Layton pitches change to long-gun registry

NDP Leader Jack Layton is floating a last-minute compromise to try to save the long-gun registry and, perhaps, keep his political reputation from sinking.

OTTAWA — NDP Leader Jack Layton is floating a last-minute compromise to try to save the long-gun registry and, perhaps, keep his political reputation from sinking.

Layton wants to introduce legislation that would address some of the complaints about the long-gun registry and potentially stave off a final vote on a private member’s bill that would kill the program altogether.

His bill would see penalties for non-registration begin as non-criminal fines, no charges for registering guns and stronger protection for aboriginal treaty rights and privacy rights of gun-owners.

But Layton is racing the clock. His bill would have to be introduced and pass all three readings before Tory MP Candice Hoeppner’s bill comes up for a final vote towards the end of September.

Her bill passed second reading last fall by a vote of 164-137 because 12 New Democrats and eight Liberals from rural or northern ridings bucked their own parties to support it.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has said he’ll force his MPs to vote the party line when the bill comes back before the House.

In exchange, Ignatieff has said, a Liberal government would introduce changes similar to those Layton is proposing.

That leaves NDP MPs with the votes to kill or save the registry, because the party doesn’t impose discipline on private members’ bills.

Layton, under extreme pressure as the leader now on the hook for the registry’s fate, attempted to dodge the political fallout on Monday.

But his proposed solution doesn’t change the dynamics of critical votes that will take place before any NDP bill could come up for debate.

“If we make the changes that can allow urban, rural and northern Canada to feel that they are not being slapped in the face, that their legitimate concerns about the registry are being understood, then we have a win-win scenario,” Layton said at a news conference.

He wouldn’t address whether his proposed bill would change how his MPs will vote on the Tory legislation.

“It’s a continuing discussion,” he said.

While the Tories stand to gain the most politically from the passage of Hoeppner’s private bill to abolish the registry, it’s Layton who stands to lose.

Urban voters like those in his Toronto riding, as well as police chiefs, emergency room doctors, and a host of other groups who have urged MPs to save the registry, are likely to blame the NDP if it is killed.

But Layton said his proposed bill isn’t an effort to salvage his reputation.

“This is about trying to actually get us off the track that Mr. Harper has put us on, which is an all-or-nothing, divide Canadians one against the other, vilify one side or the other,” he said.

“This is not Canadian, the approach he is taking.”

At a caucus retreat in Baddeck, N.S., Liberals said Layton will be to blame if the gun registry is scrapped.

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