Opposition leaders kicked off the fall parliamentary session with fresh calls to Prime Minister Stephen Harper to show some flexibility on the fate of the federal long-gun registry.

tp-harper-cp-9433438

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has again denounced the federal long-gun registry as wasteful and ineffective, saying the government prefers gun control measures that target criminals rather than farmers and hunters. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))

The demands come as a Conservative backbencher's private member's bill to repeal the 15-year-old registry appears destined for defeat in a House of Commons vote this week.

NDP Leader Jack Layton and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe led off their parties' round in Monday's question period by asking the prime minister why he is so intent on killing the registry, given the number of groups that support it.

Harper responded by saying the Conservative position is clear and the government wants "targeted gun control that targets criminals, not farmers and hunters."

MPs will vote Wednesday on a Liberal motion to defeat Tory MP Candice Hoeppner's private member's bill.

Earlier in the day, veteran Nova Scotia NDP MP Peter Stoffer said he would vote against the bill.

Stoffer, MP for Sackville-Eastern Shore, says he's personally opposed to the long-gun registry, but he won't vote to scrap it because most of his constituents support it.

Appearing on the CBC-TV program Power & Politics with Evan Solomon, Stoffer said calls, faxes, emails and other communications to him were running 62 per cent in favour of keeping the registry.

"This was the most difficult issue I've had in 13½ years," he said.

Hoeppner responded that she hoped Stoffer would change his mind.

"Maybe in the next few days his feedback will go in the other direction. Peter, maybe you'll change your mind one more time. That's my hope," she said.

Ignatieff slams 'politics of division'

When Layton told the House that Parliament won't work without the co-operation of the prime minister, Harper hit out at NDP members who have announced they will switch their votes to oppose Hoeppner's bill.

tp-ignatieff-cp-092010

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff says the government should be working to bring Canadians together on gun control. ((CBC))

He said Conservative MPs have long done in the House what they say they're going to do in their ridings.

"The leader of the NDP should implement that kind of integrity," Harper told the House.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff had earlier said the Conservatives have to listen to what Canadians are saying on the registry and stop playing the "politics of division" on the issue.

"We've said the right way to lead in this country is to find a compromise we can all live with," Ignatieff told a crowd of MPs and supporters outside Parliament Hill.

"This country needs a gun registry. This country needs gun control, and then we need to reach out and listen to farmers and hunters. We need to make the system work for all Canadians."

PM defends new jets, anti-crime proposals

Despite conciliatory words from government and opposition MPs leading into the fall, as well as Tory MP Michael Chong's proposed revamping of its format, the first question period of the new session showed little signs of a change in the caustic tone from earlier in the year.

Ignatieff kicked off question period by accusing Harper's Conservatives of having lost touch with Canadians' priorities by wasting billions on prisons, a sole-sourced contract for new military fighter jets, this summer's G8 and G20 summits, as well as "reckless" corporate tax cuts.

The Liberal leader also slammed the Conservatives' "absurd" decision to end the mandatory long-form census, a move that triggered near-universal condemnation from a range of social and religious groups, as well as some municipalities and provinces.

The prime minister hit back, saying he has no difficulty explaining to Canadians that the government's priority when it comes to crime "is having criminals in prison, not out on the street."

Harper also said the government wouldn't raise taxes on corporations in a recession, but would ensure that Canada's military has the best possible equipment when it is sent into harm's way.

"When it comes to the safety of the men and women in uniform, we don't play politics with these issues," Harper said.