Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Taking aim

NDP MP John Rafferty's announcement that he'll introduce a private member's bill to scrap the federal long-gun registry has received some comment from a policy perspective. But it's worth noting the political implications of the move as well.

Keep in mind that Harper's Cons have done everything they can to minimize the use of the registry as it now exists, adopting an amnesty policy which eliminates any consequences for not registering guns and thus ensures that the registry isn't current or comprehensive. So the actual utility of the registry is significantly lower than it would be if the current law was being enforced - and only gets reduced further with time as information in the registry gets further and further out of date.

Yet the Harper government has also conspicuously declined to do anything legislatively to deal with the registry - even during the period of time when the Libs were allowing the Cons to pass whatever legislation they wanted to. Which would send a strong signal that Harper wants to keep the issue on the table to keep rural ridings in his column as part of a push for a majority.

But what would happen if Rafferty's bill passed? Not only would the Cons lose their ability to hold the registry over its rural supporters, but they wouldn't even be able to take credit for the bill which changed the status quo. Which could only be bad news for the Cons' rural MPs who still rely on the registry as their main source of outrage against urban Canada and the other parties - and great news for the NDP in particular as it seeks to expand its own image and win back some ground in rural areas.

Of course, as long as the Cons stay in power they can at least try to take credit for any change by presenting a bill of their own before Rafferty's can work its way through Parliament. But all indications are that the Cons would prefer not to forfeit their feigned outrage over the gun registry if they can avoid it. And Rafferty's bill may thus serve a valuable purpose in forcing their hand.

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