Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Battlefords--Lloydminster.
It is a pleasure to rise in the House today and participate in the motion put forward by the Canadian Alliance, the official opposition. The motion asks the House to support a stop in the funding of the firearms registry until the government provides a cost benefit analysis and accurate accounting of spending to date.
Before I proceed I would like to point out, as have my colleagues before me, that I adamantly disagree with the government's strong-arm tactics regarding the gun registry and other legislation that it has brought in. The Prime Minister is warning any dissident backbenchers that a vote against increasing financial support for the beleaguered registry amounts to a vote of non-confidence in the government which could force a snap election or expulsion from the Liberal caucus.
The Prime Minister is warning them to stick with him through thick and thin on the gun registry without regard to the amount of dollars being thrown at it or there could be a snap election, he would not sign their papers, or there could be expulsion from the Liberal caucus.
I would like to caution those same members of Parliament that a vote against the wishes of their constituents could ultimately result in the very same thing. It could result in not only their removal from caucus but in their removal from the House. Regardless, during the next federal election I guarantee that their stand or lack thereof will become very evident to their constituents.
Last month the House was prepared to debate a motion put forward by the Senate seeking concurrence on the division of Bill C-10. The Senate attempted to split what was once Bill C-15B, creating two separate pieces of legislation: Bill C-10A, an act to amend the Criminal Code in relation to firearms; and Bill C-10B, an act to amend the Criminal Code with respect to cruelty to animals. The Senate has passed Bill C-10A without amendment but it is still in the process of considering Bill C-10B.
Unfortunately, the Senate motion was yanked from the House agenda as the Liberal House leader was uncertain as to how his backbench would vote, although he already had ensured, by way of time allocation, that the debate on this controversial issue was limited.
The government is attempting to do whatever it can to avoid further embarrassment over the firearms registry's horrific cost overruns. It is refusing to call a time out, at least until the exact costs of the firearms registry are revealed. The government is refusing, despite eight provinces, despite three territories, despite provinces, premiers and the public demanding that the gun registry be suspended or scrapped completely.
Five provinces and three territories have opted out of the administration of the gun registry completely, while Ontario is refusing to implement the gun registration requirements in Bill C-68. Several other provinces are refusing to enforce or prosecute the Firearms Act offences.
In light of this lack of confidence and co-operation, I cannot understand why the government would be so resolved to proceed and not to suspend it or to at least call a time out. We need a clear, accurate cost benefit analysis done immediately so that Canadians, the general public, not the government, can decide if the firearms registry is an effective way of saving lives, or if that money could better be spent saving lives through increased cancer research or eliminating long waiting lines for heart surgery and improved preventive medicine, or even for resourcing police law enforcement agencies throughout the country in a different method.
I stand by the Canadian Alliance's longstanding position to repeal Bill C-68 and replace it with tougher sentences for those who use firearms in the commission of a criminal offence. With 22 pages and 63 clauses amending Bill C-68, Bill C-15 was a clear admission by the government that the firearms registry or that Bill C-68 was a complete failure.
Bill C-68, which was really the hallmark of this Liberal government, consisted of 137 pages of new laws with respect to firearms and weapons. The first enabling regulation introduced in November 1996 added an additional 85 pages, while those introduced on October 30, 1997 added approximately 65 pages to our changing firearms law.
It is important to note, especially for those such as myself who were not here in 1995, that there was a provision within Bill C-68 that stipulated that when these amendments were made, the amended regulations did not have to be reviewed by Parliament. As well understood under clause 119(2), “the justice minister may enact firearms regulations without parliamentary review if the regulations in his opinion are 'immaterial' or 'insubstantial'“ and, under clause 119(3) “if the regulation is 'urgent'”.
To date the government has enacted legislation using that clause 16 times. Furthermore, it failed to report these changes to the House of Commons as required by the Firearms Act until the oversight was exposed by the insight of the Canadian Alliance and one of our members of Parliament. Effectively, those regulatory powers negate our parliamentary system of checks and balances that are supposed to ensure that the government of the day does not exercise autocratic muscle stretching powers that it has so obviously wanted to do.
What may be immaterial, what may be insubstantial and what may be urgent in the opinion of the minister may be very material or very substantial and perhaps not even urgent to Parliament, particularly to members of Parliament who represent large rural constituencies where firearms are viewed more as a tool of the trade than a weapon.
We must be apprised of any and all changes to the firearms legislation in a clear and concise fashion, as must all Canadians, in order to avoid unintentionally breaking the law.
In closing, I would like to point out that since its inception in 1995, Bill C-68 has remained the most controversial and despised piece of legislation that has been put forward by the Liberal government, legislation that my party has fought every step of the way.
Repeatedly the Canadian Alliance has questioned, and we will continue to question, the necessity of registering the long guns of law-abiding citizens. We also question the estimated cost of the firearms registry that the former justice minister originally projected to be approximately $85 million. The minister remained adamant, even in the face of expert calculation, such as that put forward by Simon Fraser University Professor Gary Mauser, that the registry would not cost more than what he had predicted.
In a brief presented to the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs in May 1995, Professor Mauser came forward and he noted that “according to my estimates, registering 'field and stream' firearms will cost Canadian taxpayers at least $750 million and possibly more than a billion dollars over the next five years”.
The former justice minister and his Liberal colleagues scoffed at the evidence Professor Mauser brought forward. The following is a quote by the minister, “we have provided our estimates of the cost of implementing universal registration over the next five years. We say it will cost $85 million...We encourage the members opposite to examine our estimates. We are confident we will demonstrate the figures are realistic and accurate”.
I think the former justice minister, the member for Etobicoke Centre, owes Professor Mauser, and many other experts who recognized the absolutely horrific cost of this registry, an apology because Professor Mauser was right and he was wrong.
Although the Canadian Alliance, especially my hon. colleague from Yorkton--Melville, has attempted to do so for seven years, the Auditor General finally blew the lid off the ridiculous cost estimates of the former justice minister and his two predecessors. She blew them out of the water. It was the Auditor General who determined that the government had been hiding the real cost of the registry from Parliament.
I again implore the House to reject the additional $59 million in funding for the firearms registry. We must stop the bleeding now. I call upon the Minister of Justice and the Liberal Party to immediately put the registry on ice until a complete cost benefit analysis can be done.