Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the federal long-gun registry will someday be scrapped, regardless of what happens to a Tory backbencher's bill on the issue when Parliament returns next week.

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Patrick Deegan, a senior range officer at the Shooting Edge store in Calgary, looks through the scope of a long gun on Wednesday. Prime Minister Stephen Harper says it is only a matter of time before the federal long-gun registry is scrapped. ((Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press))

Speaking to reporters on Friday in Thunder Bay, Ont., Harper said opposition to the registry has been growing for years, and next week's vote on Tory MP Candice Hoeppner's bill will be "the closest we have been" to abolishing it.

"Opposition to it has not diminished; it has only increased," he said.

He again denounced the registry, which was introduced by the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien in 1995, as a "large-scale operation that targeted the wrong people" — including hunters, farmers, outdoorsmen and women, as well as police officers "who understand the reality of these communities."

"These people will never accept this registry because they know it is ineffective and wasteful, and the party I lead will not rest until the day it is abolished," Harper said to applause.

All three opposition parties have indicated this week they have enough votes to defeat Hoeppner's private member's bill in the House of Commons. A vote on a Liberal motion to kill her bill, C-391, is scheduled for next Wednesday.

During the last session of Parliament, Hoeppner's bill passed second reading 164-137 in a House vote with support from 12 New Democrats and eight Liberals, most of whom represented northern and rural ridings.

But Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has since designated C-391 a whipped vote, meaning his caucus members must vote with the party leader or face internal discipline.

While NDP Leader Jack Layton is allowing his MPs a free vote, he said earlier this week he has convinced enough of his rural and northern caucus to vote against the bill and save the registry.

Layton also called on Harper to compromise on the registry and work with opposition parties to address the concerns of some rural Canadians over the registry without sacrificing public safety.

Ashton cancels vote announcement

Meanwhile, Manitoba NDP MP Niki Ashton, who previously voted in favour of Hoeppner's bill, cancelled a scheduled announcement on Friday in Flin Flon on how she would vote.

NDP justice critic Joe Comartin said he didn't know why Ashton cancelled the event but said the New Democrats have enough numbers to defeat Hoeppner's bill even if she decides not to switch her vote.

"My understanding is she's still struggling with the decision she is going to undertake," Comartin told CBC News in an interview Friday from Windsor, Ont.

Comartin also hit out at the Conservatives' conduct leading up to the vote, including their criticism of Canada's police chiefs for supporting the registry.