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The Conservative party will launch a national advertising campaign this week, targeting Canadian ethnic groups with the party's stand against gay marriage.

As Sikh and Roman Catholic leaders weighed in against redefining marriage laws to include homosexual relationships, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said his party needs to send a clear pre-election message against changing the definition of marriage.

"Frankly, we think a clear majority of Canadians support the compromise I put forward, including a lot of people who vote Liberal and traditionally don't vote for this party," Mr. Harper said after a speech to the Quebec City Chamber of Commerce.

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"We want to make sure our message gets out to them and make sure our message does not go through a press filter."

Newspaper ads will compare Mr. Harper's proposal to preserve the traditional definition of marriage with Prime Minister Paul Martin's plan to "impose same-sex marriage."

Mr. Harper wants to create a new kind of civil union for homosexuals that would give them the same rights as married people.

Mr. Harper said the ad campaign is part of a new pre-election strategy. "Our intention is to improve our publicity resources before the next election," he said.

"It's our first attempt to make a publicity campaign like that."

Harper tried to walk a fine line Wednesday, threatening to bring down the Liberal government with the federal budget later this winter while recognizing the public's distaste for another vote.

"I understand Canadians don't want an election," he said.

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"I don't want to rule it out. We would like to see some issues addressed. If we think this budget is going to do serious and immediate harm to the economy, we would have no choice."

As Mr. Harper tried to sell his party with his fifth visit to Quebec City since the last election in June, he has faced repeated questions about social issues like gay marriage and abortion.

Mr. Harper's Quebec wing, including his unelected Quebec lieutenant, Josee Verner, openly support gay marriage, a woman's right to an abortion and other liberal-leaning positions.

The question of same-sex marriage has also followed Mr. Martin on his trip to Asia.

A leading Sikh cleric in India, Giani Joginder Singh Vedanti, condemned Canada's same-sex marriage policy and urged Sikhs to prevent such marriages from occurring in their temples.

Back home, Aloysius Ambrozic, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Toronto, released an open letter urging Mr. Martin to maintain marriage as a heterosexual rite.

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He said Mr. Martin should use the Constitution's notwithstanding clause to override the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and block same-sex marriage.

Mr. Harper, who was hounded during the last election campaign on whether he would use the notwithstanding clause to block gay marriage, disagreed with the cardinal.

"My view is, it's not necessary," Mr. Harper said. "It is necessary for the federal government to adopt legislation that protects the traditional definition and protects religious freedom."

Mr. Harper noted that former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney allowed free votes on abortion and capital punishment.

In his speech, Mr. Harper asked Quebeckers to take a "beau risque" on his party, evoking former premier René Lévesque's attempt to negotiate a constitutional settlement with Mr. Mulroney.

However, unlike Mr. Mulroney, Mr. Harper insisted he is not interested in re-opening a constitutional debate.

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