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Ignatieff to campaign alongside former PM as days tick down

The alarm bells have gone off in the Liberal big red tent and Michael Ignatieff is calling up the reserves, including Jean Chretien.

The former prime minister, who led the Liberals to three consecutive majorities, takes the stage with Ignatieff at what's billed as a "Rise-Up" rally in Toronto this evening.

With opinion polls suggesting that Liberal support is bleeding away to an unexpectedly strong NDP, Ignatieff hopes the little guy from Shawinigan can reproduce the campaign magic that brought Liberal victories in 1993, 1997 and 2000.

Earlier in the campaign, former prime minister Paul Martin joined Ignatieff for a few events, but Martin never forged the connections with Canadians that Chretien did.

Despite his fractured English and lop-sided grin, Chretien always found a way to charm voters.

Ignatieff is also launching a last-ditch appeal to Quebecers today with an open letter in several newspapers.

The Liberal leader urges Quebecers to vote Liberal if they want to get rid of Stephen Harper's Conservatives, saying NDP Leader Jack Layton and Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe cannot govern.

"Mr. Duceppe and Mr. Layton cannot become prime minister; they can only oppose Mr. Harper," Ignatieff writes. "That is not good enough. The time has come to replace him."

Ignatieff has been saying that he's lured back disenchanted Liberals, who didn't vote in 2008. He said his dogged criss-crossing of the country over the last year or so has help restore the Liberal base.

But some of that base may be flirting with Layton, and Ignatieff is also trying to attract Red Tories who are uncomfortable with Harper's style.

In another manoeuvre aimed at the NDP, Liberals Bob Rae and Ujjal Dosanjh, both former NDP premiers, came out with an attack which brushed Harper and smacked Layton.

They said Layton's campaign promises don't add up. He cannot abolish the Senate by himself, he cannot freeze tuition fees, which are a provincial matter, and hiring thousands of doctors and nurses for just $25 million within 100 days just can't be done.

They called Layton's platform "a series of sweeping promises that do not reflect any sense of what it actually takes to govern."

They urged voters to come back to the Liberal fold:

"The party's practical idealism is what the country needs. Theories and ideologies, however well intentioned, will lead the country down paths that will be profoundly unproductive for Canadians."

The prime minister, on the other hand, is running a carefully scripted and focused campaign with no surprise. He seems content to run out the clock with rallies full of cheering supporters and a calm call for a stable majority government.

Layton, meanwhile, is trying to cement his seeming bonanza in Quebec, where polls show him with unlooked-for levels of support.

Nationally, a new Ekos poll released Tuesday had the NDP at 28 per cent, just six points back of the Conservatives at 34 per cent. The Liberals were at 24 per cent.

The Green party was at 6.8 per cent, another victim of the NDP surge, while the Bloc Quebecois stood firm at six per cent.

The poll was conducted Saturday through Monday and randomly surveyed 2,532 Canadians. It carries a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Layton's talk of bringing Quebec into the Constitution drew a rebuke from Harper, who said voters don't want to reopen 20 years of constitutional wrangling.

And Ignatieff chimed in to say that a vote for the NDP was a vote for Harper. The Liberals are the only hope to stave off another Conservative government, he insisted.

Duceppe and the Bloc are struggling against the first major challenge they have ever faced from the NDP.

He's warning that the New Democrats are a hard-line federalist party out of touch with Quebec. When push comes to shove, they'll side with Ottawa against the province, he said.

But he also had to fend off an attack from one of his own former MPs.

Suzanne Tremblay said Duceppe's performance in this campaign was "dreadful" and said she understood why many Quebec voters might see the Bloc as a political anachronism.

Meanwhile, Elections Canada reported a big turnout for the advance polls on Friday, Saturday and Monday.

The agency's preliminary figures show just over two million people cast ballots on the three days, which was a 34.5 per cent increase from the 1.5 million who voted in advance in 2008.

The 676,000 people who voted on Friday and another 832,000 who cast ballots on Monday made those two days the two busiest advance poll days ever.

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