Tories can’t seal deal on long-gun registry

On Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2010, MPs voted to scrap a controversial private members bill by a margin of 153 to 151. Bill C-391, put forward by Conservative Manitoba MP Candice Hoepnner (Portage-Lisgar), proposed to do away with the long-range gun registry that Jean Chretien’s Liberals imposed in 1995. The bill had already passed two reading in the House of Commons, supported by 12 NDP and eight Liberal MPs (and one Independent).

Six opposition MPs — mostly from rural ridings, such as NDP MP Niki Ashton from Churchill, MB — voted with the Conservative Party on Sept. 22, but it wasn’t enough to save Hoeppner’s bill. “The bullying tactics and desperate maneuvering of the Liberal and NDP parties have unfortunately resulted in the defeat of this clear and straight-forward bill to end the registry,” Hoeppner said in a press release after the close vote.

Hoeppner also had some choice words for NDP MPs who initially supported Bill C-391 but voted to scrap it on Sept. 22.

“Rest assured,” she warned, “Canadians will not forget this betrayal — they will hold to account MPs like Peter Stoffer, Glenn Thibeault, Claude Gravelle, Malcolm Allen, Charlie Angus, and Carol Hughes, who promised constituents repeatedly that they would work to end the long-gun registry, and then succumbed to the pressure of their party bosses and changed their minds.”

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff commended his vote-switching MPs on holding the party ranks, though they’ll need more than his commendations to appease their many of their constituents. Ignatieff then implored Canadians to work together on the “emotional” issue.
“We’re willing to improve the long-gun registry,” he told the CBC, “to make it acceptable to rural Canadians and it was on that basis that we’ve maintained unity in the caucus, and I’d like to maintain unity in the country on this issue.”

Initially enacted as a response to the 1989 massacre at University of Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique, where 14 women were killed with a .22 caliber rifle, the Conservative Party has long maintained that they support “responsible gun control,” but that the registry is expensive and inefficient, that it criminalizes law-abiding gun-owners and that it “hasn’t made Canadians safer” as it was intended to do.

Many would argue, though, that the registry is not nearly as expensive as the Conservative Party suggests. According to an RCMP report released this past August, eliminating the long-gun registry would only save Canadians about $3 million a year — less than 25 cents per Canadian every other two years — as opposed to the $1 billion tag that Stephen Harper has been propagandizing the nation with. The RCMP report also indicates that half of firearms seized by the Mounties nationwide since 2008 have been registered, which seems to indicate that the program is not entirely inefficient, and arguably could be helping make Canada safer.

Now, this is not to say that I entirely agree with the program myself — nor do I entirely oppose it. But there are a few things that irk me about this whole business. The manner in which our prime minister and his cabinet have attacked the NDP, Liberals and PQ for supporting the registry — with the intention of reforming it so as to function better, one might add — our minority government has demonstrated once again that they are incapable of working with the opposition in order to benefit all Canadians.

John Baird’s tirade against “Toronto elites” preceding the Sept. 22 vote was particularly embarrassing. Generally, I’m game for any and all Toronto bashing. However, I found Baird’s divisive antics embarrassing, as he either forgot or deliberately failed to mention that the prime minister himself was born in and grew up in Toronto and, it would seem, may never have even fired a gun before.

Having grown up in the mostly rural — and hard Conservative — constituency of Prince George-Peace River in northern British Columbia, I can recall how vehement the opposition to the registry was back in the 1990s. I can also say from experience that shooting guns is awesome. Whether you’re an avid hunter (I am certainly not) or just enjoy shooting detritus appliances full of holes, firing a gun is fun.

Learning how to do so safely, of course, is paramount to enjoying the experience, not to mention acquiring a firearms licence in the first place. The current long-gun registry goes above and beyond simple licensing, but still falls short of the outright demonization the Conservatives portray to their constituents and the media. From an article published by Postmedia leading up to the recent vote, it seems that all opposition leaders understand this from experience, and not just the polls. I’m not so sure our prime minister can say the same.

Having said all that, the thought of any politicians — the most fickle folk in all of humanity — being in control of who can who can’t have guns and is, frankly, quite terrifying, especially considering our government’s behaviour overseas or our police state in Toronto this past June. Maybe scrapping the long-gun registry is a good idea after all, but certainly not for the purely political reasons that Candice Hoeppner and the Conservative Party are proposing to do so.

Sheldon Birnie is the Comment Editor at the Manitoban.