Mr. Speaker, I wish to announce at the outset that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from York South—Weston.
I want to say at the outset of this debate that one should always be suspicious of legislation from the Conservatives that bears titles such as “common sense”, because we know that there may be a bit of an issue with the packaging and marketing of what they are doing.
I listened as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health and for Western Economic Diversification and the member for Sault Ste. Marie began their debates in this place, and it was very clear from the outset what this bill is all about. It is about trying to create a wedge issue. They are trying to slam the Liberals for their apparent support of a long-gun registry, which has been denied; trying to suggest that the NDP would somehow bring back a long-gun registry, which is not the case; and mentioning by name many of the members of the NDP in northern ridings to suggest that this is what a common sense firearms licensing act is about. We know what this is about. It is another example of partisan politics and the creation of a wedge issue by the government for no particular purpose.
When I say no particular purpose, and therefore oppose this bill, it is pretty clear why this bill has been criticized by so many. It is not just by the usual suspects, if I can call them that. What about Mr. Jean-Marc Fournier, the Quebec minister for intergovernmental affairs? He said, “It goes against the concept of public safety and security.... I find it extremely inconsistent that the federal government should claim that this is being done for the sake of public safety”.
It is not being done for the sake of public safety. It is being done in a pre-election period for clear partisan purposes, demonstrated so clearly by the two Conservatives who spoke before me this morning.
Let us put that at rest and talk about the bill itself. Bill C-42 would give the cabinet new authority to override firearm classification definitions in section 84 of the Criminal Code by way of regulations that would carve out exceptions. Now, by regulation, the cabinet could deem firearms that would otherwise be captured by the definition of prohibited and restricted firearms to be non-restricted firearms. That is a great example of taking away from legislation the authority that was given by Parliament and giving discretionary authority to the cabinet to do what it wishes and to be open now, for the first time, to lobbying by gun interests to make arbitrary changes, should it wish, for political purposes.
That is what we do when we take away from legislation certain powers that are there and provide discretion to the cabinet. It is very clear that this is what is there, and of course, many people talked about that in the committee hearings that led to this legislation at third reading.
The bill would basically transfer the authority over the definitions and classifications to cabinet, rather than leaving it with the public safety emphasis that was previously there. That was so clearly put by the member for Sault Ste. Marie just a moment ago when he talked about the chief firearms officers as bureaucrats and talked in a very pejorative way about the role they play in our system. He would rather have the cabinet make those decisions, I assume, because they are obviously all wise on matters of firearms registration and so forth.
In terms of firearms licencing, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health and for Western Economic Diversification talked about the grace period as somehow being irrelevant. Much of the testimony talked about how problematic the grace period of six months is. The standard firearms licence is for five years, and then there is a six-month grace period. As part of the process for licence renewal, firearms owners are screened for mental health issues, gauging risks to themselves and others. This assessment can identify potential issues early and assist police in reacting for public safety. Simply providing a grace period of additional time can lead to a delay of the information going to law enforcement, and that is inconsistent with public safety. That is why the witnesses talked about that.
The other part of the bill that has been criticized is the difficulty for some of the people in northern and remote communities to travel to take the test. We certainly agree with this position and salute the government for requiring this mandatory testing, for which aboriginal people have been exempted, which we also agree with. However, there have been concerns expressed about the administration of these new requirements in that context.
There have been concerns, many expressed by the Toronto police department and others, about having the resources needed to deal at the borders with the smuggling of illegal firearms into Canada. What has the government done? As we have seen on television news this week, it has simply cut the Canada Border Services Agency's budget dramatically. For example, by 2014-15, the CBSA's budget will be reduced to $143.3 million a year, with a cut of 1,351 positions, including 325 front-line officers and another 100 intelligence officers. So much for public safety concerns.
I had the honour of going to high school with Wendy Cukier, who is the president of the Coalition for Gun Control. Her organization appeared before the committee that studied the bill. She had some very serious concerns about another aspect of the bill, namely the transportation issue, which we heard about earlier. She said:
We believe that relaxing the controls over the authorizations to transport will increase the risk that these firearms will be misused. If you can transport your firearm to any gun club in the province, it means you can be virtually anywhere with it.
There are people who have spent their lives trying to deal with gun control issues and safety who have expressed very serious concerns about public safety with Bill C-42. There are those who point out that the government talks about safety but at the same time cuts budgets in so many contexts.
The fact that the Quebec government would have to tell us that this is not being done for the sake of public safety suggests that there are many people from many walks of life who have come to the same conclusion I have, and with which I introduced my speech. That is that the government is doing this simply as a wedge-politics issue, simply to draw a wedge, which is not there, on the issue of the gun registry.
When we see words like “common sense” describing the bill, we know the jig is up.