OTTAWA — As criticism mounts against the government’s attempts to outlaw scores of hunting and sport rifles, questions are arising as to how the federal Liberals’ gun policy will impact their relationship with the NDP.
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One prominent New Democrat came out against the policy on Monday, calling it a massive overreach that must be fixed.
The Liberals are dependent on the NDP’s support to keep their minority government in power. A splinter in that relationship could cause trouble for the Trudeau Liberals while at the same time the issue is a challenge to the New Democrats’ own party unity, according to one political scientist.
Meanwhile, the national conversation on gun control after Montreal Canadiens’ netminder and avid hunter Carey Price weighed in on the issue on social media.
“I am not a criminal or a threat to society,” he posted to Instagram, along with a photo of him wearing camouflage hunting gear and cradling a shotgun.
“What is trying to do is unjust. I support the (Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights) to keep my hunting tools.”
While gun owners and advocates are using Price’s comments to advance their cause, those seeking tighter control on firearms say Tuesday’s 33rd anniversary of the École Polytechnique massacre — where a gunman murdered 14 women in 1989 — should serve as a reminder of the lives taken by armed criminals.
Price’s timing of his announcement so close to the anniversary are also being roundly criticized.
The team’s owner told Radio-Canada on Monday that the 35-year-old Price was not aware of the 1989 massacre.
“He was not aware of the tragic events of Dec. 6, 1989, nor of the coalition’s recent marketing initiatives,” Groupe CH president of sports and entertainment France Margaret Bélanger told Radio-Canada.
Separately, a spokesperson for Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino told La Presse that the firearm Price is carrying in his Instagram post would not be banned under Bill C-21.
“Our bill does not target firearms currently used for hunting and we fully respect the traditions of hunters and Indigenous Peoples,” Audrey Champoux said in a statement.
But as political parties of all stripes consolidate their membership’s views on one of Canada’s most polarizing issues, Queens University political science Professor Kathy Brock said gun control offers a unique dilemma to the NDP, who rely heavily on both inner-city voters and those in rural parts of the country.
“This one is very difficult for the NDP to find a united consensus position on,” she told the National Post.
“They are putting the NDP in a very difficult position that could cause a bit of a schism and tension in the relationship between the NDP and Liberals, but also within the NDP party.”
Veteran NDP MP Charlie Angus who represents Timmins-James Bay, a vast northern Ontario riding encompassing nearly 252,000 sq. km. and a diverse range of rural cities, villages and First Nations communities, is speaking out.
In a Tweet Monday morning, Angus said the government’s gun control measures had “morphed into a massive overreach,” and described the Liberals’ amendment as “hugely problematic and must be fixed.”
The cultural split between urban and rural will always be a concern for the NDP, Brock said.
“If you travel through the north, if you visit people’s homes where there are experienced hunters, they tend to keep their guns very safe,” she said.
“Yes, there are some accidents and there are problems that do happen with guns, but it’s less frequent than people in the urban communities think of and associate with guns.”
Speaking to reporters Monday from Ingersoll, Ont., Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government “made a commitment” to move ahead with “strong, smart gun control,” highlighting his government’s recent move to freeze handgun sales and banning “military-style” and “assault-style” firearms.
Despite the controversial amendment , the prime minister framed the amendment as a “list put forward” by the government for public consultation.
“We’re hearing a lot of feedback around concerns that hunters are saying about guns that they use more for hunting, hunting rifles and shotguns,” he said.
“That’s what we’re listening to feedback on now, to make sure we’re not capturing weapons that are primarily hunting weapons.”
Last week, the National Post could add over a billion dollars to the $756-million estimate released last year by the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
Brock said it bears comparing to the days of the federal long-gun registry, which saw similar internal opinion shifts.
“At the time, people said this could be a real sleeper issue for the Liberals that they aren’t tracking necessarily, and that it could lose some votes in the Atlantic provinces, as well as the western provinces,” she said.
“The western provinces were less of a concern, but the Atlantic provinces were a concern — and in some swing ridings, you could see people questioning their support for the Liberals over this, so this is always a potentially difficult issue, even for the Liberals.”
During those debates, she recalls fears of rifle owners illegally modifying their firearms to make them easier to conceal — such as sawing-off barrels or stocks.
“That’s a behaviour you can capture under other laws,” she said.
“Then there’s always the bigger issue of if (Bill C-21) really captures the illegal gun market — the guns that are coming into Canada illegally that are being transported across provincial boundaries.”
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While Brock has little confidence the rift would impact the that relies on the NDP to keep the Liberal minority government from collapsing, the effects could be felt later down the line.
“The Liberals are playing out an interesting strategy,” she said.
“Maybe it won’t have an effect on the supply agreement, but it could have an effect in the next election as a sleeper issue particularly.”
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