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Tories attack Ignatieff's national-unity refrain Add to ...

As the Harper government gets thumped over its decision to scrap a mandatory census Conservative strategists are trying to turn the channel, accusing Michael Ignatieff of "playing with fire" and "recklessly" making every issue into one of national unity.

In a memo circulated Tuesday to MPs and supporters, the Tories note a "disturbing trend" on Mr. Ignatieff's part as they document the number of times he has talked about national unity as he tours the country this summer via his Liberal Express bus.

"Is Every Issue a National Unity Issue for Michael Ignatieff?" is the headline of the missive, which notes that last Friday Mr. Ignatieff "defended race-based hiring on the dubious grounds that it somehow promotes national unity."

"It doesn't hurt anyone. It reinforces national unity and the quality of the Public Service," Mr. Ignatieff is quoted as saying in response to the government's decision to review employment equity in the public service.

The Tories add: "It's bad enough that Michael Ignatieff supports excluding people from serving Canada based on their race or ethnicity, but did he have to bring up the always-thorny matter of national unity?"

Sensing a pattern, the memo says Mr. Ignatieff has begun to label every issue one of national unity - the urban-rural divide, energy policy, the oil sands, the East-West power grid.

"Michael Ignatieff and his team recklessly throw around the term 'national unity,' " the Tories charge. "If Ignatieff hadn't spent 34 years away from Canada he might understand that elevating policy differences into 'national unity' issues is playing with fire."

The Liberals are calling this latest Tory memo "dumb", criticizing the Conservatives of having "twisted priorities."

"[Stephen Harper]doesn't want to know what the real country looks like (census), he doesn't want the civil service to be representative of the real country (affirmative action), he doesn't care about the urban-rural divide, and so forth and so on," a senior Ignatieff official told The Globe.

"Only the Conservatives, with their twisted priorities, would think that wanting to have a strong and united Canada is a problem."

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