Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Federal NDP will pay high political price if their rural MPs vote to kill long gun registry next week

Bill Tieleman with Glock 19 semi-automatic pistol at New Orleans gun shop

New Democrats Playing with Loaded Gun

Federal NDP will pay dearly if long-gun registry is killed in Parliament with their rural MPs' votes

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Bill Tieleman

"This private members' bill will end the requirement to register non-restricted hunting rifles and shotguns.... I was completely satisfied that this is what was needed, and I seconded the bill."

NDP MP Bruce Hyer on the long gun registry

You need to know a few things before reading this column:

1. I like to shoot handguns, particularly the Colt .45 and
Glock 19, and have shot long guns many times, too.

2. I strongly believe -- along with police chiefs and officers' associations -- that the long gun registry saves lives and prevents the violent use of firearms.

3. I generally support federal New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton.

4. If enough federal NDP MPs vote to kill the long gun registry in Parliament next week, the party will pay a huge political price in the next election -- and it will richly deserve that fate.

The NDP has desperately tried to have it both ways. Layton and most of his caucus strongly oppose Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner's private member's bill, C-391, to eliminate the registry and destroy 8 million existing records of gun ownership.

But Layton is also allowing a so-called "free vote" on the gun registry so his rural MPs can vote in favour of ending it, because their constituents are applying pressure, aided by
a Conservative ad campaign.

And almost unknown is the fact that an NDP MP -- Bruce Hyer of Thunder Bay-Superior North -- actually seconded Hoeppner's bill to kill the registry.

How does that happen in the NDP caucus? Clearly the Conservatives were thrilled to have an NDP MP onside to divide the party. And it worked.

In fact, in the initial vote in November to kill the registry, 12 NDP MPs voted in favour, helping provide the narrow 27 vote margin needed to bring the bill back for a final vote on Sept. 22.

Three of those NDP MPs -- Claude Gravelle, Charlie Angus and Glen Thibeault -- have since decided to reverse their votes and now support keeping the registry but the other nine NDP MPs who still back C-391 would be enough to pass it.

The NDP created its own problems, to be sure, by playing with a politically loaded gun without the safety on.

But the Conservatives deserve special criticism -- not only are they encouraging a harmful rural-urban divide over the gun registry but they have refused to make the legislation a government bill -- because they know the opposition would then vote against it based on party rather than MPs' individual positions.

The Conservative government was also obviously behind suddenly
sending the senior RCMP officer in charge of the registry, Chief Superintendent Marty Cheliak, off to language school just as the debate got underway again, despite denials from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and RCMP Commissioner William Elliot that they were involved.

Cheliak was scheduled to release a major report at the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police annual general meeting and be presented with an award for his work on the registry before he was yanked.

The RCMP says it is "not likely" Cheliak will return to his position, as it is "
designated bilingual" -- how convenient.

Like Cheliak, the chiefs of police oppose killing the registry, as does the Canadian Police Association, representing 41,000 rank and file officers.

And no wonder -- over the last decade, 16 police officers in Canada have been killed by a firearm while on duty -- 14 of those deaths were by a long gun.

Both police groups believe it protects both their members and the public, noting that the database is accessed by officers about 10,000 times a day to check for firearms ownership.

That helped convince NDP MP Alex Atamanenko to support keeping the registry in the first vote despite being targeted by the Conservatives in a nasty ad campaign in his riding. [NOTE: Atamanenko also had the guts to take his position on keeping the long gun registry before the last election - and he obviously didn't lose his seat - BT]

Atamanenko stood up to the bully tactics and resisted pressure in his rural riding -- something Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen should note.

Cullen is the only NDP MP in B.C. who still says he will vote to kill the registry, claiming it is a waste of money -- even though the current budget is less than $10 million a year and registration fees have been waived.

Federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has "whipped" his caucus, telling all MPs they must vote against C-391.

Good for Ignatieff, even if it is politically advantageous and easier for him to do than Layton. He has propped up the Conservative minority government several times and been roasted for it by Layton and his MPs. That uncomfortable shoe is on the other foot this time.

"Right now they're lined up with Stephen Harper against the police," Ignatieff said of the NDP.

Layton's position: "My goal is to fix the registry so that it can work for everybody, and that's what our caucus is working very hard to accomplish."

And his strategists are trying to convince supporters that unless NDP MPs are allowed to vote to kill the long gun registry, the Conservatives will win a majority government in the next election.

"To whip our vote and to hand over our rural caucus to Stephen Harper gives him a majority that he so desperately wants," says NDP national director Brad Lavigne.

"We're doing the right thing and we're playing our strategy a hell of a lot smarter than the over-simplistic version that Mr. Ignatieff would have us do. If we hand over our rural caucus and he (Harper) gets his majority, then on day one he scraps the gun registry," Lavigne told the Toronto Star.

"So you get a two for one, you lose the registry and you get Stephen Harper for four years unbridled," he concludes.

Nice try but the NDP is widely missing the target.

What's far more likely to happen is New Democrat voters, especially women and those in urban ridings, decide the party lacks principles and backbone when faced with a tough issue and stay home on election day or worse for the NDP -- vote Liberal.

