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--