With the elections underway in Canada with what will be the longest and most expensive campaign in history, every hunter in the country is carefully considering their votes. Due to economic turmoils and angst, pundits are not sure if the nation will vote for an NDP-Liberal coalition or if the Conservatives will be swoon in once more with a minority government.
There are two concerns put forward by hunters: gun control and land access. The hunting community is strongly divided on the two issues.
The Long Arm Registry put forward by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien followed the Montreal Massacre of 1989, and is the source of today’s discussions. Gun control became a heavily debated topic in Quebec, and federalists wanting to retain in the Quebecois nationalists appeased to them by imposing more restrictions under the Firearms Act created by Bill C-68. The provincial governments across the nation contended a federal registry is overstepping the bound power divisions and would be too expensive to maintain. The Supreme Court, however, ruled in favour of the Government of Canada.
Struggles to force gun-owners to comply was difficult, and various divisions did not enforce the mandatory registration. Red tapes had to be established with new purchases.
With bill C-68 passed, the debates ensued following the promise of a registry, rural Liberals MPs became anxious about losing their seats and warned the party not to follow through or risk losing every election afterward. Except the MPs were whipped. Consequently, the Conservatives became more popular amongst rural voters.
None of the mainstream political parties are pro-firearms. Only the Libertarian Party of Canada takes the stance of being lassiez faire.
After all, the Conservative Party of Canada did not fully repeal Bill C-68 and only portions of the registry. Non-restricted firearms.no longer have to be registered and data pertaining to non-restricted were scrapped in 2012. Registration of restricted and prohibited firearms are still in place. The Conservative Party of Canada is only interested in maintaining the status quo.
After the Long Gun Registry was thrown out, the federal parties quickly dropped the topic from their platforms. However, Quebec became worried about the registry and petitioned for its maintenance. Overnight, all the parties adopted regionalism as their talking point. The notion of a federal registry vanished. Strangely enough, Ottawa gave the go-ahead for a provincial registry to be created in Quebec.
In recent years, New Democratic Party Leader Thomas Mulcair gave conflicting answers. Leading up to the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre in 2014, the following speech was given outside the House of Commons:
“I mean I have nothing against seeing honest farmers and duck hunters be able to have their weapons, but you know, that honest hunter who goes out with his pickup truck, it’s a registered pickup truck, and he’s carrying his 4×4 in a trailer and the trailer’s registered and the 4×4 is registered. Heck, his dog is registered.
I think that it is possible to provide the police with the tools to better protect the public and themselves by making sure they’re able to follow every gun, and it doesn’t have to be the registry as it was before. But it does have to be a form that allows the governments, federal and provincial, to keep track of those guns. That’s our bottom line.”
Since the NDP only gained its Opposition Status by usurping the seats from the Bloc Quebecois in the last election, one should not be surprised at the stance. What’s not clear is what kind of registry did Mulcair had in mind.
Does he mean the same kind of decentralized registration process in Scandinavia where they don’t have a national registry, but the gun is still registered at the local police office? No one knows.
Unsurprisingly, the caucus revolted and disagreed with their own leader and many of the MPs threatened to break ranks. The rural-urban divide still cuts through all the parties. The quick reversal of Mulcair’s stance is demonstrated at a rally in Thunder Bay several months after.
The problem is the NDP did not drop the topic of gun control from the policy platform (3.9d, pg. 15). Given the speech was made in Quebec at the time, and the provincial registry is underway, the attempt of brushing the speech under the carpet might be trying to win over voters in western Canada, Ontario and the Maritimes where the Long Gun Registry was strongly opposed. In fact, the party knows that installing another federal registry would be fruitless as Saskatchewan rejected the notion the first time around. Instead, the NDP is promoting the idea of empowering provinces’ right to self-determination.
The position taken by Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau is not reassuring either:
“I have said very clearly and I will repeat it that the Liberal Party will not bring back a gun registry. Jurisdictions around the world are looking into gun control. A lot can be done around classification, a lot can be done around proper review of the people looking to purchase firearms. There are many different ways of doing this and the Liberal Party is taking this seriously because Canadians are united in their desire to see less violence with guns.”
