Stark Choice

So, the battle lines are being drawn finally for a federal election, either this fall or next spring. In a speech in Whitehorse this week, and recently in Ajax, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told Conservative party faithful Canadian voters face a “stark choice” between a stable Conservative majority government, and a coalition government of the Liberals, NDP and the separatist Bloc Quebecois.

Meanwhile Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff says, as he travels the country this summer on an old-fashioned bus tour designed to rebuild his leadership image and the party’s election prospects, “we’re up against the toughest most ruthless machine in Canadian politics. Never forget that.”

Both men are indulging in a hefty dose of fear-mongering, which may not do either one of them a lot of good. Sooner than later, I suspect, Canadians will have to choose who and what represents their “stark choice” in the formation of the next government.

Some expert observers, including Harper’s former mentor Tom Flanagan, say the PM-who-would-be-King is taking a calculated risk in coming right out and asking Canadians so boldly to give him and his party an out-and-out majority. A cynic might say that represents a very “stark choice” for voters, given Harper’s already well-known penchant for an autocratic governing style, and his government’s already marked tendency to make important decisions on the basis of ideology, rather than well-informed judgement.

The cancellation of the long-form census, and the plan to spend $9 billion on the construction of new jails as part of its law-and-order strategy, are two of the most recent examples of how flawed right-wing, social conservative thinking with little or no basis in factual reality form the basis, or lack of it, of Conservative decision-making. Now, it’s poised to kill the much-maligned long gun registry, despite a recently released RCMP audit that says quite clearly it’s a worthwhile and, despite initial cost overruns, cost-effective program that helps protect the lives of front-line police officers and the general public.

That the Harper government had this report in its hands since last February and did not release it until just this week, after bits and pieces began to leak out via the CBC, is unconscionable. What other conclusion can be drawn except that it did not want to share information with Canadians that might stimulate a well-informed public debate about the merits of the long gun registry well before the Sept. 22 date to vote to kill it? That appears quite likely, given that NDP leader Jack Layton, as of mid-week, had not ordered his MPs to vote against the bill to abolish the registry. It’s a private member’s bill, brought to Parliament by Candice Hoeppner a Tory MP from Manitoba. But, have no doubt, killing the registry is bound-and-determined Conservative government policy, despite the facts, conclusions and recommendations contained within the long-suppressed RCMP Canadian Firearms Program Evaluation.

After nine months of being kept under wraps it is now posted on the RCMP web site at The long (72-page) document is certainly not an easy read, and I’m still wading through it. But I’ve read enough to conclude it would be downright stupid to abolition the long gun registry.

For example, the report says “the Firearms Registry is a useful tool for law enforcement, providing:

“Officer safety: It ensures police are better equipped to respond to, for example, a situation of domestic violence, assess potential safety risks and confirm the possible presence of firearms and their legal status.

“Investigative support: (tracing firearms, Affidavits to support prosecutions) Police would otherwise have to search manually through thousands of retail records to find the source of any firearm recovered at a crime scene. Computerized and centralized registration provide for quick searches. If stolen, knowing the source of the firearm provides police with a valuable starting point for their investigation.

“Improved public safety: (seizure of firearms in situations of domestic or mental health breakdown) People can be negatively affected by a number of factors, including job loss, divorce or other forms of socio-economic or psychological stress, that may increase the risk of firearms misuse.

Every MP in every party should read the RCMP report, especially NDP members from rural ridings, given that they hold the fate of the registry in their hands.

Tory members are unlikely to change their minds, but just to keep themselves well informed they too should read the report. I can’t help but wonder if Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MP Larry Miller has read the report, or intends to. But, as Larry is inclined to do, he has again hung his hat on what most of his constituents think. He cites “five or six” polls that show the vast majority of people in the riding favour eliminating the registry. I don’t doubt for a moment he’s right about that, but so what? How well informed are most people about the registry? Not very, the RCMP report says, in recommending that a public information program is needed to overcome some of the misconceptions about the program. Unfortunately, the modest government funding needed for that has not been provided. What a surprise.

This may be a dangerous thing to say in rural Grey-Bruce, but I’ve never understood what the big deal is about registering a firearm. I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I don’t believe for one moment the day will come when “the state,” or the Crown, or maybe the United Nations, will use the gun registry to come and confiscate my guns, if and when I ever have any.

But I strongly suspect the right-wing ideology driving the Conservative government’s determination to abolish the registry includes a lot of that kind of misinformed thinking.

Originally published in The Sun Times in 2010.

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