Trudeau calls long-gun registry 'a failure'

Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau called the long-gun registry "a failure" during a campaign stop in the Conservative riding of Glengarry–Prescott–Russell on Friday.

Having a firearm is an 'important facet of Canadian identity,' Liberal leadership hopeful says

In an in-depth interview airing on CBC Radio's The House — his first national English broadcast interview since entering the Liberal leadership race — Trudeau told host Evan Solomon his biggest challenge is getting people to know "everything that I am and everything that I'm not." (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau called the long-gun registry "a failure" during an Ontario campaign stop in the Conservative riding of Glengarry–Prescott–Russell on Friday.

"The long-gun registry, as it was, was a failure and I'm not going to resuscitate that," Trudeau said while visiting the DART Aerospace plant in Hawkesbury.

"We will continue to look at ways of keeping our cities safe and making sure that we do address the concerns around domestic violence that happen right across the country, in rural as well as urban areas in which, unfortunately, guns do play a role."

"But there are better ways of keeping us safe than that registry which is, has been removed," Trudeau said.

The Liberal leadership hopeful made the comments after he was asked for his view on the now-defunct long-gun registry.

"I grew up with long guns, rifles and shotguns," explained the son of former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

"Yes, the RCMP guarding me had handguns and I got to play with them every now and then," said Trudeau, quickly adding that the RCMP was "very responsible" around him and his siblings.

Trudeau went on to say, "I was raised with an appreciation and an understanding of how important in rural areas and right across the country gun ownership is as a part of the culture of Canada. I do not feel that there's any huge contradiction between keeping our cities safe from gun violence and gangs, and allowing this important facet of Canadian identity which is having a gun."

Trudeau, who worked as a high school teacher before jumping into politics, said he once took a school group hiking across Greenland armed with a gun.

"It was one of the only times that I ever taught with a loaded 30-06 slung over my shoulder. You don't usually think of teaching with a heavy-duty rifle on your shoulder, but when you're in polar bear country, you have to be aware of that."

Trudeau blamed not only the Conservatives but also previous governments for polarizing the gun debate.

"We have a government, or successive governments, that have managed to polarize the conversations around gun ownership to create games in electoral ways — when you don't have to have a conflict," the MP from Quebec said.

"There is no concept, no idea that gun ownership is ever going to be under attack for law-abiding hunters and farmers across this country. But we need to keep the cities safe. And I don't see that that's an unsolvable solution," Trudeau said.

Quebec in long-gun registry battle

The federal long-gun registry was first created by the Liberal Party in 1995, in the wake of the 1989 massacre at Montreal's École Polytechnique, where a gunman shot and killed 14 women, mostly engineering students.

The "$2-billion boondoggle" registry was loathed by much of rural Canada and opposed by the Conservatives, who after several attempts finally abolished it in April after passing Bill C-19, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act, in a final vote of 159-130.

Trudeau voted against the abolition of the federal long-gun registry.

Where Justin Trudeau stands

  • On a carbon tax versus a cap-and-trade scheme, Trudeau said, "I don't know."
  • On raising the GST: "No."
  • On smoking pot, Trudeau said, "Yes, I have. I'm not particularly fond of it, but I have."
  • On decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana, Trudeau said, "yes," and added that "it's an automatic next step to look at taxing and regulation."
  • On legalizing, decriminalizing or deregulating acts associated with prostitution: "I don't know yet."
  • On the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project, Trudeau said he's not opposed to pipelines in general, just this particular one, citing environmental concerns. "It's the wrong one."
  • On China's growing investment in Canada's natural resources: Trudeau said that he's in favour of more trade with China and that's it's important to "engage" with the Chinese and not be "dictating at them." He called Prime Minister Stephen Harper's early stance with China "immature."
  • On Old Age Security, Trudeau said he would reverse the federal government's decision to raise the age of eligibility from 65 to 67.

The Quebec government went to court to preserve its share of long-gun data and in September, a Quebec Superior Court judge sided with the province.

While the federal government has destroyed millions of records of registered long guns, it is currently appealing the Quebec court ruling blocking it from destroying the data from Quebec's portion of the federal long-gun registry.

No stranger to public scrutiny, Trudeau said his biggest challenge is getting Canadians to know what he does and doesn't stand for.

In an exclusive in-depth interview airing on CBC Radio's The House — his first national English broadcast interview since entering the Liberal leadership race — Trudeau told host Evan Solomon "my biggest challenge is getting people to know everything that I am and everything that I'm not."

"I'm someone who is driven by my values, my sense of wanting to contribute to build a better country, and people come at me with certain pre-conceptions," Trudeau said.

Liberals, Trudeau and Alberta

When asked what part of his father's legacy was a liability to him now, Trudeau took a deep breath before answering and said "not a lot," adding "but I would say the consequences of the National Energy Program."

"The fact that what was a well-intentioned proposal that was counting on the fact that oil prices were going to rise, when in fact they fell and hurt Alberta, and hurt one region of the country greatly, left a lasting legacy that I continue to fight to this day."

Trudeau made Calgary his first campaign stop after launching his leadership bid in Montreal.

"When I spend an awful lot of time out west, I spent a lot of time talking with Albertans and building bridges with the new progressive, exciting Alberta — and all someone has to do is bring up a misstatement from the past and divisive politics wins again. And that's something that I'm going to work very, very hard through my actions, not just through my words, to demonstrate that I'm beyond [that]," Trudeau said.

It was the young Trudeau's own comments about Albertans, which he made during a 2010 interview, that recently re-surfaced and touched off a political firestorm days before a byelection in Calgary.

While Trudeau conceded he "may have hindered a little bit" his party's chances in the Nov. 26 Calgary Centre byelection, he rejected the suggestion his 2010 comments are indicative of the "real" Justin Trudeau today.

"I think you get to know someone over time by the sum of what they say, what they talk about, what they propose, how they act. And I think voters are looking for real people — not spun, sound-bited, massively controlled politicians — that they can get a sense of."

Trudeau offered an apology for saying that Canada wasn't doing well because "it's Albertans who control our community and socio-democratic agenda," but continued to argue his comments were being misinterpreted and that they were directed at the government of Stephen Harper and not Albertans in general.

Coalition and merger talks

When asked about comments he made in 2008 praising the Bloc Québécois for supporting a Liberal-NDP coalition, Trudeau told Solomon "a moment of crisis" required the opposition parties to set their differences aside.

"In any situation I will work with all other parties who share my interests and my values, and sometimes it will be the Conservatives on certain initiatives, other times it might be the NDP, other times it might be the Greens or the Bloc. I'm not so ideological that I consider someone who is elected to the House of Commons is somehow illegitimate to work with," said Trudeau.

Asked if he would ever enter into a coalition with the Bloc, Trudeau said he could not foresee a situation where one would be required given that the separatist Quebec party was decimated in the last federal election.

"I don't think we'd ever come to the point of a coalition being necessary. I am running to win for the leadership of the Liberal Party and to win the prime ministership of the country. I do not think we're ever going to have to build any sort of coalition."

Trudeau closed the door to the idea of a merger with the Opposition New Democrats, saying, "I'm always open to talking to anyone about proposals that'll make Parliament work better, but I am opposed to the idea of a merger."

With files from Radio-Canada's Denis Babin