Prime Minister Stephen Harper had a no-lose proposition heading into the gun-registry vote this week.
He could win the vote outright to scrap the long-gun registry, move to fulfil a long-standing Conservative party promise and rally his troops for the coming federal election.
Or he could lose the vote, but expose weakness in his opposition foes and galvanize party supporters with a pledge to take up the fight again in a majority government.
The outcome of the House of Commons vote on Wednesday makes Plan B not only more likely, but more attractive to the prime minister.
But that doesn’t make it right.
The motion failed by the narrowest of margins: 153 votes against scrapping the registry and 151 in favour.
Every single Tory voted to scrap it.
Every Bloc Quebecois MP voted to retain the registry.
So did the Liberals, including eight Grits who had previously opposed the registry in public but buckled to pressure from their leader Michael Ignatieff.
They changed their votes, if not their minds, and some may pay the price at the next election.
The New Democrats were split and that must have set Harper’s heart silently aflutter. Six New Democrats, who had previously voted to abolish the gun registry, changed their minds and voted to preserve it. Another six stuck to their guns and voted to scrap it, ignoring long-standing NDP policy in what looks like a shameless attempt to preserve their seats in the House of Commons and enhance their fat pensions.
The flip-floppers in both directions may create opportunities for Harper to exploit rifts in opposition ranks. He’s a smart and ruthless tactician. Perhaps too clever.
Losing the vote in the Commons hardly looks like a liability now.
It was not a government bill or a confidence measure. It was a private member’s bill sponsored by a Manitoba MP, who sits in the farthest reaches of the Conservative backbench.
Having Candice Hoeppner front the bill was no accident. The Conservative’s longtime point man on guns was shuffled aside for optics.
MP Garry Breikreuz, a former Saskatchewan teacher and farmer, was too easy for the opposition to portray as a rural rube.
Hoeppner, an MP with a background in financial planning and political consulting, puts a softer, more polished sheen on the issue.
“My message everywhere I go,” she said in the House of Commons on Wednesday “if you want the registry scrapped, you have to vote for a Progressive Conservative member of Parliament.”
That’s a mantra the entire Conservative party apparatus will take to the hustings, as early as this fall.
The narrow “loss” in the Commons this week will unquestionably galvanize support for a majority Conservative government.
The gun-registry has been a consistent fundraising winner for the Tories, and you can expect a lot of new money to be poured into campaigns against the opposition gun registry flip-floppers.
The phrase “billion-dollar boondoggle” will be in heavy rotation, despite the fact that it’s no longer operative.
The launch of the gun registry truly fit that bill, but its annual operating costs are now projected around $66 million a year.
That’s not a pittance, but neither is it a burdensome cost for the lives it saves and the value it offers in putting criminals behind bars.
It’s a tiny fraction of the estimated $1 billion that Harper’s government spent for the G-8 and G-20 summits this summer. Canada’s tab is 20 times what Britain spent for the G-20 last year and costs roughly 3,000 times as much per week as the gun registry.
Canadian police chiefs and senior officers in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police overwhelmingly favour preserving the gun registry. They know the good it can do.
Two notorious Alberta criminals are now in jail, partly because of it.
Shawn Hennessey and Dennis Cheesman gave James Roskzo a gun and a ride close to his land near Mayerthorpe, where he murdered four Mounties in 2005.
Two victims — Brock Myrol and Anthony Gordon — were raised in Red Deer.
A gun-registry check on a rifle found on Roszko’s property (but not used in the murders) traced it to Hennessey’s family.
Hennessey and Cheesman pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
The prime minister now seems anxious to spend $7 billion to build new prisons at a time when crime rates are falling.
Yet $66 million a year seems too much to spend to help keep Canadians alive and put vile criminals behind bars.
Beyond doubt, that’s a grave misallocation of crime-fighting resources.
Joe McLaughlin retired from the Advocate last year after 25 years as managing editor.