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House of Commons Hansard #77 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was registration.

Topics

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Gouk Canadian Alliance Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan, BC

Madam Speaker, I have a very simple question for the member, if he is able to answer it. He mentioned that there were some 1,300 firearms deaths in a year. I believe that was his figure. Would he concede that even with this program fully running, some of those will still occur? If he agrees with that, could he give me a general estimate of what percentage he thinks will be saved by this program?

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Madam Speaker, first, if my colleague would go to the website and look at the statistics, he would see that there already has been a significant reduction. While it is incomplete, I easily could stand and say that in four or five years there will be this sort of reduction, if I could predict that. I truly cannot do that. The fact is that while incomplete, the behaviours of thieves and other illegal uses of guns and the behaviours of gun owners have changed to the point where there is a marked step, for the first time in 20 years, in the reduction of gun crimes.

It really suggests to me that in literally a few years time, when this program is complete, I will be able to say to him that there has been truly a very significant reduction in gun crimes of all sorts because of this linked system of licensing the owners and registering the guns, therefore tying the guns to the owners.

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough East, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this matter, which is of course quite controversial.

This is not a debate about policy. That has been done. We have had three elections in the past number of years. Each time gun control was a significant element of that election and each time the government was returned with a significant majority. It appears that the Canadian people have spoken on that issue, not once, not twice, but three times. As I see it, this is not a debate about the policy of gun control. Rather this is a debate about the costs of gun control. On that there has been some significant controversy.

The first point I want to make is with respect to the actual costs themselves. The second point is with respect to the ambiguities that are in the costs. The third point is that in retrospect the things that we have done appear to be quite dumb and we might have made better decisions on.

First with respect to the costs, I would point out that the Auditor General has done a very good job and a real service to this Parliament and Canadians in querying government spending. I think she has done that and held the government's feet to the fire in asking that the government account for its spending in this area. On the face of it, her position appears to be quite justifiable.

I will read from her notes, which state, “The Department of Justice did not provide Parliament with sufficient information to allow it to effectively scrutinize the Canadian firearms program and ensure accountability. In 1995, the Department of Justice told Parliament that the program would cost taxpayers about $2 million. The Department now says that by 2004-05, the costs of this program could amount to more than $1 billion. This chapter is an audit of the costs of this program and did not review the program per se. It is not about gun control. We express reservations about the cost estimates. Due to significant shortcomings in the information, we stopped our audit”.

On the face of it, going from $2 million to $1 billion should raise the concern of every member in the House, both on the opposition side and the government side. Not only must we be good stewards of the public's money, but we also must appear to be good stewards of the public's money.

Getting at the numbers appears to be, frankly, devilishly difficult. A consensus figure seems to be that over the past seven years the government has spent something in the order of $688 million or roughly $100 million a year. That sounds like a lot of money and in fact it is a lot of money. During that time revenues from the program have been about $75 million. That leaves the actual costs in and around $613 million over seven years or $88 million a year. Again that is still a lot of money.

Prior to 1993 and prior to the election of this government we already had a firearms acquisition program. On that program we were already spending $30 million a year. During the seven year period we are talking about, which has been a period of controversy, the government, whether it is this government or any other government, would have spent something in the order of $210 million regardless.

I am trying to compare apples to apples. The extra money that was spent over the past seven years was approximately $400 million, and that again is a lot of money. In fairness, it is not $100 million a year, rather it is about $58 million a year. That, in my view, is what we are debating; whether this is an appropriate use of $58 million per year over the last seven years and is appropriate going forward.

These are the numbers as best as I can determine them. It is not about $1 billion and it is not about $2 million. It is about $688 million less $75 million that we have acquired by way of revenues, less $210 million that we would have spent anyway or somewhere in the order of $400 million over seven years or about $58 million a year. It is still a lot of money but nowhere close to what the extremists would have us believe. That is my best handle on the costs as a sort of working member of this caucus. Now I will address some of the ambiguities of the costs.

