On Friday, our intrepid federal Liberal leadership frontrunner Justin Trudeau said in front of a crowd of Liberals in Glengarry-Prescott-Russell that he felt that having a firearm was an “important facet of Canadian identity,” and that essentially, the old long-gun registry introduced by the Chrétien Liberals was “a failure.” He said, in what amounts to his second major policy point, that he wasn’t going to bring back the registry, which was canned by the Conservatives last year.
Understandably, some of our fellow Liberals felt that this wasn’t exactly justified. The blog “Cowboys for Social Responsibility” have come out pretty well against it, and many of the Prog Bloggers will soon be up in arms, I'm sure. You’d think this was some sort huge deal – even though, as we saw in 2011, 2008, and 2006, when the long-gun registry was in known peril, most Canadians didn’t give two hoots. A winning campaign issue it ain’t, though I do understand that it is an important one for some.
I disagree with Trudeau’s ideas about the long-gun registry, or that owning firearms is essential to the “Canadian identity” – we don’t include the right to bear arms in our founding documents, for example, nor have we had any major revolutionary action to justify the idolization of firearms in any way. One can make the argument that hunting is somewhat important to our earlier colonial culture, but except for a few rural communities and First Nations, hunting isn’t a large industry, nor is it important to many communities, especially the large urban cores. The “Canadian identity” argument is absolute hogwash, and I’m unsure where Trudeau heard it, but he needs to stop parroting it.
At the same time, there is a legitimate point that is being brought up by Trudeau that even I, as someone who eventually came around to supporting the long-gun registry after being skeptical for the longest time, still have. The question of whether the registry really gave us the right bang for the amount of bucks taxpayers put into it. Was making the required registering of rifles and shotguns, used mostly by hunters and sport shooters, really the most effective way of keeping these sorts of firearms under control? Did we actually have the right system in place? We were all ready to admit that the registry had some problems during the 2011 campaign – why can’t someone in the party go one step further and ask whether or not the initial idea was correct?
This isn’t an endorsement of Trudeau’s position – again, I supported the long-gun registry as it currently stands, and I’d prefer a Liberal government brought it back. But I also support ensuring that government regulations like the registry, which goes directly after the personal property of many Canadians, doesn’t take a few steps too far in the “way too burdensome” direction. We want to keep Canadians safe, after all, but we also want to respect their privilege to own and use firearms in a responsible manner, whether that is for hunting, for sports, or even for self-defence.
What I think the benefits of Trudeau’s idea on the registry and firearms coming forward is that we get to have a discussion within the Liberal Party. We’re a highly diverse party, and I don’t mean in simple culture or ethnic background – we have supporters from many walks of life, and all deserve a fair shot at being heard (so long as they’re reasoned ideas, and not kooky, unscientific ones with little to no evidence). This is the kind of discussion we need to have, so we can hash out what our broader party policy will end up saying. This kind of thing where a candidate sticks their neck out there to talk about and hopefully defend a policy or idea they support, whether its this long-gun registry or co-operation with other parties, and so on - that's good for the Liberal Party. I want to see more of it.
Remember, we aren't the monothlic NDP, who refuse to acknowledge the diversity of ideas within their party; nor are we the Conservatives, who dictate policy from the PMO. We're Liberals, and we're going to have a tough, soul-searching debate about the merits of a policy, goddamnit.
However, even so, I feel this is yet another Trudeau gaffe. The man keeps sticking his foot in places where it shouldn’t be. Like his earlier comments on Alberta, he may have a valid point somewhere in there, but the way it comes out of his mouth sometimes is completely messed up. I’m getting more and more nervous about his ability to lead this party, and about where my own vote will go come April 2013.