Fiery Chrétien rallies Liberal faithful

Former prime minister Jean Chrétien attempted to boost the political fortunes of Michael Ignatieff with a rallying speech Wednesday night that took square aim at the Conservatives — along with a shot at the NDP.
Former prime minister Jean Chrétien gives hand to Liberals at a Toronto rally 18:24

Former prime minister Jean Chrétien attempted to boost the political fortunes of Michael Ignatieff with a rallying speech Wednesday night that took square aim at the Conservatives — along with a shot at the NDP.

"Today I’m a bit preoccupied because I spent 40 years of my life in public life and I’m afraid that the country that my grandchildren and your grandchildren will have may not be the country I wanted and you wanted them to have," he said to a packed crowd in Toronto.

Chrétien, who led the Liberals to three consecutive majorities, warned that Canadian values such as minority and gay rights are at risk if Stephen Harper is elected to form another Conservative government.

He cited the Tories' "back door" attempt to scrap the federal long-gun registry through a private member's bill last fall as an example of such values under attack.

"And it is that tactic that we will face on other minority rights, like gays and others in our society," he said.

"I see you’ve come from all over the world to share our values of being a Canadian," added Chrétien, looking around the room.  "But sometime if you’re not careful you might lose them one by one."

The 77-year-old Liberal stalwart said Canada's reputation has suffered internationally, pointing out the Harper government's inability to get a seat on the UN Security Council as an example.

"We were defeated by a country that's on the watching list of the IMF," he said, referring to Portugal. "It's sad but it's true."

NDP platform 'not adding up'

Chrétien said the Tories are now taking credit for Canada's strong banking system that has withstood the impact of the worldwide recession. But he said during his time as prime minister, they were "giving me hell" for refusing to allow bank mergers.

"And now they're taking the credit," he said. 

Chrétien also dismissed the Tory platform, saying "there's not much there," while he also ridiculed their costly plan to buy F-35 fighter jets and build new prisons, despite crime rates going down.

"We'll have planes without engines and prisons without prisoners," Chrétien joked.

The former PM also took a shot at Jack Layton and the New Democrats, who appear to be surpassing the Liberals in recent polls.

"And I checked the program of the NDP," he said. "Nobody had read it until a few days ago. Apparently it's not adding up."

"Tonight, I'm here to say the Liberal party has a plan, the Liberal party has a team and the Liberal party will change things," he said.

In turn, Ignatieff cited Chrétien as an example of a "true leader" who eliminated the federal deficit left over by the previous Tory government of Brian Mulroney.

"He dug out of the Mulroney hole; we’ll dig out of the Harper hole," Ignatieff told the crowd. 

Ignatieff also hit out at Layton, saying "polls don't make you prime minister."

"You have to earn it. He earned it," said Ignatieff, pointing to Chrétien on the stage behind him.

Chrétien's appearance comes as several public opinion polls suggest Ignatieff's Liberals have failed to gain any momentum, while the NDP is thought to be surging across the country.

Last week, former prime minister Paul Martin joined Ignatieff for events in Alberta and British Columbia.

Some political observers have questioned whether their appearances risks reminding voters of the sponsorship scandal that contributed to his party's fall from power five years ago.

But appearing on the popular Sunday program Tout le monde en parle, Ignatieff said the party has "paid for all the consequences of past behaviour," and that the two Liberal prime ministers will be remembered for restoring the country's finances and record spending in health care.