I am not an accountant. There are a lot of things that go into these numbers about which reasonable people might well disagree. For example, the Auditor General argues that the Department of Justice is misleading when it neglects to include the extra costs of incarceration due to the sentencing of criminals who use guns in the commission of their crime. The Criminal Code is pretty clear that if persons use a firearm during the commission of a crime they will receive extra time.

Should that be included in the figures? Is that a cost of gun control? Should time before the parole board, because persons actually change their parole eligibility and, therefore, they are spending more time in prison, and those costs also be included in the costs of gun control? Are these costs appropriately allocated to the costs of gun control?

I do not know about other members, but when I am trying to figure out the costs of this program I had not anticipated that the extra costs of sentencing, parole, et cetera, would be something that should be included in the program. I would respectfully submit that reasonable people might well disagree over that.

The other thing that comes into it is the extra policing costs. Under the firearm acquisition certificate program the policing costs were picked up by the local police forces. Now, the federal government picks up the costs. Should they also be included in the costs of the gun control program? Is that a figure that should be in the program or is that a figure that should be out of the program? Again, accountants will disagree about how this should be accounted for, let alone MPs, and other reasonable people.

Having said that there are some costs which are difficult to analyze and having said that there are some ambiguities in the costs which make it even more difficult to analyze, let us look at some of the dumb things that were done in the past few years. One of which was the implacable opposition of certain provincial governments, including a constitutional challenge to the legislation, which delayed the start-up of the legislation in the first place.

Maybe that could have been anticipated. It seems in retrospect that this is something that should have been anticipated. However, that is something that we know going forward that even if the federal government wins the case, which it did, there will not be a very happy provincial government cooperating with the federal government in the application of this program. That is a kind of cost that should have been anticipated and was not anticipated.

Similarly, should costs be included for members of particular gun lobbies that are absolutely dead set against this program regardless and have a significant ability to derail the system, to clog it up, et cetera, and in fact running up the costs? Should a government have recognized this in advance? Possibly, in retrospect, it should have.

Similarly, the government has gone through three elections. It has gone through a huge debate, enormous controversy in caucus, and it is left so that the provinces are opposed and gun groups decide the direction of this particular policy. I would respectfully submit that no government, regardless of its political stripe, could do that.

Finally, on costs of about $400 million over seven years, I will try to compare apples to apples. The new enhanced firearms controls of the FAC process was put in place by the previous Conservative government and that accounts for about 35% of the costs. The new costs are in the licensing. As the previous speaker said, the two go hand in hand. The registering and the licensing go hand in hand and that is where we get our public safety benefit.

Unlike the previous speaker from Peterborough who spoke eloquently about the public safety benefits that are derived from this program, I have not spoken on this issue.

It seems strange to me that, for instance, the chief of the Toronto police force would say that this is not much of a program when the program is being hit 2,000 times a day, most significantly by his own police force. We have the support of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the Canadian Police Association, and the Canadian Association of Police Boards. I appreciate the overwhelming support by the police.

The costs are significant, but they are comprehensible. There are some genuine ambiguities in the cost and in retrospect some of them--

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Yellowhead.

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

Madam Speaker, I sat and listened to my colleague very intently as he described the last three elections. I feel almost ashamed that I have to give him a bit of a history lesson on the last three elections since he has been in the House quite a bit longer than I.

If I recall, the election of 1993 was not fought on gun control. Gun control did not come in until 1995 and after. The 1993 election was fought on the removal of the GST as promised in the red book. It had nothing to do with gun control.

I find it absolutely astonishing that an individual from the other side would stand in this place and try to explain that gun control should be supported because it was promised to the electorate over three elections. In fact, the two elections after that were not won on gun control. They were won primarily because of the strength of the economy. It was luck of the draw.

I find appalling the misleading information coming from a member in this House. His debate as far as supporting a gun registry has cost $1 billion to date and will be another $1 billion before this thing is off the ground and running smoothly. What really disturbs me, as a senior health critic, is the fact that this money would supply 238 MRIs in this country and operate them for a full year when we only have 110 operating.

The government has turned its back on health care over the last decade and yet will stand in this place and say that gun control should be supported. I say cut the losses now before we bury another $1 billion of taxpayer money into something that will absolutely not save one life in this country.

