OTTAWA — Politics have clouded the Conservatives’ attempt to scrap the long-gun registry, but they see a silver lining in the aftermath of Wednesday’s cliff-hanger vote — it’s fodder for the campaign trail.
MPs voted 153-151 to kill a Tory private member’s bill to scrap the registry, taking the hot-button issue off the legislative table for this session.
But the Conservatives say the razor-thin vote margin shows that the tide is turning and the political fight will rage on. They warned opposition MPs that the issue will be front and centre in the next election. And they plan to target MPs in rural ridings who changed their votes after saying they would support scrapping the registry.
Tory MP Candice Hoeppner, who sponsored the bill, said opposition MPs who did an about-face will pay the price at the ballot box.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the vote result will only embolden his party.
“After 15 years, opposition to the long gun registry is stronger than it has ever been,” he said.
“The people of the regions of this country are never going to accept being treated like criminals and we will continue our efforts until this registry is finally abolished.”
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said Harper’s refusal to give up “is exactly the political approach that does our country harm” by exacerbating rural-urban divisions.
He said the government should instead join with opposition parties in reforming the registry to make it more palatable to rural Canadians.
NDP Leader Jack Layton predicted Harper will continue to play “the politics of division.”
“But we can perhaps find a way to work with other members of Parliament who will show a willingness, I hope, to build those bridges (between rural and urban Canada) that are so needed really in politics,” he said.
While police officers, doctors and victims groups says it’s a useful tool, the Tories say the registry criminalizes duck hunters and farmers and does nothing to stop crime.
All eight of the Liberals and six of the 12 New Democrats who initially backed the Conservative bill switched sides and voted Wednesday to kill it.
The Tories hope to ride the vote result to make gains in rural constituencies in the next election.
One riding in their sights belongs to Liberal MP Keith Martin, who was a Tory just a few years ago. In 2008, he narrowly edged out a Conservative to take his B.C. riding by less than 70 votes.
Martin said he’s been the subject of a barrage of calls, emails and political threats.
“The threats have been basically that if you do not do what we say, if you do not vote against the registry, then we are going to work hard to make sure that you are not going to be re-elected,” he told reporters.
“But my conscience is perfectly clear and I think, because as I said, the police put their lives on the line for us, I personally think we have a moral responsibility to make sure they have what they need to do that job.”
Gun-control advocate Wendy Cukier said she realizes the fight isn’t over for lobby groups.
“I think many of us will be relieved for a couple of days but we have a prime minister who has said he is committed to dismantling the registry, we’ve have opposition parties talking about measures they plan to introduce,” she said.
“We won’t rest.”
Hoeppner introduced her bill, C-391, in May 2009, following several previous efforts by the Tories to scrap the registry.
The bill made it through second reading last spring by a vote of 164 to 137 and went to committee, where witnesses from both sides of the debate had a chance to make their case.
By mid-June, when the committee was told that an RCMP audit of the gun program found it to be successful, members decided they’d heard enough. They passed a motion not to go ahead with Hoeppner’s bill — the motion now before the House.