Rex thinks the Liberal leader will alienate everyone with his fence-sitting position on the gun registry.

Read the transcript of this episode.

Rex Murphy Point of View

April 22, 2010


The long-gun registry has been a botch and a boondoggle from its inception.

It had a near-legendary cost overrun.  Originally pledged to a net cost of about 3 million dollars, the Auditor General pegged the overrun at one billion.

The gun registry is emblematic of the one great divide in this country – that of rural/urban.  People comfortable with hunting rifles, twelve gauges – farmers, fishermen - are, mainly, those who see them as any other tool or implement. Don't worship guns, don't dread them.

Those who view them with wild-eyed recoil are, mainly, urban.  Every time there's a downtown shooting in some big city, and especially after – as there occasionally is – a rash of shootings, there's a visceral demand that something be "done about guns."  The consideration that urban gangs use illegally obtained handguns for their rampages usually doesn't get through to those supporting a long-gun registry.

The disconnects are obvious – and not likely to be reconciled.  The farmer can't figure out why he is being hassled and potentially criminalized to appease urban anti-gun forces.  City folks who have never touched a rifle just "can't understand" why anyone should want or use one.

The Tories have always pledged to get rid of the gun-registry.  But they're been careful not to do so very quickly.  It's been convenient to have it on standby.  Too cowardly to take on, say, the human rights commissions, they know they can always embarrass the Liberals with the registry.  After all, it is the godfather of all hot button issues.  Only now, in their second term, in a private Members’ bill, are they getting around to it.

Mr. Ignatieff has greatly obliged them latterly by coming out with a position that tries to please both sides.  It's a neat trick, trying to square the circle while sitting firmly on the fence.  He wants to "fix" the gun-registry, remove its criminal penalties, make it a "ticketing" offence, but the point that stands out is:  he wants to keep it. And he's forcing full discipline on the vote.

Even the NDP is allowing a free vote on the registry.

It's lose-lose for Mr. Ignatieff.  The urban crowd will see it as a retreat from their absolutism on guns; the rural crowd won't buy the fix and will see it as a cute attempt to finesse the issue.   Liberal Members in rural districts will pay a price at the ballot box if they go along with his orders.  Or he will be forced to disown them if they don't, and he's not in a position to disown anybody at this time.

Ignatieff has worked himself into a bad spot on the hottest of issues.  He's being fuzzy when he should be clear, feeble when he should be bold, and is seriously hurting his already battered image as Party chief.  This isn’t the inspirational leader the Liberals thought they were getting when they fled so precipitously from Mr. Dion.

For The National, I’m Rex Murphy.