Opposition slams Liberal 'hypocrisy' over refusal of gun registry free votes
By SANDRA CORDON
OTTAWA (CP) - The Opposition accused Prime Minister Paul Martin of hypocrisy Thursday after his House leader said Liberal pledges of more free votes in the Commons won't apply to the controversial gun registry.
One day after the prime minister promised a new era of independence for MPs with more free votes, Jacques Saada said that won't apply to funding the $1-billion registry. New rules designed to reduce what Martin has called the "democratic deficit" won't apply to fundamental matters such as budget issues - and that includes spending on the gun registry, Saada said following a speech in Ottawa.
"If you ask me whether, in the budget and when we vote on the budget, or in the estimates, we're going to have a free vote, my answer is no," Saada said.
Traditionally, money-related votes are considered issues of confidence and government MPs are expected to toe the line.
The government's stand outraged Conservative MP Garry Breitkreuz, a longtime opponent of the gun registry, which was originally supposed to cost taxpayers just $2 million.
"The prime minister has already broken his promise . . . one of the most important democratic reforms is to give MPs more power to represent their constituents," the Saskatchewan MP told the Commons.
"It's very hypocritical," Breitkreuz added later. "This is not a democratic deficit, this is becoming a democratic black hole."
The controversial registry is under review by Albina Guarnieri, minister of state for civil preparedness.
"The government's review of the gun registry is about building a better gun system," Guarnieri told the Commons.
"With this registry, gun advocates will ensure that they have a sustainable system and owners of guns can expect a system that listens to their legitimate concerns."
The prime minister acknowledged this week that the registry has serious flaws, but said he is still strongly in favour of gun control.
"I . . . support gun control, as do the vast majority of Canadians, and I support. . . the registry." Martin said under questioning from an audience member during a town hall broadcast Wednesday night.
Breitkreuz said Guarnieri wants to talk with him as part of her review, but said he doubts that would change much.
It's not expected the new Martin administration will kill the registry but it could be altered as Martin tries to broad his appeal in Western Canada.
Ottawa is considering reallocating some of the money used to finance registry to instead beef up other, related policing issues and possibly improved security at borders where illegal guns make their way into Canada from the United States.
The issue of free votes is especially important to many rural Liberals MPs who don't support the registry and would welcome an opportunity to vote against further funding.
Roger Gallaway, who serves as parliamentary secretary to Saada, has argued that backbench power should include the right to block some government spending plans, such as the gun registry.
In a recent letter to a constituent in Sarnia, Ont., Gallaway suggested the much-criticized gun registry could die of "financial malnutrition" if enough Liberals vote against the next funding motion to come before the House.
No big surprise here.