It has taken a long time, and it has cost us a lot of money while we waited, but the full moon rising over Canada last week turned blue and our nation got to see a free vote in Parliament that actually meant something. Canada’s long-gun registry — a legislative question that was never answered according to party doctrine — was decommissioned on Wednesday by a free vote in Parliament.
By presenting the motion as a private member’s bill, party whips were set aside.
The Tories under Stephen Harper had to actually lobby some of their MPs through public advertising to remind them of potential voter wrath, should they vote against the bill. A dozen NDP members and eight Liberals sided with the bill to see it scrapped.
In the end, the collective will (and common sense) of the people prevailed in a place often devoid of common sense, and where our collective will is too often passed over to political scheming.
And if it wasn’t the case before last week, the owners of hunting rifles in Canada will no longer be considered criminals before the fact.
Canadian police chiefs get to vote, but not in Parliament.
They had made the strongest case that somebody ought to know which households in our paranoid society have guns in them.
But the means could not justify the end. As much as Canadians fear the criminal element, only a miniscule portion of the long guns in Canada are used for criminal purposes.
It was not worth $80 million a year to keep track of tens of thousands of law-abiding Canadians, in order to screen for the handful of people each year who might turn criminal.
Handguns and automatic weapons remain under strict control.
Even before the vote, the law requiring registration of hunting rifles had not been effectively or uniformly enforced across the nation, despite the dollars spent.
The Harper government had long ago pledged to scrap the registry, but holding only a minority of votes, it could not present a bill killing the registry that could be defeated through a “whipped” vote along party lines, and thereby cost them the government.
A private member’s bill carries no such burden; if it’s defeated, it’s defeated, and everyone moves on.
Knowing that people who did not like the registry come from all political stripes (and contrary to popular opinion, opposition to the registry is by no means confined to the West, either), presenting the motion the way they did gave it the greatest chance of succeeding.
Now, would that other issues could be decided in a similar manner. Parliament would become a lot more relevant to Canadian society that way.
Decriminalizing simple possession of marijuana could be debated in a similar forum. Let the collective will of the people, as individual MPs can recognize it, prevail — apart from party discipline.
It can be argued that important constitutional questions, like proportional representation or Senate reform, are too important to be left to the forces of party agendas.
A national referendum on these issues could follow a free vote in the house to decide the means of achieving theses goals, if only MPs could be loosed from party loyalty long enough to give voice what their constituents really want.
Right now, the future of the laws that govern us is held by too small a group, which wields the power to subvert our collective will, by forcing backbenchers to vote on party lines.
Free votes, like the one that killed the gun registry, show that once in a blue moon, government still belongs to all of us.
Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.