A who's who of Canadian politics is on its way to South Africa with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to pay their final respects to Nelson Mandela.

Harper will attend a public memorial for Mandela on Tuesday in Johannesburg, as well as his lying in state in Pretoria on Wednesday.

He's being accompanied by three of his predecessors — Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien and Kim Campbell, all of whom were invited by Harper to fly on the prime ministerial plane to attend the service. Joe Clark, meantime, is already in Africa and will join the Canadian delegation when it arrives in South Africa.

Mulroney spearheaded Canada's efforts to free Mandela from prison and pressure South Africa to end apartheid, while Chretien was prime minister when Mandela was granted honorary Canadian citizenship in 2001.

"He was a great, great man," Chretien said of Mandela as he boarded the plane.

Harper and his wife, Laureen, waved to the assembled media on the tarmac at the Ottawa airport as they got on the plane, a chilly sunset serving as their backdrop.

chretien harper tweet

Jean Chretien shares a laugh with Prime Minister Stephen Harper as the two politicians fly to South Africa to attend Nelson Mandela's funeral. Chretien is one of three former prime ministers travelling with Harper, along with Brian Mulroney and Kim Campbell. (pmharper/Twitter)

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair also joined the delegation, but not Justin Trudeau, the Liberal leader. Instead, Liberal MP Irwin Cotler joined the delegation. It wasn't immediately known if Trudeau declined an invitation from Harper .

Cotler, who was an international human rights lawyer prior to his political career, served as counsel to Mandela and other prisoners of conscience and political dissidents around the world.

Two former governors general, Michaëlle Jean and Adrienne Clarkson, were also on board.

"To see representatives of all political families together going to South Africa to pay tribute to Mandela is totally in the spirit of the man, so I'm proud of us," Jean said as she prepared to board the plane.

Premiers Darrell Pasloski (Yukon), Stephen McNeil (Nova Scotia), Alison Redford (Alberta) and Bob McLeod (Northwest Territories) are also travelling to South Africa with the prime minister.

Redford, a lawyer specializing in constitutional and legal reform law, worked for Mandela in the early 1990s in efforts to rebuild South Africa's legal system and lay the groundwork for the first all-race elections that led to him becoming president.

In addition, Deepak Obhrai, who is the parliamentary secretary to the foreign affairs minister, and Assembly of First Nations national chief Shawn Atleo were also on board.

Mandela died on Thursday at the age of 95.

His body will lie in state from Wednesday through Friday.

A state funeral for the former South African president is planned for next Sunday.

With files from CBC News