winnipeg North campaigns have hit the ground running - let's help them hit their targets," Ms. Kennedy writes.

In return for their help, volunteers can win big.

The volunteer who makes the most calls and identifies the most voters will win two 200-level tickets to watch the Ottawa Senators play Dallas. And that's not all.

"This weekend," Ms. Kennedy writes, "the phone bank will be open on Saturday and Sunday from 12 p.m. - 4 p.m. ... The volunteer who makes the highest number of calls over the weekend will get 2 hockey tickets for the same Ottawa Senators game."

This time, however, the seats are better with tickets on 100-level. But wait, there's more.

"Highest number of calls made by next week's super volunteer will get $150 gift certificate to Hy's Steakhouse," she writes. "Finally, there will be a special surprise for our overall best caller!"

The Liberals are concerned about their prospects in Vaughan. They have held the suburban Toronto-area seat for 22 years. It became vacant after Maurizio Bevilacqua stepped down to run, successfully, for mayor.

But the new Liberal candidate Tony Genco faces a big challenge against Conservative Julian Fantino. The former Toronto police chief and former Ontario Province Police commissioner is well-known in the riding and could potentially go straight into the Harper cabinet if he wins.

As a result, Mr. Ignatieff is back in the Ontario riding Thursday, campaigning with Mr. Genco.

Winnipeg North is another possibility for the Liberals. They're in a battle with the NDP, who held it until Judy Wasylycia-Leis stepped down to run, unsuccessfully, for Winnipeg mayor.

A third race will take place in the Manitoba riding of Dauphin-Swan-River-Marquette, which was held by Conservative Inky Mark.

A senior Ignatieff official says the volunteer inducements are all about "political organization at this point.... And engaging the Liberal team to lend a hand wherever they can."

The official added: "We're working hard in all three by-elections and I'd be shocked if the Conservatives aren't doing the same thing."

But a long-time Liberal MP sees it differently: "It speaks to the lack of morale and enthusiasm. It used to be that people eagerly volunteered. Now they have to be ordered or rewarded."

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