Sep 22 2010
OTTAWA - The Conservatives vowed to take their campaign to scrap the long-gun registry into the ridings of their political foes across Canada after losing an emotionally charged vote on the issue by a scant two votes in the House of Commons.
The narrow result following agonized debate among Liberals and New Democrats means the registry survives but the fight to abolish it will become fodder for the campaign trail.
MPs voted 153-151 on Wednesday to kill a Tory private member's bill to scrap the registry, taking the hot-button issue off the legislative table for this session.
After months of campaigning, brow-beating, caucusing and finger-pointing, the vote provided one of the few rare moments of real drama in a Parliament bereft of much suspense.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper cast the defeat as the springboard for the Conservative party effort to increase support in its rural base.
"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."
It's in Canada's nooks and crannies where the issue of the gun registry is most divisive, a fact not lost on politicians from rural ridings who wrestled with what to do with their votes.
Fourteen opposition MPs switched their positions and cast votes to save the register. They will face the full fury of a formidable Conservative election machine aimed at steamrolling them in the next campaign. Those MPs have already been served a sample of what awaits them. Online ads, radio spots and phone-bank canvassing was part of the pre-vote campaign to compel them to maintain their original votes.
Tory MP Candice Hoeppner, who sponsored the bill, said the eight Liberals and six New Democrats who did an about-face will pay the price at the ballot box.
"We won't give up the right. This isn't the end, this is just the beginning."
Even as the votes were being counted, the Tory push was on.
Newfoundland MP Scott Simms had been one of the eight in his caucus who had opposed the registry up until now. His reason for switching packed an emotional wallop. He told fellow Liberals during a wrenching caucus meeting that his father committed suicide with a rifle in June.
Simms received a warm round of applause from his colleagues after he voted, and a shout from across the floor: "they won't be clapping for you when you lose your seats."
Doctors, police officers and community advocates say the registry can prevent deaths like suicides because it allows professionals to know if people at risk have access to deadly weapons.
The Tories invoked the rights of duck hunters and farmers as reasons the registry was a waste of time.
Stop playing wedge politics, the opposition shot back in return.
"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," said NDP Leader Jack Layton.
In the weeks leading up to the vote, politicians criss-crossed the country with the speed and spirit of a campaign.
Rural ridings may as well leave the welcome banners hanging. The Tories hope to ride the vote result to make gains in rural constituencies in the next election.
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 - motion that MPs voted for on Wednesday.