Rural Liberal MPs ‘awfully nervous’ about upcoming gun legislation, any tinkering could be trouble

Taken from: The Hill Times

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale is expected to table legislation this spring to get handguns and assault weapons off the streets and promises not to create a new national long-gun registry, but some rural Liberal MPs say they are anxious about any tinkering of the gun laws.

“They’re awfully nervous about what the legislation could be,” a Liberal source told The Hill Times on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the subject and did not want to be seen criticizing his own party. “They’re afraid it’s a backdoor to a gun registry like we had before.”

Mr. Goodale (Wascana, Sask.) met with the Liberal caucus behind closed doors for an “update and consult” session on Tuesday, Feb. 21, in the Sir John A. Macdonald Building. In the meeting, Liberal MPs provided their input on what their constituents’ views were on gun control.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould (Vancouver Granville, B.C.) also attended the meeting.

 “As our government moves toward implementation of our‎ platform and mandate priorities, I would welcome the opportunity to update and consult with caucus on firearms policies,” wrote Mr. Goodale in his invitation email to Liberal MPs for the meeting which was obtained by The Hill Times. “This is an important component for the enhancement of community safety, and so I hope you will be able to participate in the conversation.”

Dan Brien, director of communications for Mr. Goodale, said the minister has no plans to introduce a long-gun registry and declined to discuss any specifics of the upcoming legislation.

“The government’s made it very clear it’s not going to reintroduce the long-gun registry,” said Mr. Brien. “It’s about as categorical as we can get.”

But Liberal sources said the issue is critically important to rural Liberal MPs for the 2019 re-election. They’re concerned that any new measures, like the 1995 gun registry, would negatively affect Liberal MPs in dozens of rural ridings. Liberal sources said the upcoming bill might introduce new measures that could upset rural Canadians.

 “They’re worried that if this were to be like that previous gun registry, they’d see their own electoral fortunes disappear by the next election,” said the same Liberal source. “That’s what the overall concern is.”

Introduced in 1995 by prime minister Jean Chrétien in response to the 1989 massacre of women at Montreal’s École Polytechnique, the gun registry legislation proved to be extremely unpopular especially among rural MPs and residents for its cost overruns and the feeling that gun owners were treated like criminals.

At the time of introduction of the registry, the estimated cost was about $120-million and most of it was expected to be recovered through the registration fees. But by 2004, it cost $2-billion.

In 2006 election, the Stephen Harper Conservatives capitalized on the backlash against Liberals in dozens of Grit-held rural ridings across the country because of the registry.

 The Conservatives promised that if they formed government, they would abolish the registry. They delivered on the promise in 2012. The Conservatives won a minority government in 2006 and 2008 and a majority government in 2011, but were defeated in 2015.

Prior to the last federal election, the Liberals pledged that they would “not create a new national long-gun registry to replace the one that has been dismantled.” But vowed to “take pragmatic action to make it harder for criminals to get, and use, handguns and assault weapons.” The platform commitment said the party will not allow the transportation of prohibited weapons without a permit and will give the authority to make decisions on weapons restrictions to the RCMP. The platform also vowed to enhance background checks for gun buyers and require firearm sellers to keep records of inventory and sales to help the police in gun crimes and gun trafficking crimes.

There’s no agreed upon criteria as to which federal ridings constitute rural and which ones urban ridings.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2011, 81 per cent or 27 million Canadians lived in urban areas and 19 per cent or 6.3 million lived in rural areas. In comparison, 87 per cent of Canada’s population was rural in 1851 and 13 per cent urban, according to Statistics Canada.

According to Elections Canada, an electoral district entirely formed by rural polling divisions is deemed as a rural riding. Just three ridings meet the criteria. A riding consisting entirely of urban polling divisions is considered urban. There are 166 ridings like this out of the House total of 338. There are 71 rural/urban ridings where most of the polling stations, but not all, are considered rural. And there are another 98 mixed ridings where the balance goes more toward the urban side, and they’re considered urban/rural.

In the last election, there were 33 rural, rural/urban and urban/rural ridings across the country which were won or lost by a margin of five per cent or less of the votes. Of these 33, 11 are rural/urban and 22 urban/rural. Out of total 33, the Liberals won 15, Conservatives eight, NDP seven and Bloc three.

