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Conservative leader Stephen Harper speaks at a rally during a campaign stop in Quebec City on Wednesday, September 30, 2015.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

If there's anything Quebecers uniformly loathe, it's the sight of orange traffic cones heralding road construction.

But when Conservative Leader Stephen Harper cracked a joke at a rally in Quebec City this week about getting those cones back in the garage, he wasn't talking about his infrastructure funding.

He was going after his party's main foe in the province – the New Democrats.

While that party may have swept the province in 2011, be prepared for something different this time around, Harper said at an energetic event Wednesday night with about 650 local supporters.

"If you hold your enthusiasm, your determination, in 19 days we will have a nice surprise in Quebec," he said.

"The wind is turning in Quebec."

Wednesday's rally was the fifth time Harper has been in the province, according to a tally of his travel schedule by The Canadian Press.

He's likely to return again in the final days of the campaign but his final chance to address voters en masse is the Friday night French language leaders' debate. The Conservatives' goal mirrors the previous four debates: position Harper as the best leader for the country.

What that means is connecting with voters at a level beyond specific policy points but on a question of values, such as the Conservative approach on economy or public safety.

But in Quebec there is a specific values debate taking place: whether veils should be worn during citizenship ceremonies.

One of the Conservatives' final acts before dissolving Parliament for the election had been to introduce a bill banning that practice, a move that they expected would be a vote getter in Quebec where debates around the role of public displays of faith has been happening for years.

But they were handed the unexpected political bonus of being able to actively campaign on the issue when the Federal Court of Appeal ruled against their existing ban on the practice smack in the middle of the campaign.

The decision to appeal that ruling wasn't announced by the justice minister or immigration minister, two natural choices, noted Bruce Hicks, a longtime Quebec-based political scientist who is currently teaching at the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs of York University in Toronto.

It was Denis Lebel, Harper's chief Quebec lieutenant who delivered the news from Quebec.

"Harper has created the niqab as a major election issue. He's done it because he thinks it will win votes for the Conservatives, at the very least it is going to take some votes away from the New Democrats, so it'll be interesting to see how he positions himself vis-a-vis the other parties," Hicks said.

While many polls, including the government's own, have suggested the vast majority of Canadians don't think niqabs should be worn during citizenship ceremonies, a recent survey by Forum Research reported 69 per cent of Canadians don't think it should be an election issue.

The highest numbers of those who did think it had a place came from Quebec, at 31 per cent.

The Forum poll was an interactive voice response telephone survey of 1,499 Canadians age 18 or older, conducted from Sept. 28 to 29, 2015. The results are considered accurate by plus or minus three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Maxime Bernier, who has represented the Quebec riding of Beauce for the Conservatives since 2006, said there's no doubt the niqab issue is resonating.

But he's not sure the debate itself Friday night will have a significant impact. He said he thinks many voters may have already made up their minds, but at the same time, there are still more than two weeks until voting day.

"There were a lot of debates during this election and it won't be one debate that's going to change everything," he said.

"We must be there. We must be present on the ground and we are doing that."

Most polls have the Conservatives effectively in a three-way race with the Liberals and Bloc Quebecois for second-place status in the province.

The best the Conservatives have ever done in Quebec was in the 2006 campaign, when Bernier and nine other Conservatives – including Steven Blaney – were elected to office.

Blaney says this election reminds him of that.

"I haven't seen this kind of energy since the Conservative blue wave I was on in 2006," he said after Wednesday night's event.

"Something is happening here."

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