Thank you, Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen of the committee, and my fellow witnesses.
My name is Kevin Gaudet. I'm the federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. We're a national, non-profit, non-partisan organization with more than 74,000 supporters nationwide. We have offices in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Toronto, and Ottawa, and soon to be Atlantic Canada. The mandate of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation is to advocate for lower taxes, less waste, and more accountable government. We've been doing this for a long time, celebrating our 20th anniversary this year. We don't take government money or issue tax receipts.
I'd like to take this opportunity now to thank the supporters of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, whose contributions allowed me to be here today to testify. We refused the offer of the committee to cover our expenses. Instead, we relied on the support of our supporters. I'm pleased to be here today on their behalf, to speak against the wasteful long-gun registry and for its appropriate elimination, thanks to Ms. Hoeppner's Bill C-391.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the chair of the committee on behalf of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation for his many years of work on this issue and to thank all the MPs on the committee who supported our attendance today.
Mr. Chairman, all the members of the committee and their parties are to be commended for the open free vote that allowed this bill to come before the committee. Free votes are a key element to a fully functioning democracy. If it wasn't for the support of MPs from the NDP and the Liberal Party, joining the Conservatives in support of this bill at second reading, we wouldn't even be here today having this reasoned discussion. All of these MPs should be applauded for their courage and conviction on this issue.
That same open and free approach, we submit, should be continued in the House when this bill comes up again for vote after third reading. This has been a long-standing privilege that MPs have enjoyed for decades. It is a practice that ought to be followed without exception, after third reading on this bill.
Given the sensitivity of this debate, many have been calling for a compromise on this issue, and I agree. I suggest that Ms. Hoeppner's bill does just that. It provides a reasonable compromise for responsible and trustworthy gun owners, and we support it. This bill is a compromise because many responsible and trustworthy gun owners would have preferred to see more changes regarding hand guns, licensing, and other restrictions. It became clear that a bill with such changes was not going to get majority support from the House, so Bill S-5 was introduced in the Senate. It was deeply flawed, with the possibility of creating a new gun registry in every province. Thankfully, it too would not gain majority support.
As a result, this bill was created. Ms. Hoeppner's bill provides a compromise, having stripped away all other changes save for this one: the elimination of the wasteful long-gun registry. The long-gun registry has been an extremely wasteful and burdensome placebo that provides false impressions of improving public safety. Most importantly, the long-gun registry has been a substantial financial boondoggle since its creation in 1995 by then Minister of Justice Allan Rock. It has cost well beyond $2 billion, and the final figure is still yet unclear.
Some would like to argue that annual operating costs associated with the registry run at only $3 million. This is false. This figure does not reflect true fully-loaded direct costing, nor does it factor in indirect costing. In fact, the registry costs taxpayers more than $106 million per year, and a final figure cannot be known. As the Auditor General has pointed out, not once but twice, for a program that does little to nothing to keep Canadians safe, this is and has been a huge waste of taxpayer money. And all of this wasted spending originates due to misleading information having been given to Parliament when Bill C-68 was passed.
Related, of course, is that Canadians don't even know if the $2 billion is a complete figure. In 2002 we in the Canadian Taxpayers Federation presented Auditor General Sheila Fraser with a petition of over 14,000 signatures, requesting that her office audit the program. She did so and found astonishing waste.
In the second audit of the program, in 2006, Ms. Fraser found that whenever costs ballooned beyond what Parliament had authorized, or above what the government had publicly promised, the true amounts were hidden from legislators and the public. The Auditor General concludes that hiding these costs broke the law and violated the government's own accounting practices. It also meant that Parliament's constitutional power to decide how taxpayers' dollars are spent was usurped by bureaucrats. This is where the committee ought to be focusing its time more appropriately.
In 2006 my predecessor delivered to then public safety minister Day another petition, this time with over 28,000 petitions, calling for the elimination of the wasteful long-gun registry.
To quote from the Auditor General's report from December 2002, “From the start insufficient financial information was provided to Parliament”. The Auditor General says that Parliament was misled in 1995 to believe that the program would cost a net of only $2 million. Canadians may never know the full and true cost of this program.
We know, thanks to the Auditor General and the CBC, that it has cost over $2 billion. The program has been disastrously managed. According to the Auditor General, 70% of all money approved by Parliament for the creation and management of this program came from supplementary estimates. As you parliamentarians are aware, this is a clear indication of just how out of control the program has been, as this spending had not been budgeted.
The Auditor General's report is scathing. It outlines waste and mismanagement of immense scale. An important excerpt from the audit reads:
In our view, the financial information provided for audit by the Department does not fairly present the cost of the Program to the government. Our initial review found significant shortcomings in the information the Department provided. Consequently we stopped our audit of this information....
The Auditor General notes that costs exceeded $1 billion, according to the department. And she noted that the cost was importantly incomplete.
The auditor also highlights that the program's focus had changed from high-risk firearms owners to excessive regulation and enforcement of controls over all owners and their firearms. The department concluded that, as a result, the program had become overly complex and very costly to deliver, and that it had become difficult for owners to comply with the program. Importantly, the Auditor General notes, “The Department also did not report to Parliament the wider costs of the Program as required by the government's regulatory policy.”
As a result, the CBC submitted a freedom of information request to attempt to gain better information on full costing. They ran a story in February 2004 reporting the full wasteful program costs at more than $2 billion. Canadians likely will never know how much the wasteful program costs to date. Equally, we don't know fully how much it costs annually in direct and associated costs.
The RCMP reports it spends $8.4 million a year on registration. Leave aside for a moment the credibility of this number. Simply add it to the $98 million annual operating costs for other related programs, as outlined in the detailed research report from the Library of Parliament in 2003, and the total operating costs for the impact of this wasteful registry exceed $106 million a year. Of course, we don't even know the real cost to the RCMP, as the ongoing registry's operating costs have been routinely, purposely misrepresented.
In her 2006 audit, the Auditor General points out repeated examples of improper accounting where spending was hidden from Parliament. One example is for $17 million and another example is for $22 million. She notes in 2006 that the managers intended to continue with this accounting practice of hiding costs.
Nor do we know the true feeling of the rank and file members of the force. On May 5 of this year, Deputy Commissioner Killam issued an outrageous memo to all commanding officers regarding Ms. Hoeppner's bill, ordering the commanders and all their employees to keep their opinions to themselves and their mouths shut. With this kind of culture of chill in the RCMP, the true costs of managing the wasteful registry may never truly be known, nor may the true attitudes of the front line officers.
The only way to save taxpayers from this ongoing debacle is for this committee and Parliament to put an end to the wasteful long-gun registry.
Thank you for your time.