Rookie Liberal MP Jati Sidhu (Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon, B.C.) told The Hill Times that he’s confident the government has no plans to re-enact the gun registry. He said he has provided his input to Mr. Goodale in the consultation meeting, but declined to share the specifics because of caucus confidentiality. Mr. Sidhu, however, said he has heard from his constituents that they don’t want the government to start any new reporting mechanism when they transport their unrestricted firearms for hunting or to shooting ranges.

“If you are going for hunting, or to a shooting range, I don’t think gun owners need to notify anyone,” Mr. Sidhu said who won his riding by a margin of 2.3 per cent of the vote in the last election.

Mr. Sidhu said the gun control issue is critically important for MPs representing rural ridings and it could make or break rural MPs’ electoral fortunes in 2019.

“If it’s not done right, I fully understand, it can have a negative impact,” said Mr. Sidhu.

Rookie Liberal Marc Serré (Nickel Belt, Ont.), who won the 2015 election by a margin of five per cent of the votes, agreed.

“It’s an important piece [of legislation], rural hunters are vocal,” said Mr. Serré adding that he has also provided his input to the Public Safety Minister. “Hunters and anglers are well organized, Mr. Goodale knows the importance of this [issue].”

Mr. Serré did not share his views on the transportation of firearms saying he wants to get more information from Mr. Goodale’s office before he could answer any question. He also said that he’s confident the government has no plans to bring back the gun registry.

Rod Giltaca, president of the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights, said he does not know what measures the upcoming legislation would entail, but predicted that if the government failed to handle this issue to the satisfaction of rural population, it could politically hurt the Liberals in the next election.

“My prediction is the Liberals will find themselves right back where they were in the last election cycle as a result of their support for the long-gun registry,” said Mr. Gilatca.

Blair Hagen, vice president of National Firearms Association, said last week that several rural Liberal MPs told him they were nervous about the upcoming legislation. He said they don’t want any new measure that could be the starting point back to the 1995-era gun registry and declined to share names of Liberal MPs to protect their privacy.

“They’ve got concerns about the issue, concerns, in general, about regulating and legislating against law-abiding people, because that’s what we’re talking about here,” said Mr. Hagen.

Liberal MP Mike Bossio (Hastings-Lennox and Addington, Ont.), chair of the Liberal rural caucus, declined to be interviewed for this story, saying it’s premature to comment on this subject as the legislation has not be been tabled yet. The first-term MP won his riding by 0.5 per cent of the vote margin.

Conservative MP Larry Miller and NDP MP Matthew Dubé (Beloeil-Chambly, Que.), both members of the House Public Safety Committee, said last week that since Mr. Goodale consulted Liberal MPs on the firearms legislation, the minister should also get input from opposition MPs before the legislation is introduced.

“They should be consulting, what do you think of this, what kind of thing,” said Mr. Miller, who was first elected in 2004 and has been re-elected in every subsequent election since. “But, Ralph Goodale, if he doesn’t know that Larry Miller is a hunter and has a fairly good understanding of firearms issues, he should know that. If he really wants input into the bill, he would ask this. But the fact that he didn’t ask us, it just shows, he doesn’t want our input, he’s got his mind made up.”

Mr. Brien told The Hill Times, in an emailed response, that opposition parties could receive briefings about the legislation after it’s introduced.

“As per usual, when the government introduces new legislative measures, we will be happy to offer briefing/discussion sessions to opposition parties,” said Mr. Brien.

Liberal Party’s Platform Promises on Guns:

•repeal changes made by Bill C-42 that allow restricted and prohibited weapons to be freely transported without a permit, and we will put decision-making about weapons restrictions back in the hands of police, not politicians;
•provide $100 million each year to the provinces and territories to support guns and gangs police task forces to take illegal guns off our streets and reduce gang violence;
•modify the membership of the Canadian Firearms Advisory Committee to include knowledgeable law enforcement officers, public health advocates, representatives from women’s groups, and members of the legal community;
•require enhanced background checks for anyone seeking to purchase a handgun or other restricted firearm;
•require purchasers of firearms to show a license when they buy a gun, and require all sellers of firearms to confirm that the license is valid before completing the sale;
•require firearms vendors to keep records of all firearms inventory and sales to assist police in investigating firearms trafficking and other gun crimes;
•immediately implement the imported gun marking regulations that have been repeatedly delayed by Stephen Harper; and
as part of our investment in border infrastructure, invest in technologies to enhance our border guards’ ability to detect and halt illegal guns from the United States entering into Canada.

•We will not create a new national long-gun registry to replace the one that has been dismantled.

•We will ensure that Canada becomes a party to the international Arms Trade Treaty. Source: Liberal Party of Canada