I would like to have my hon. colleague's response to some of his misleading comments with regard to this registry.

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough East, ON

Madam Speaker, I commend the hon. member's attention to the 1993 red book which contained the proposals for gun control. The 1993 red book was probably the most focused document of all documents in that election. It included a significant component with respect to gun control.

I do not know where the hon. member was in 1997, but I remember knocking on doors and I can recall a couple of incidents quite vividly for me, both in 1997 and in 2000, where certain individuals would respond at the door or on the phone, and they were implacably opposed to gun control. To argue that gun control has not been a part of the previous three elections is simply not right.

I take exception to the hon. member continuing to say that $1 billion is being spent here. At least the Auditor General is honest about it. She said that if we were to accumulate all of the moneys over the past 10 years, this fiscal year, and the year 2004-05, then there would possibly be an expenditure of $1 billion, which sounds like a lot of money. When that money is broken down over the number of years, it is not nearly as significant. Had my hon. colleague been listening to my speech a bit more carefully, he would have recognized that this is a cumulative figure and one which the department is trying to address. He is also ignoring the cost recovery program and the moneys already spent on the firearms acquisition certificates.

The debate is about whether the licensing part of the program is a public safety benefit to Canadians.

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Gouk Canadian Alliance Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan, BC

Madam Speaker, the hon. member basically contradicted the Auditor General who said $800 million to date. He said that was not right, it was $688 million. Of that we have to take $75,000 that we got in fees, another $210,000 that we would have spent anyway, and that magically is $400 million.

I would like to ask the hon. member, according to his figures, which is accounting magic even if we accept it, is his government proud of the fact that it is 200 times over budget instead of 500 times over budget?

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough East, ON

Madam Speaker, I made the point that the difference between the $2 million, to which the hon. member is referring, and the $1 billion is quite a gap. I am perfectly prepared to concede that. I also made the point in my speech that I thought the government should have anticipated, with that implacable opposition from over there, in provincial capitals, and among gun enthusiasts, that costs would get run up and that it would not be able to--

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Lanark--Carleton.

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Canadian Alliance Lanark—Carleton, ON

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan.

In starting my comments I will just continue some of the discussion that has been going on here with regard to costs. The Liberal member opposite has just referred to the cost overruns and has asserted the fact that, by his math, the cost overruns are only several hundred millions, not the full $800 million measured by the Auditor General, and that this somehow excuses things. I thought my hon. colleague on this side of the House was quite right in pointing out that it is not acceptable to have an overrun by 200 times. It would not be acceptable to have an overrun by two times, quite frankly, and it certainly would not be acceptable to withhold this information from the House as the government has done. These are all problems with the government's approach.

However, the member said something that was quite extraordinary. He said that, after all, these overruns were not really the government's fault, that they were really the fault of the various players who got involved in arguing that aspects of this law were unconstitutional, who fought against this law, and the fault of various provincial governments that opposed this law as being essentially unenforceable and an infringement of the federal government's competence and jurisdiction.

We could probably save a lot of money if people who were accused of criminal offences did not trouble us by pleading not guilty and defending their rights. We could probably save a lot of money if people who are unjustly accused of offences did not defend themselves. We could probably save a lot of money if whenever the government said jump we simply all obeyed, but that is not the way the system runs. When something is set up that is as badly designed as this firearms registry and with the extensive infringements upon personal civil liberties and upon the jurisdictions of other levels of government that this gun registry includes, it is only natural that opponents would attempt to stop it.

Of course the government could have on its own undertaken ahead of time to seek a Supreme Court reference, for example, as to the constitutional validity of the registry. That would have eliminated costs associated with this. It could have had a period of waiting prior to implementing the registry. That would have eliminated some of the costs to which the hon. member refers. Therefore I want to suggest that for all the costs included here, and quite frankly I think that the Auditor General was correct and the hon. member is incorrect as to the level of those numbers, that is to say, it really was an overrun by 400 times, those costs really do all lie at the feet of the government.

