09/13/2015 03:02 EDT | Updated 09/13/2015 03:59 EDT

Harper Says Canada 'Most Admired' Country In The World

Engulfed in criticism of the federal government's role in the Syrian refugee crisis, Stephen Harper maintains that Canada is the most admired country in the world and is highly respected.

The Conservative leader made the comments Sunday to an enthusiastic crowd in the Ottawa community of Stittsville.

"The vast, vast majority of Canadians are immensely proud of this country, and the data we have from around the world indicates that this is the most admired country in the single world, respected as never before," he said to enthusiastic applause from his supporters.

Harper was referring to a report by the Reputation Institute that named Canada the "most admired" country in the world. He was responding to a reporter’s question on comments made by former prime minister Jean Chrétien, who said Harper had "shamed" Canada domestically and internationally.

"Today, with great sadness and shame, I am watching Mr. Harper’s cold-hearted reaction to the tragedy of refugees from Syria and Iraq," Chrétien wrote in a letter published Saturday in The Globe and Mail.

"In my travels around the globe, I am regularly asked: What has happened to Canada? What has happened to the advanced, peace-seeking, progressive country Canada once was?

"What has happened to the country that was a model for peace and stability in a tumultuous world? These questions evoke great sadness in me. I am sad to see that in fewer than 10 years, the Harper government has tarnished almost 60 years of Canada's reputation as a builder of peace and progress."

Chrétien made similar comments Sunday at a Liberal rally with Justin Trudeau, saying that Harper's stance on refugees is "embarrassing."

"I have been around for a long time, I remember in the 40s, in the 50s, when we had refugees coming into Canada from [Hungary]... and when I was prime minister we welcomed the Kosovars, more than 5,000 in one year. And there was no debate! There was no controversy," he said.

Chrétien's sentiments and questions are mirrored in a recent, controversial ad by Adbusters, titled Spitbomb.

"I used to be proud of my country. We have come a long way together, but lately we’ve been led astray and the world now sees us for what we’ve become," the narrator says over images of a factory, polar bears and mutated fish.

The clip ends with a woman in an airport who is approached by a man in a suit.

"'What happened?' he said. 'You used to be the good ones,''" the narrator says, as the man spits on a Canadian flag sewn on to her luggage. Adbusters claims the spot is based on an actual incident that happened at Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport, according to News 1130.

Adbusters is currently fundraising on Indiegogo for airtime during CBC's flagship news show, The National.

"Today Canada has lost its purpose, lost its soul," the group wrote on its Indiegogo page, which has so far raised more than $8,000 out of its $25,000 goal.

"Wearing the Maple Leaf is no longer a badge of honour. After nine years in office, Stephen Harper has decimated Canada's reputation on the world stage. We are no longer the proud nation we used to be."

The group is even prepared to use some of the money raised to “pursue legal action against the broadcasters” who deem it too controversial to air.

At Sunday’s event, Harper said the government would bring in more Syrian refugees, but added that the majority of those affected by the crisis remain in the Middle East.

“We are going to do it in a matter that reflects Canadian generosity and also protects Canadian interests,” he said. “Yesterday, the government was very proud to announce that we are creating a matching fund for humanitarian assistance in the region. Canadians can donate, the Government of Canada will match those donations.”

With files from Althia Raj

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