The Harper government is seeking a new supplier to send out hundreds of thousands of gun licence renewal applications and reminders to firearms owners.

The Conservatives announced in mid-April that Ottawa will be collecting about $18 million annually in new revenue from gun owners as it phases out a long-standing waiver on licence renewal fees.

Now the RCMP's Canada Firearms Program, through Public Works, is seeking competitive bids for a massive printing and direct mail-out contract designed to reach 300,000 individual firearms licence holders a year.

The RCMP, which since 2011 has had to clear its media communications through the public safety minister's office, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.

Public Works said the current six-year, $5.1 million contract expires at the end of August and "this solicitation will result in a new contract to replace the current one."

A statement of work posted late last week says the contractor will work with "the fully automated information system that provides administrative and enforcement support to all partners involved in licensing of firearms owners/users, registration of firearms and the issuance of authorizations."

The winning bidder for the three-year contract (which includes options for two more years) must pass thorough criminal security checks.

No contract value was attached to the request for bids but the statement of work notes that government-paid postage alone will cost $600,000 annually.

Registry dead, but licensing fee amnesty over

The Conservatives legislated the long-gun registry out of existence last year in all parts of the country except Quebec, where a court has kept the registry alive, but firearms licensing was not eliminated with the registry.

Last September, Ottawa began eliminating the waiver on $80 licence fees for restricted and prohibited weapons. And on April 13 the government quietly posted notice that the $60 licence fee for non-restricted weapons also will return in September. That fee had been waived for the last seven years.

The contract specifications state that the government needs some 300,000 "pre-populated" licence renewal forms sent out to individuals each year and 130,000 licence renewal reminder notices. "Pre-populated" means the forms will be sent with the licence holder's personal information already filled in.

The contract also says about 90,000 firearm registration certificate sheets will also be mailed each year for weapons such as handguns and prohibited weapons that must still be registered.

Conservatives claimed for a decade that the long gun registry imposed by the Liberal government in 1995 had cost Canadians as much as $2 billion.

"I don't know who's right on that, but certainly it's north of $1 billion," Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told a parliamentary committee last year.

"People have said to me, 'Well, by just simply getting rid of it, aren't you wasting an asset that's worth $2 billion?' In fact, just because you pay $2 billion for something doesn't mean it's worth a dime. This is truly the case with the long-gun registry."

However the government's own internal figures estimated that eliminating the registry would save only about $2 million a year — a figure Toews has never publicly acknowledged.

According to figures posted in the Canada Gazette, ending the firearms licence fee waiver will bring in $18 million annually in new revenue.

That still won't come close to running the firearms licensing system on a cost-recovery basis.

An examination of RCMP annual reports by The Canadian Press revealed that in the Conservative government's first full five years, gun registration — including long guns, handguns, restricted and prohibited weapons — cost a total of $48.7 million while "licensing and supporting infrastructure" cost $259.2 million, more than five times firearms registration.