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Tories Release Niqab Ad Day After Harper Blames Rivals For Making Veil An Issue

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Conservatives have released a new ad focused on the niqab just one day after Stephen Harper blamed his rivals for making the Muslim face veil an "issue."

The French spot, released online Wednesday, courts Quebecers by slamming Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's position that women should be allowed to take the oath of citizenship with their faces covered.

While Thomas Mulcair has said the same — arguing the courts have already settled the matter — the ad makes no mention of the NDP leader.

The ad references poll numbers suggesting that most Quebecers want women to take the oath without their faces covered. The spot argues Trudeau is offside with "Quebecois values."

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe is also against the wearing of the niqab during the oath, and has argued New Democrats and Liberals are out of sync with Quebecers.

The niqab debate has proven deeply divisive and, in the eyes of many, has dominated entirely too much of the campaign.

It was revealed last week that just two women have refused the oath because of the rule changes instituted by the Tories in 2011, while there have been more than 680,000 citizenship ceremonies since then.

Harper was asked to address the issue in a sit-down interview with CBC host Rosemary Barton Tuesday after the federal government lost its bid to stop Toronto woman Zunera Ishaq from wearing the niqab while taking the oath.

The Tory leader reiterated that the government will bring in legislation on the matter if re-elected, calling it an issue of equality.

But Harper also said his government would "examine" whether or not those working in the public service should be allowed to wear the veil.

"Quebec, as you know, has legislation on this," he said. "And we're looking at that legislation. But as I say, we're a society of openness and of equality and this is what we want to promote.

"And look, the vast, vast majority of Canadians understand our position on this and are behind it. The other parties have made a decision to make this an issue because they are frankly offside on public opinion, but that's their choice."

"You haven't made this an issue?" Barton asked.

"We're on side with public opinion on this, and I think Canadians understand this very clearly," Harper said, before conceding that the economy is the biggest issue of the campaign.

At an event in London on Wednesday, Trudeau was asked by a reporter if public servants should have to leave their faces uncovered while doing their jobs.

The Liberal leader accused Harper of doing "anything he can to deflect from the fact" that Canadians want change.

"He is stirring up the politics of fear and division in a way that quite frankly is unworthy of the office he holds, and he needs to stop because no election win is worth pitting Canadians against Canadians," Trudeau said.

Those words were similar to ones used this week by Danny Williams, who was Progressive Conservative premier of Newfoundland and Labrador from 2003 to 2010. He told The Canadian Press that Harper was trying to capitalize on bigotry, and attempting to distract Canadians from larger issues like the economy and health care.

"To try and use those kinds of tactics to pit people against people in the country so that they end up voting for his party and he gets re-elected, I just think that's quite shameful,'' Williams said.

"It's one thing to get elected, but if you're going to be the prime minister of this great country of ours and show leadership, then you should be trying to unite the country, not divide it. And that's exactly what's happening.''

With files from The Canadian Press

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