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Free Vote Needed to End Wasteful Long-Gun Registry

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THUNDER BAY ----   November 2, 2009 -----   One would think scrapping an extremely Long Guns wasteful program like the gun registry would be easy. Of course, as it turns out, things don’t work that way in Ottawa. What started out as one piece of legislation that would end the registry, grew to three and is now back to one. In early November a vote is expected in Parliament on MP Candice Hoeppner’s Private Member’s Bill C-391, which would end the wasteful long-gun registry. As has been the tradition with Private Members’ Bills, all MPs should be allowed to vote freely on this bill.

The long-gun registry has proven to be the most wasteful program in the country. It even dwarfs Ontario’s recent $1 billion eHealth scandal. The road to ending this waste has been very long and difficult.

In 1995, Justice Minister Allan Rock declared his new grand scheme to register rifles and shotguns would cost only $119-million to build and run, and that gun owners would cover $117-million of that through registration fees, leaving taxpayers on the hook for only $2-million. Supporters of the registry applauded its low costs, their opponents were dismissed as gun nuts and Canadians quietly accepted the registry. How wrong they were! Costs soared and no improvement to public safety resulted.

In response, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation launched a petition that garnered over 14,000 signatures demanding the program be audited by the Auditor General. It was, and the findings revealed astounding waste. For over 15 years taxpayers have been soaked for no less that $2-billion.The program still costs from $15 to $80 million a year to operate.

In the spring of 2009 a Private Member’s Bill, put forth by long-time long-rung registry opponent MP Garry Breitkreuz, was scheduled to go before Parliament for debate. Regrettably, the bill contained a few measures that even some long-run registry opponents couldn’t support. So, the government introduced a bill into the Senate in an effort to appease all. This plan, however, handed control over the gun registry to the provinces, which may have fixed one problem but created 13 more. For obvious reasons the second bill failed to gain support from the crowd traditionally opposed to the wasteful long-run registry.

Rather than giving up, abolitionists persevered and came up with another plan. Candice Hoeppner, MP for Portage-Lisgar in Manitoba, stepped forward with a new Private Member’s Bill. Her bill focuses solely on scrapping the long-gun registry. It should, therefore, be more acceptable both to abolitionists and opposition MPs alike. The November vote on the bill won’t end the program immediately. But it will pass an important hurdle, allowing the bill to go to committee for review.

It has been a long-standing Parliamentary practice that MPs toe the party line on government bills and vote freely on Private Member’s Bills – those sponsored by any backbench MP. This practice should continue for Ms. Hoeppner’s Bill.

Spokespeople for NDP leader Jack Layton and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff publicly have suggested the bill will likely be a free vote. Confirmation of this must come from the mouths of the leaders. Otherwise, there is too much wiggle room for them to back out of this commitment. Mr. Ignatieff, in particular, has said he wants his party to be friendlier to the west. Given how unpopular the long-gun registry is in rural and western Canada, he has much to gain by allowing a free vote.

The long-gun registry has been a wasteful fiasco from inception through execution. It should be ended. More importantly, Canada’s elected representatives should be allowed to vote the wishes of their constituents in a free vote. Democracy must prevail and, perhaps, at long last, the wasteful long-gun registry will move closer to its end.

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