Jack Layton will not tell his MPs how to vote on a motion to kill a Conservative private-member's bill that would scrap the gun registry.
His refusal to whip his caucus, as Michael Ignatieff has done with the Liberals, virtually assures the motion will fail and Bill C-391, which was introduced by Tory MP Candice Hoeppner to end the long-gun registry, will succeed.
Mr. Layton is in a difficult spot: 12 of his MPs from rural ridings have told their constituents that they will oppose the registry. The votes of those 12 MP, when added to those of the 144 members of the Conservative caucus plus the two independents who normally vote along Conservative lines, would spell the failure of the motion to kill Ms. Hoeppner's bill.
But Mr. Layton, who represents a downtown Toronto riding, personally supports the registry, as do other members of his caucus from urban constituencies. So he is proposing to introduce his own legislation - possibly in the form of a private-member's bill - to address rural concerns.
The NDP legislation would focus on what Mr. Layton said are legitimate complaints about the long-gun registry. It would, for example, include penalties for those who do not register their long guns - but the initial offences would not result in criminal convictions. Aboriginal treaty rights would be protected, Mr. Layton told an Ottawa news conference Monday, as would the privacy of gun owners, and there would never be a charge for gun registration.
Mr. Layton would also empower municipalities to ban handguns. In addition, he said, the New Democrats would propose a system that would quickly identify threats so information about people with mental-health issues is shared between law-enforcement agencies.
The registry is not a sacred cow, Mr. Layton said. "There is no good reason why Parliament shouldn't be able to forge a solution that brings everybody together."
Meanwhile, Conservative MP Garry Breitkreuz who has been one of his party's most ardent opponents of the long-gun registry, has penned an editorial for The Mark in which he takes Canada's police to task for their support of the registration system.
"While police can and should be consulted on the efficacy of current policies, police chiefs should not be lobbying to tell the government which laws it should adopt. The tail is wagging the dog with such intensity, the pooch is a veritable blur," Mr. Breitkreuz writes.
Why are the police chiefs so strident in their quest to keep the registry in place? "They won't admit it, but it appears they don't want Canadians to own guns. To that end, they need a database that will help them locate and seize those firearms as soon as a licence or registration expires," he says. "It's about public control."