The prepared remarks I have with regard to this legislation and today's motion deal with three topics. First I want to go through and discuss the problems in principle with the idea of a registry of this nature. Second, I will discuss the problems that exist with this particular registry. Finally, I want to cite examples that indicate that there is strong public opposition to this particular gun registry and its implementation from members of the Canadian public at large and also from members of various police forces.

Let us start with the question of problems in principle. Placing a gun in a registry by definition is going to be at best a very ineffective way of reducing or eliminating fatalities. The claim is sometimes made that if this registry would save a single life then it would be worthwhile. I am inclined to think that if the money used for this registry were invested so as to save many lives, that would be a proper use of the money, but in fact I cannot even find evidence that any lives are saved. I know that the members on the opposite side have various arguments that they present, but they are very unconvincing arguments.

The fact is that some of the lives that can be saved by proper firearms regulation are saved by, for example, safe storage practices and the encouragement of safe storage practices and by requirements for people to seek out and gain training prior to using firearms and so on. That is very much different from a registration of firearms themselves. For example, the registry does not and cannot prevent thefts. Moreover, it does nothing in terms of tracing firearms that are stolen. Safe storage practices would reduce thefts somewhat and do reduce thefts somewhat, but not the firearms registry.

The use of firearms in moments of anger or the use of firearms that have been improperly stored and result in accidental fatalities are again safe storage issues. Regarding the use of firearms in suicides, clearly firearms registration will do nothing about that.

The problem that exists in a country as large as Canada, with as porous a border as Canada has with the United States, ensures that we can never prevent the illegal importation of firearms through a registry, both in classifications of firearms that require registration and in firearm classifications where they are completely banned. This is simply a fundamental problem that no registry can overcome.

In general, the basic problem is that if we want to cause the criminal use of firearms to be decreased, we have to deal with the problem that criminals have certain incentives. We must change those incentives by providing greater certainty of sentencing for those who commit criminal offences with firearms and greater certainty in terms of the length of time they will serve in prison prior to being released. As long as we are lax in our policing, as we underfund our police, and as long as we are lax in sentencing and our sentencing rate is uncertain, we are going to find a situation in which firearms crimes will continue to escalate, notwithstanding any restrictions being placed through a firearms registry on legal firearms use.

Of course this is not the first firearms registry we have had in the country. I want to read a quotation from the man who set up Canada's handgun registry in the 1930s. In the 1970s, former RCMP Commissioner L.H. Nicholson had the following to say about the handgun registry that he had set up in the 1930s, and I think this indicates the fundamental problem. He said, “Had I known in 1934 what I know today, I would have had nothing to do with [the handgun registry]. Mere registration has never solved a crime and only harasses the legitimate gun owner”. I think that principle applies equally, indeed more so, to the long gun registry that we are discussing today.

I want to turn to specific problems with the registry. The most obvious one is cost. I have dealt with that a bit already. Of course cost overruns on this registry have become so enormous that they have become a metaphor for so many Canadians for the lack of control of spending the government has, and well they should; it has been a billion dollars so far for something that was projected to cost the public treasury only $2 million, the rest of its costs supposedly being financed through various licensing fees.

A further billion dollars, we are told, will very likely be needed over the next few years to complete the registration process. That is one problem. Of course that money could be used for purchasing MRIs, as was discussed earlier. It could be used for more money for better policing. Just before I came down to speak in the House today I was meeting with a couple of policeman from the Ottawa Police Service who live in my constituency. They expressed their frustration with the fact that there are insufficient funds for policing at the municipal level and also provincially and federally. Some of this money, or indeed all of this money, potentially could be used for that. That would have an effect on crime.

Also, there is another problem. Registering long guns does not solve the problem of violent crime in the country. It is simply the wrong focus. To make this point, I want to note that only 1.4% of violent crimes in Canada actually involve firearms, which suggests that simply providing for more certain sentencing and perhaps harsher sentencing for violent crimes in general would be the most effective way to reduce such crimes.

As for the number of robberies that are committed with long guns, in the entire country 1% of robberies are committed with long guns. Long guns are clearly not the source of that particular kind of crime. The number of robberies where victims are injured or killed with long guns is 0%.

