Follow the bouncing-ball. Jack Layton had a press conference on the gun registry today where he confirmed he can’t get his rural MPs to support what has long been NDP party policy and support the gun registry.
He doesn’t want to whip his caucus, because it seems likely some of them wouldn’t fall into line if he tried. I know the NDP insists its long-held principle they don’t whip private members bills (PMB), but in fact we all know this is only a Conservative government bill masquerading as a PMB to exploit that fact. As an aside, one wonders just what trickery the Conservatives could push through this loophole if they wanted to.
Still, Jack doesn’t want to be seen as doing nothing while his MPs kill the gun registry. So today he proposed a private member’s bill that would reform the registry. Coincidentally, his reforms are pretty much the same as the reforms proposed by the Liberals in April, reforms the NDP and its surrogates have been spending the last four months attacking as insufficient. The one notable difference is that the Liberals would enact the reforms when in government while voting to keep the registry now, while the NDP would introduce a private members bill as soon as it can this fall. Their hope is the reforms will convince their rural MPs to vote for the registry.
Sounds great, right? Sure. I liked these reforms when the Liberals proposed them in April, so I still like them now. I’m quite surprised it has taken the NDP this long to try to find a compromise, with an 11th-hour desperation play. While it’d be nice if Jack had said “great ideas Michael, now let’s take them one step further” instead of throwing bricks, I’m a glass half-full kinda guy.
But there’s just one thing: the vote to kill the registry will come well before Layton could possibly see his bill in the house. Layton’s answer to that?
Mr. Layton was pressed by reporters on how he expects this bill to become a reality, when Ms. Hoeppner’s bill is lined up for a vote so soon after Parliament resumes. He suggested that if all parties come onside, they could use the bill as a basis to reach a solution — presumably meaning that Ms. Hoeppner’s bill would either be amended or would die.
“There’s no good reason why we shouldn’t be able to sit down with goodwill and open minds. There’s no good reason why we shouldn’t be able to build solutions that bring us together.”
Now I’m certainly no government spokesperson. I’ll leave that dubious honour to Dimitri Soudas. But if Layton is seriously expecting the Conservatives to agree to kill the Hoeppner bill and get onboard with reforms to the registry they rejected when proposed by the Liberals in April, I expect they won’t find the government’s response to be favourable. They might even tell Layton “it’s our party’s policy not to interfere with private members bills” with a little smile. If the NDP is counting on Conservative help here, they’re dreaming.
Which means the vote to kill the registry will come long before a hypothetical NDP private members bill reforming it could ever see the light of day. And needless to say, if the registry is killed any bill to reform it dies as well.
So, that means NDP MPs will be faced with a choice, the same choice they’ve had all along: do they vote to kill the registry next month, or do they vote to keep it based on the promise of future reforms, either by a private member’s bill or by a new government.
For the Liberal caucus, it’s the latter. The choice has been made. Their leader, Michael Igntieff, has convinced them to support keeping the registry now by promising specific reforms by a future Liberal government.
Now it’s up to Layton to convince his caucus to do the same. He made an interesting comment here:
Mr. Layton was also critical of Mr. Ignatieff, who last April proposed many of the compromises that the NDP is now suggesting. The difference, said Mr. Layton, is that Ignatieff is saying he would make the conciliatory changes to the registry if the Liberals win the next election.
“But Liberal MPs are parliamentarians now,” said Mr. Layton. “Not parliamentarians in waiting. They need to act now.”
Yes Jack, and the vote on killing the registry will come first, and your MPs are parliamentarians now too. And you're not a leader-in-waiting either. So the question still remains: can you convince your MPs to accept a compromise or not? And if you can’t, will you whip them or will you let your MPs kill the registry?
This is a test of leadership Jack and, to paraphrase yourself, you need to act now.
UPDATE: Now with video, where the media openly laugh at Layton's feeble rationalizations. I hope his caucus takes him more seriously.
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