Here in B.C. that could put the seats of NDP MPs like
Don Davies, Bill Siksay, and Fin Donnelly at risk if their vote drops -- to the benefit of either Conservative or Liberal opponents.

[In a highly ironic side note, the federal NDP inadvertently just sent out a direct mail fundraising letter with a target logo on the envelope titled "Taking Aim" and copy inside saying: "It's time to take aim at Stephen Harper." Talk about bad timing.]

None of this is to deny that the long gun registry is indeed difficult for the NDP. There is no easy solution and whichever way the party turns presents big challenges.

But if you are going to risk losing seats, isn't it better to do so by taking a strong stand in favour of a position the overwhelming majority of NDP supporters believe in rather than by pandering to a Conservative Party initiative?

For a party that proudly boasts today of defending civil liberties during the FLQ crisis in 1970 despite it being highly politically unpopular at the time, seeing rural NDP MPs cast the deciding votes to kill the long-gun registry would be a sad statement.

If you believe the long-gun registry should not be eliminated, tell the NDP today that your vote and donations to his party are at risk. Email Layton at: Layton.J@parl.gc.ca and Cullen at: Cullen.N@parl.gc.ca



Eleanor Gregory said...

Well said.

A reader said...


This column is about a week too old, Bill. The Jurist is a bit more up-to-date.

Stepan Vdovine said...

Principled leadership is about making difficult decisions. So lets hope that Cullen and others are determined enough to resist Conservative pressure tactics and will follow Atamanenko example.

Great piece, Bill.

Anonymous said...

Bill against the NDP and his NDP friends who vote with the Conservatves?

Not going to happen.

Anonymous said...

The Glock 19 is a prohibited firearm in canada as it has a 4.1in barrel. Bill you should never have your finger on the trigger until you are ready to shoot what you are aiming at. Take a safety course.

istvan said...

how many times have you climbed on this soap-box now Bill? none of your arguments hold water,please give it up.

Anonymous said...

Bill, we have a long gun registry which you claim saves lives. Yet it didn't save the 14 police officers who were killed with long guns. So it is not effective, unless you believe without a registry more would have been killed with long guns. How many of those 14 long guns were registered? You ignore that. I suggest you provide us with that information. Of course police officers and their associations are for the registry. Surprise, surprise. And of course police access the registry 10,000 times a day. Why wouldn't they, it's there, so this is not a surprise nor a factor for keeping it. Should they not approach any building or situation as if a gun might be involved, whether the registry says there is one or not? Using that approach deems the registry unnecessary. The registry is truly a waste of money and it is completely ineffective. You claim killing the registry will create a harmful urban/rural divide. Do we not already have a harmful urban/rural divide created by the registry? I'll never vote anything but NDP no matter how they vote on this issue. I suspect most NDP voters would not, could not switch to Tory or Liberal. Let's just get rid of the damn thing.

Anonymous said...

It was mentioned on CBC that when guns are registered and have addresses
the police can take extra caution when approaching the premises.
Keeping track of serial #'s is important to. Not having to register a gun clears the way for those that want to smuggle long guns up from the US and sell them to who ever.

Dirk Buchholz said...

Can't say I agree with your stand,indeed your arguments are weak.e.g the registry saves /prevents deaths ???
The majority of Cnd's don't support the registry,just like the majority of NDP supporters don't.Yet you believe that somehow if the NDP allows a free vote and the registry dies(good-riddance)they-the NDP-will be punished/lose support ?

PeterInEdmonton said...

This reminds me a lot of the old Capital Punishment debate from years back. I find parallels in the emotional references to martyred young victims and the selective use of statistics. In neither case does it ever come down to "estimated lives saved per year".

Anyway, any comments, Bill, on the vague NDP promises to "fix" the registry?

All I could find on their web site is one paragraph that talks about "measures to merge possession and acquisition licenses, address inherited firearms, address mental health issues and introduce mandatory regular audits..."


We already have audits in general. I'm not sure how addressing mental health issues would streamline the registry -sounds like it would make it even more restrictive.

I'm not up on the license merger part - I haven't heard any debate on this and unlike Bill, I'm not a gun user. If you have background handy that would be nice. However, I'm more interested in the "address inherited firearms" part, as I know somebody who has a (non-functioning) heirloom rifle. Got anything more on that?

It sounds to me that the "fixes" are an attempt by the NDP to spin this issue and pretend that they are not quietly whipping their caucus behind closed doors.

dwhilborn said...

Firearms are tools, much like cars, bikes and ammonia nitrate - all of which should be registered and/or insured for the safety and protection of the 'greater' Canadian public.

Personally, I learned to shoot as a young teenager, and took a Hunter Training course as part of the Gr. 9 curriculum in Calgary. (The school also taught us to manufacture our own bullets and took us on three nights of camping in -25 C weather!)

Yes, long guns are a necessity in the vast rural areas of Canada. Not so in our cities.

I believe Hunter Training, including firearms safety, should be mandatory for:
all "rural area" residents (exceptions can be made for those who sign legally binding undertakings to never possess such weapons);
anyone over the age of 13 who lives with a person who owns firearms; and,
of course, those who own firearms themselves.

I support the Canadian Chiefs of Police on this one, but ...

macadavy said...

Bill, I can't understand why you would wilfully ignore the longstanding NDP tradition of allowing free votes on private members bills.