So really this is not the proper focus. We are not achieving the goals the government set out to achieve. I think it is time to recognize that it simply does not work and I am not alone in thinking this.

I see that my time is coming to a close, so I will simply point out that the president of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, Tom Kaye, has said that the firearms registry is unenforceable, that the president of the Vancouver police union has said that the government would get more bang for its buck by investing in staffing and equipment and in dealing with crimes, and that the president of the Winnipeg Police Association describes the registry as a “black hole”.

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Canadian Alliance Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Madam Speaker, most of the provinces and territories still do not support this registry system. They want changes to it. I speak in particular of the Territory of Nunavut. Nunavut is represented in the House by a Liberal member of Parliament, and I will leave that member to speak for herself. Nunavut has a court challenge currently going through the courts, saying that in Nunavut they do not have to register their firearms.

I remember hearing the member from Scarborough talking earlier about how the court cases had driven up these costs of this system. The court cases are not going to end. Nunavut, and possibly other provinces, will once again challenge this, so that will drive up the costs. No law-abiding firearms owner is going to plead guilty to the charge of an unregistered firearm, so there is going to be a court case on each and every one of those charges. The government does not seem to understand that this quagmire of expense is going to continue on and on. I wonder if the member has any thoughts in regard to the Nunavut court challenge and what effect that will have on driving the costs up. What are the effects, in that it is against the property rights of all Canadians, including the rights of natives, to have to register their rifles?

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Canadian Alliance Lanark—Carleton, ON

Madam Speaker, in response to my hon. colleague's question, I would simply observe that at this point anything that has the effect of stopping money from going to the firearms registry, far from costing the government money, would actually save a great deal of money. Quite frankly, a court challenge that had the effect of demonstrating that this firearms registry is unconstitutional in whole or in part would be of financial benefit to the country, as well as being of benefit in refocusing government attention upon the real criminal law enforcement priorities that exist in the country.

I do want to point out, of course, that it is not just Nunavut. There are many other provinces. In fact, eight other provinces oppose the firearms registry. That includes the Government of Ontario.

Just this weekend I was presented with a petition by Bob Runciman, the minister of public safety for Ontario. It was a 10,000 signature petition from constituents in his riding, in my riding and throughout eastern Ontario who are asking the federal government to abandon the firearms registry because it does not work, because it draws resources away from other priorities that are so much more important, and because it infringes upon our basic rights as Canadians. This is a widespread feeling. It is not just governments that feel this way. Citizens, rural and urban, young and old, of all races and of both genders, feel very strongly about this.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:35 p.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, there have been discussions among the parties and I think that if you were to seek it you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That, in relation to its study on the Atlantic Fishery, a group comprised of the chair, two government members and one member of each of the opposition parties of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans be authorized to travel to St. John's, Newfoundland, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Moncton, New Brunswick and Gaspé, Quebec, from May 4 to 8, 2003, and that the necessary staff do accompany the committee.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it agreed?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:35 p.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, there are two more motions. I move:

That, in relation to its study on prescription drugs, a group comprised of five government members and one member of each of the opposition parties of the Standing Committee on Health be authorized to travel in one group to Victoria, Edmonton, and Winnipeg during the week of September 29, 2003, and that the necessary staff do accompany the committee.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it agreed?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:35 p.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved:

That, in relation to its study on prescription drugs, a group comprised of five government members and one member of each of the Opposition parties of the Standing Committee on Health be authorized to travel in one group to Halifax, Québec and Toronto during the week of October 27, 2003, and that the necessary staff do accompany the Committee.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

SupplyGovernment Orders

March 25th, 2003 / 4:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Gouk Canadian Alliance Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to start off by expressing absolute shock that the government members who have spoken, and particularly the last Liberal member who spoke, would try to defend the unbelievable cost overrun on this by saying that it is not 400 times what they said, that it is only 200 times what they said. It is absolutely astounding that would be a defence.

There are two fundamental things that the government has said, quite falsely I might add, that the bill would provide. It claims the bill would provide a reduction in crime. It also claims that it would save lives. I would like to touch on each one of those today. It seems woefully inadequate that I have 10 minutes to talk about something on which the government has blown $1 billion. It is 400 time or perhaps 500 times over budget to date and it still has a long way to go.

