P.E.I. Liberal MP Wayne Easter says he'll switch his vote in the House of Commons on the federal long-gun registry and support the "compromise" position Michael Ignatieff has proposed on the issue.


Liberal MP Wayne Easter speaks Tuesday in Ottawa. The P.E.I. MP criticized Prime Minister Stephen Harper for trying to drive a wedge between Canadians. ((CBC))

Easter was one of eight Liberals who voted with the Conservative government last autumn in support of MP Candice Hoeppner's private member's bill to repeal the long-gun registry.

Easter, the MP for the P.E.I. riding of Malpeque, said he initially supported Hoeppner's bill because he wanted to spark debate within his party on how some rural Canadians felt on the issue.

Since then, the MP said Ignatieff as found "some middle ground" by proposing changes to the registry, including making a first-time failure to register a firearm a non-criminal ticketing offence, as well as eliminating fees for new licences, renewals and upgrades.

"I certainly will be supporting my leader in the compromise position he's put forward, which is a win-win," Easter told reporters on Tuesday in Ottawa during a news conference on Conservative patronage appointments.

He also decried Prime Minister Stephen Harper for using a backbencher to drive a "wedge" between Canadians. 

If passed, Bill C-391 would scrap the decade-old registry and destroy existing data within the system on about seven million shotguns and rifles.

Ignatieff has said he will require Liberal MPs to oppose the next vote to abolish the registry in the House by declaring it a whipped vote, meaning all caucus members must vote with the party's position or face discipline.

Final vote in fall session

During the last session of Parliament, Hoeppner's bill passed second reading 164-137 in a House vote with support from 18 Liberals and New Democrats, most of whom represented northern and rural ridings.

The House is expected to hold a final vote on the bill in the upcoming fall session.

The Conservatives have long opposed the gun registry, brought in by the former Liberal government of Jean Chrétien in response to the killing of 14 women at Montreal's L'École Polytéchnique in 1989.

Conservatives have labelled the registry a billion-dollar boondoggle that continues to be wasteful and ineffective.

This week, however, members at the annual meeting of Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police endorsed a national firearms strategy that includes a recommendation for a public relations campaign to explain the value of the long-gun registry.

Toronto police chief and CACP president Bill Blair acknowledged "legitimate concerns" about the $1 billion initially spent on setting up the registry, which some police officers also want scrapped.

Blair said the registry now costs only about $4 million a year to operate and that officers use the registry up to 11,000 times a day, both to investigate and prevent crime.