Not any more

Layton walks a political tightrope with gun registry compromise plan

In Canada on August 30, 2010 at 19:33

OTTAWA — The fate of Canada’s long-gun registry is increasingly uncertain, after NDP Leader Jack Layton revealed Monday his party will table a bill in Parliament next month aimed at forging a compromise to satisfy the legitimate concerns of rural gun owners and those of city-dwellers fearful of crime.

But Layton, faced with a caucus divided over the issue, reiterated that if his proposed compromise falls flat, he still won’t force New Democrat MPs to vote down a Conservative MP’s bill that would abolish the long-gun registry. And if that happens, he suggested he’s ready to take criticism that his party is responsible for the death of the registry because he refused to "whip" his caucus into voting as a solid bloc.

Within hours of Layton floating his proposal, Conservatives and Liberals were signalling they don’t think the NDP compromise will make much, if any, difference. However, at least one New Democrat MP who had previously voted for the controversial bill praised Layton and said the Tories shouldn’t assume they will continue to have his support.

On Sept. 22, the bill faces a key vote on a motion calling for it to be defeated. If that motion fails, MPs will hold a final vote on the bill within days.

Meanwhile, the politically explosive debate was given an extra dose of controversy Monday, as the RCMP released an evaluation report which gives high marks to the Canadian Firearms Program for being "cost-effective in reducing firearms-related crime and promoting public safety."

About a dozen NDP MPs are believed to be considering siding with the Tories on their plan to pass the private member’s bill by Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner. Several Liberal MPs had once been supportive of the bill, but Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has said he will "whip" his caucus into voting as a group against the bill.

Layton said that when Parliament resumes on Sept. 20, his party will table a private member’s bill that addresses "legitimate complaints about the long-gun registry" and strengthens "gun control."

Among the highlights of the NDP plan:

– Penalties for non-registration should start as non-criminal fines

– Aboriginal treaty rights must be protected

– Gun-owners’ privacy needs protection

– There should never be a charge for long-gun registration

– Municipalities should be empowered to, if they choose to do so, ban handguns from their cities.

– Information about people with mental health problems should be shared between firearms programs, police forces and military agencies.

Layton was pressed by reporters on how he expects his party’s bill to pass, when 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 Hoeppner’s bill would either be amended or would die.

Hoeppner said in an interview that she doesn’t think much of Layton’s compromise, which is similar to a plan Ignatieff has already said the Liberals would enact if they win power.

"It just seems like it’s a smokescreen, a bit of a red herring trying to distract from the real issue, which is: You either support the registry or you vote to end it."

The Liberal caucus was gathering in Baddeck, N.S. Monday, and Layton’s proposal was quickly dismissed.

"If the gun registry dies on Sept. 22 it will be because Jack Layton and the NDP failed to show leadership," said Liberal MP Geoff Regan.

He said Layton’s plan is flawed because it is tantamount to trying to amend the registry after he allows his caucus to participate in killing it.

"Now, how are you going to improve it when it’s dead? It’s an utterly ridiculous suggestion and he should know that."

However, northern Ontario NDP MP Charlie Angus said Layton’s proposal deserves a chance. Angus is a critic of the current registry system, which he says has justifiably concerned rural Canadians. He supported Hoeppner’s bill so it could get an airing at a Commons committee, but said he’s now tired of the Tories refusing to bridge the divide between rural and urban Canadians.

"If they think the intimidation of the rural (NDP) caucus is going to get them their results, I am more and more fed up with it," sad Angus.

"I’m going to continue to work with Jack because I’ve got confidence in this plan. I’m not going to be intimidated by Conservative websites. I’m going to vote for the best way that we can do gun policy in this country."

© Copyright (c) Postmedia News

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