In terms of the reduction of crime, and we have heard it said often but it bears repeating because the Liberal members do not seem to be able to get it through their heads, criminals by definition break the law, so what good will it do to present another law for them to break? How will we reduce crime by telling them that they cannot use guns because it is against the law? The absurdity of that comment, of that very situation, should make the Liberals want to hide their heads in embarrassment. Yet somehow they keep crowing that same comment.

For 70 years we have registered handguns in this country and yet handguns are the firearms of choice for those criminals when they do use them to commit crimes. The next biggest ones are sawed off shotguns, sawed off rifles and automatic weapons, all of which are illegal in any case, so we do not need the registration of those items because they cannot be registered. In terms of a reduction in crimes, it is an absurdity.

One of the interesting things about Bill C-68 is that it makes illegal the small, purse sized pepper spray that some poor innocent woman, or perhaps man, who has to travel through a park or a dark parking lot late at night, could use as a defensive tool to try to get away from those very criminals, to use as a last resort as a defensive tool. The Liberals in their wisdom said no. They said that they were being hard on the criminals by making their guns illegal so they had to be fair. They had to take away pepper spray from the women and men who might use them for defensive purposes in order to get away from one of these criminals. The Liberals like to balance things so they have to do that.

In terms of saving lives, let us allow for the moment, and I do not volunteer this at all, that somehow, although it has never been explained, the bill would save some unknown percentage in some unknown way of the 1,300 some odd lives that the Liberals say are lost to firearms each year and, I might add, lives that are lost through suicide, homicide, accident, legal intervention and every method possible. That is what the bill is about and that is what justifies the bill.

I remember hearing that argument back in 1995 when the bill was brought in. I did a survey in my riding. I went to great lengths and sought assistance to have as neutrally worded a question for the survey as possible. The results were overwhelmingly opposed to the government measure but there were some who said they were in favour. I remember one woman who wrote me and said “Even if it only saves one life, is it not worth it?” As a result of that letter I built my entire speech in 1995 in Parliament around that very premise. Is it worth it if it saves one life?

At that time the minister, who has gone through various portfolios and who now I believe he is industry minister, acknowledged that it would cost $118.9 million gross, minus the fees that would be collected. I went to the head of the B.C. breast cancer detection program and I asked him to tell me something about breast cancer. He gave me some background: how many new cases there would be; how many of those would be fatalities. Having learned this, I asked him what he would do if I gave him $118.9 million and what results would I get. He conferred with his colleagues and got back to me a few days later. He said that they had talked it over and had decided that they would target thee early detection program for the high risk category of women. I said that was fine and asked him what results that would provide.

He said that statistically speaking they would save approximately one-third of the expected fatalities, which would be about 1,710 lives. There we have either saving some unknown percentage in some unknown way of 1,300 or saving 1,710 real lives. If the bill is about saving lives, there are a lot of better ways to spend that money. I am not picking breast cancer to be the be all and end all. Many different things have been mentioned here today, such as different hospital expenditures and crime prevention. We could spend the money in a number of ways, all of which would save far more lives than Bill C-68. I would remind members that was when it was at $118.9 million, not $800 million or even the $400 million the member grudgingly acknowledges, or the billion dollars plus that in reality it will cost.

We also have to go back and talk about the concept of the support the government said it had for the bill. The support it had for the bill was particularly from people in urban centres, people who maybe had a bad experience with a firearm or simply never had a firearm and thought that if the government could do something about them it would probably make their lives better.

The government approached those people and told them that it had a program that it believed would reduce crime and save lives, erroneous though that statement may be, and that it would cost $2 million. It then asked the people if they favoured it.

If the government were to go back in time to 1995 and say, “We have a program that we at least claim will save some lives and we claim will reduce crime, although we can't explain how, and it will cost a billion dollars,” I wonder if the support would evaporate.

Even now, as the Auditor General has released these figures, that support is not only evaporating on the streets, it is evaporating on the government's own back benches.

