Liberal 'optics and signals' won't work to reduce gun crime, Conservative leader says during Winnipeg visit

As Manitoba police forces grapple with violent crime, the leader of the federal Opposition says the governing Liberals have introduced legislation that will weaken penalties for violent offenders while ineffectively tightening controls on law-abiding gun owners.

Andrew Scheer discussed gun control, pipelines and legalized cannabis during interview with CBC Manitoba

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer spoke to Up to Speed host Ismaila Alfa during a visit to Winnipeg on Thursday. (Brett Purdy/CBC)

As Manitoba police forces grapple with violent crime, the leader of the federal Opposition says the governing Liberals have introduced legislation that will weaken penalties for violent offenders while ineffectively tightening controls on law-abiding gun owners.

"We know that things that are more around optics and signals over substance don't work," said Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who was interviewed on CBC Manitoba's afternoon radio show Up to Speed on Thursday during a Winnipeg visit.

On Wednesday, the Conservatives tabled an e-petition signed electronically by tens of thousands of Canadians calling on Ottawa to abandon Bill C-71, which includes new provisions to enhance existing background checks for those seeking a firearms licence while demanding that retailers keep a record of all inventories and sales, even for unrestricted firearms.

Conservatives don't oppose controls that actually improve safety, Scheer said, but reducing gun crime means going after criminals and illegal firearms.

"And no amount of registry in the world will actually achieve that because criminals are already breaking laws. They don't worry when they're breaking one or two extra laws around firearms," he said.

Bail reform could offer a solution to reducing violent crime, Scheer said.

"People with lengthy criminal records, violent assaults, who are a threat to people in vulnerable communities … the police apprehend them, and they get out very quickly."

Governments also must address issues like addiction which fuel violent crime, Scheer said. He recently met with Winnipeg Police Service officers and took a walk around, and he said the impact of drugs is apparent on the city's streets.

"That's a tragedy on a human level, as well. So we need to have more of an effort for recovery, not just maintaining people on addictions, but getting them off of the drugs and showing them how the path to recovery can save their lives and make our communities safer," he said.

Liberals killed Energy East, Scheer says

Scheer also discussed his party's support for reviving the Energy East pipeline.

Last fall, the TransCanada Corp. abandoned its plan to build a pipeline to move crude oil from Alberta to an export terminal in Saint John, blaming new environmental criteria for its cancellation.

"The Liberals killed it," Scheer said. "They forced that pipeline project to account for both upstream and downstream greenhouse gas emissions, which no other industry in Canada has to account for."

Concerns about the potential environmental impact of pipeline spills in some communities, such as First Nations communities in British Columbia that have stymied the Trans Mountain pipeline project, should be addressed, but they shouldn't be used simply to block development no matter what.

"We have to recognize is that the best way to improve the quality of life for First Nations and Indigenous Canadians is through economic development and activity," he said.

Scheer also criticized the federal Liberals for not getting greater clarity on potential problems for Canadians involved in the legalized cannabis industry when crossing the U.S. border.

People who admit to using legal marijuana, or who work or invest in the industry, could face a lifetime ban on entering the United States.

"I would have expected that part of the development plan for this would been to engage with the United States on a very high level to get certainty around that."


With files from Kim Kaschor and John Paul Tasker