As a Liberal who grew up in a rural riding I’ve never been a big fan of the long gun registry, and not just for political reasons. It was an issue that spoke to the ongoing urban/rural divide in the Liberal Party, a well-intentioned piece of legislation that didn’t consider the legitimate concerns of rural Canadians – most likely because their perspective just wasn’t present at the table when it was drafted.
If anything, for rural Liberals, it exposed a chicken and egg paradox – are Liberal policies not considerate of rural Canadians because we don’t have many rural Liberal MPs to offer input, or do we not have many Liberal rural MPs to offer input because our policies aren’t considerate of rural Canadians?
So I wasn’t optimistic when I read that Michael Ignatieff was offering some proposals on the gun registry he hoped would appeal to rural Canadians, or at least to those eight Liberals that voted to scrap the registry on second reading of Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner’s (not really) private members bill. But after hearing that all the caucus is apparently on board with the changes and will now vote against the Hoeppner bill, I took a look.
Essentially, the proposed Liberal reforms are as follows:
*First-time failures to register firearms would be treated as a simple, non-criminal, ticketing offence, instead of a criminal offence as they are currently;
*Fees for new licenses, renewals and upgrades would be permanently eliminated; and
*The registration process – especially the forms – would be streamlined to make registration as easy as possible.
Their big argument was criminality: why should I be a criminal if I forget to register Great-Grandpa’s old rifle from the Boer War? OK, it’s now a non-criminal, ticket offence. Another argument was I have a large rifle collection, you’re going to gouge me with fees? OK, no more fees. And all that paperwork? There’ll still be some, but we’ll streamline it.
The arguments that are left tend to lose steam:
From there we descend into the conspiracy theories, about gun registration being the first step toward the government rounding up all the gun and marching us off to socialist work camps or something. I actually think that’s only if Obama gets a second mandate, actually.
The politics in Parliament
So with these proposed reforms, I understand that the entire Liberal caucus is now supposedly onside against Hoeppner’s bill. Reportedly Ignatieff will whip the vote, and I’m sure OLO wouldn’t whip it if they didn’t have them all onside. Well, one would like to think so, at least. It would be a pretty dumb move otherwise.
Even if all Liberal MPs are whipped, present and accounted for, and the BQ again votes no, it’s not enough to defeat the legislation though. Some 12 NDP MPs broke ranks and voted to kill the registry on second reading, mainly from rural ridings. The NDP says while it supports the registry, but it allows its MPs to vote their conscience on private members bills. Joe Comartin told Power and Politics Monday that while they’re trying to convince the 12, leader Jack Layton isn’t likely to whip the vote. Unless he changes his mind or convinces his 12 MPs to change theirs, the NDP will let the registry be killed. Indeed, they’ll help kill it.
It is a tricky situation, trying to bridge those cleavages within a caucus. We’ve been there. But hiding behind the “it’s a private members bill so it’s a free vote” line is a cop-out. The Conservatives are pushing this legislation; they did it as a pseudo private members bill PRECISESLY BECAUSE they wanted to peel off enough Liberal and NDP votes to pass it, because they knew they couldn’t pass it as a government bill. This is what the Conservatives want.
And if you believe the Conservatives aren’t whipping this vote on the down low, you’re hopelessly naïve. Not one Conservative MP from an urban riding (there are a few) or Quebec supports the registry? Well, all-righty then.
If the NDP really supports the registry, they need to either work with the Liberals and BQ on reforms that can get their caucus onside, or bite the bullet (to use a metaphor) and whip the vote. But it’s hard to have it both ways.
And the politics in Canada
Interesting to consider how this will play outside the Queensway. Let’s start with rural Canada. Will the Liberal reforms be enough to appease registry opponents? Not all of them. But some of them. There are those who will accept nothing less than abolition. They’re not likely to vote for Liberal for a boatload of reasons no matter what. But I think for many rural voters, the reforms address enough of their concerns to take this issue off the table for them. Getting them to vote Liberal will take a lot more, but it removes a roadblock and is a step in the right direction.
In the cities, though, where support for the registry is strong, it’s another story. If the Liberal caucus unites in favour of the registry and the NDP splits to let it die, I wouldn’t want to be campaigning for the NDP in many urban ridings next election. What will they say in Surrey and Burnaby, in Vancouver-East, in Trinity-Spadina, and even Toronto-Danforth. Heck, how about Outremont?
And what about the Conservatives? We hear a lot of spin about how the Liberals are out of touch with rural voters on the registry. Well, aren’t the Conservatives then out of touch with urban voters on the registry? Hasn’t hurt them to date as they’ve taken no high-profile steps to kill it. Pass Hoeppner’s bill though and it’s another story, and I don’t think the “it’s a private members bill” line will fly with many urban voters. The Conservatives need to gain urban seats to move forward. This would make that dammed hard.
So we’ll see how this all plays out. Right now, the ball is in the court of Layton and the NDP. Were I a betting man, I’d wager they find a way to get their caucus onside with some amendments. With the Liberals no longer to give them cover, being seen killing the registry would be unthinkable.