There is no clear, concise answer of what models the Liberal Party are researching. There are many different models around the world and if gun owners want to understand what they are voting for, the answer should be explicit. Otherwise, the voters will look to the party’s track records.
Given the Liberal Party of Canada’s history on gun control extending back to 1870s with the temporary registry established under during World War Two under Mackenzie King and Bill C-150 and C-51 creating firearms acquisition certificates and firearms classifications under Pierre Trudeau being recent memories, many firearms owners are are skeptical. Only one thing is clear, the party has a history of maintaining federalism at any cost since the beginning of confederation.
Voting for a certain ideology is not foolproof either since the former Progressive Conservatives of Canada (before being renamed as Conservative Party of Canada) were the ones who introduced Bill C-17 under Brain Mulroney’s successor, Kim Campbell, which further restrict what firearms can be owned. Additionally, conservative governments around the world throughout history, time and time again, shown they are in favour of gun control as long the measures keep the firearms out of the hands of landless or powerless and remains only in those of the landowners and urban gentry.
This is certain: the Quebec question will not go away anytime soon. The reason why the measures were enacted in the first place is because of Quebecois votes. As long the subject is a public debate in the province, gun control will always be brought up in parliament. Their wishes will be inflicted upon the rest of the country. French Canadiens will get what they want come hell or high waters.
The federal firearms registry for non-restricted guns is dead. The promoters quickly learned touching the topic is a surefire way of losing an election. What comes next, however, is uncertain.
Land access and the environment
In the past decade, the Government of Canada opened up the country to resource exploitation and the industry became much more intensive. At the moment, both Liberals and Conservatives are supporting Trans-Pacific Partnership with the Pacific Rim, Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Europe and Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement with China. Witnessing corporations bullying Canada’s environmental regulations under the North American Free Trade Agreement, hunters and anglers have every reason to be concerned about TPP, CETA and FIPA.
And one should be concerned. Right-leaning governments and neoliberals across the country are fast-tracking or streamlining regulations so regulations do not slow down development. The Navigable Water Protection Act, the oldest wilderness conservation law in Canada, was stripped and left 89% of the waterways unprotected. At all levels, both historic right of ways and environmental laws are being nullified so Canada can be the leading producer of raw materials.
The battleground is best illustrated in British Columbia. With the residents quickly watching their province becomes a playground for the rich multinationals, hunters and anglers became vocal with creating a chapter under Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and establishing Resident Priority.
With Nestlé being a controversial issue in B.C. during the drought combined with the Liberal Party of British Columbia opening up the provincial parks to outside interests, hunters and anglers are becoming more vocal. Indeed, much of the environmental activism in northern half are being led by hunters.
However, B.C. is no stranger to being ruled by corporate interests as huge chunks of Vancouver Island was sold to a coal baron Robert Dunsmuir which is now divided up and owned by TimberWest, Island Timberlands, and Hancock Timber who are now logging the island intensively and flipping the property for real estate. As the result, the corporations are refusing access. The fight about land access is becoming province-wide as people are questioning the rights of forestry companies and ranchers gating the roads. Unfortunately, some of the offenders happened to be foreign.
And the same stories are being repeated across Canada and the United States. Hunters and fishers say access used to better in decades past, and now the opportunities are becoming fewer and fewer.
What is at stake?
The election in October 2015 will be a very difficult one for hunters and fishermen. Should they listen to the gun lobby, or should they vote for their own economic future?
Traditionally, we have associated firearms ownership with hunting rights. These days, the equivalence no longer holds true. Perhaps the greatest threat of all is losing our heritage and our access.
Unfortunately, none of the parties has touched on the topic of what they can do to improve sportsmen’s access. While it was a Conservative MP who proposed Bill C-655 which criminalizes harassment of anyone lawfully hunting, fishing trapping or shooting, the bill received support from all four of Canada’s major parties including the Green Party. If a party is sincere about supporting hunters and anglers, then they should make hunting access part of the platform.
So far, none of the parties has demonstrated they are on the side of hunters and anglers. About time they should.