The government has been dishonest with the people of Canada in providing the costs of this and in providing real, accurate information in terms of the effectiveness or lack thereof.

One thing that has been mentioned tonight is that this has cost a lot more money because those dirty, rotten provincial governments have not accepted this. I would remind the Liberals that when the Alberta court challenge took place, the split decision was that it was against the rights and the constitution of the province, but it overruled that in favour of the concept that if it overrode the government on Bill C-68 it would also override the handgun registry and it did not wish to do that. Therefore the court found in favour of the government, notwithstanding the fact that it agreed that it encroached on provincial jurisdiction.

Why should the provinces not accept it? The federal government was indeed encroaching on their jurisdiction. Now the government thinks the provinces should turn around and co-operate with it.

There are a number of things I would love to discuss tonight but I will end by making a couple of points. Some say that since we have spent a billion dollars already on this that it would be foolish at this point to stop. I think we should stop for two reasons: first, because of the ineffectiveness that I have outlined; and second, because this is not the end.

The government said in the beginning that it would cost $2 million. Its own department, whose figures we do not trust any more, say that it will cost $50 million to $60 million a year to maintain this. That is 30 times the whole cost just to maintain it on a year by year basis. We are a long way from finished with this program.

The final point I would like to leave is to throw a question to the Liberals. I know it is their turn to question me. Maybe they will respond to this in questions and comments. Why is it that we want to force the law-abiding citizens of this country to register their recreational firearms when the government does not have the courage or the fortitude to go to already convicted sex offenders and register them in the new sex registry program? Why is it they want law-abiding citizens to register their long guns when they are not prepared to register the sex offenders who have preyed upon innocent people in this country?

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Canadian Alliance Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Madam Speaker, I think we need to deal a little with the equality issue and the sentencing issue when firearms offences happen.

I have 10 first nation reserves in my riding and I know the member does as well. We had one case three years ago in Winnipeg when Chief Louis Stevenson from the Paguis First Nation was involved in pointing a firearm and subsequently shot a garbage can in a bar. He was convicted and received a fine. I heard other members talk about how they would be putting people in jail, but we seem to have a double standard happening here. Whether it was his political support or whatever, I am not sure why the sentencing was done like that, but that is a fact.

There is every reason to believe that Nunavut and the first nations across the country will not register. They already have special rules under the Firearms Act. Some things apply to non-natives and some things apply to natives. If, which seems likely, Nunavut will not have to register in the future or there will be new rules created that will give exemptions or whatever the government decides to do, this will further split and divide Canadians.

I believe the government is stirring up a hornet's nest when it does not treat Canadian equally, when it comes to what it proclaims is a serious law, like registering all the firearms in the country.

The member may wish to make additional comments in regard to that question.

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Gouk Canadian Alliance Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan, BC

Madam Speaker, I have heard many people echo the sentiments that my colleague has just raised.

First, we can be assured that there will be countless court challenges as a result of this mixture of application of the law. If the government thinks the costs are already out of hand because of these things, why would it do something that is absolutely guaranteed to perpetuate this and cause more court challenges?

The second point is really important. The government either believes the rhetoric it has been spinning or it does not. It either believes that firearms are dangerous unless they are registered or they are not. If they are dangerous, then it should apply to absolutely everybody. If the government tells the Nunavut and the various Indian reserves, perhaps the Métis and who knows who else it may choose to exempt, that guns are not dangerous so they do not have to register, then obviously it should apply to everyone.

In fact, if we want to start talking in terms of people in the north and aboriginal people who face a lot of challenges, along with the rest of us, in terms of education, health care and a lot of provisions, then perhaps the government, if it is really interested in the needs of those and other people, should be redirecting this incredible amount of money it has wasted, not only in the past, because it already has wasted that and there is not much we can do about it, but surely it can see that the $60 million to $80 million that it says it will spend per year in the future, plus the unknown hundreds of millions of dollars it will take to finish this program, could be redirected to both aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike, because we believe in equality, in order to deal with some of the social problems, some of the justice problems and the other challenges facing us, instead of squandering it on this useless program where not only is the government wasting the money but now it is dividing people.