This week, Michael Ignatieff threw an unregistered hand grenade into the Canadian gun registry issue. The Liberal leader of the Official Opposition jettisoned the tradition of members voting their conscience during a third reading of a bill. He now wants all his party members to vote against the dismantlement of the much and justly maligned Canadian long gun registry. Instead, Ignatieff urges the government to modify the invasive, unpopular and expensive law. Ignatieef’s decision to jump into the gun control fray (late in the game) comes hard on the heels of a botched abortion vote, where Liberal MPs broke ranks to vote anti-pro-choice. Yes, it’s deja vu all over again.
The gun registry in Canada is a multi-billion dollar waste of money. It turned many law-abiding citizens into instant criminals for failure to register their shotguns and rifles. It accomplished very little in the way of crime prevention for one important reason: criminals are not likely to possess weapons of the legal and registered variety.
Most criminals are at least smart enough not to leave a paper trail behind them. Their weapons of choice are usually stolen, or smuggled in from the States. The Conservative Party recognized that an expensive feel-good measure did little to curb crime in Canada. So they decided to dismantle the registry when they became the governing party.
The mechanisms of government in Canada are as slow as everybody else’s in the democratic world. So the issue has dragged out in the legislative stage. The third reading of the Conservative bill to dismantle the gun registry is set for this summer. And it looked like a done deal—until Igantieff decided to play the role of the Great Compromiser.
Ignatieff reckons that dropping the registered gun owners’ renewal fees and decriminalizing a failure to register a long gun (for first-time offenders), will ameliorate the registry’s opponents AND assure his base that he’s a champion of gun control. And so he’s demanded a party line vote against the measure as writ.
If Ignatieff succeeds, no one will be pleased. Especially rural voters.
Gun control in Canada is basically a rural versus urban issue. Urban Canadians have major problems with organized gangs and turf war issues; it’s a lot like living in the larger US cities. Rural Canadians are more familiar with practical uses for guns such as varmint control, hunting and livestock culls. In short, a weapon is a tool in the sticks.
In Canada, Ontario and Quebec decide elections. Everybody else is just window dressing. Large urban areas like the greater Toronto region are multi-million voter mother-lodes for political parties. Ignatieff’s little bit pregnant approach to the long gun registry is an attempt to play to the voter-rich regions, while appearing “generous” to the vocal minority.
It won’t work. Ignatieff has quashed his party’s hopes to expand into rural Canada. In fact, it could well mobilize the forces ranged against them. Meanwhile, Ignatieff’s long gun registry policy is another example of his political m.o.: do no harm. It’s an approach that seems uniquely inappropriate to the temper of the times, both North and South. Watch this space.