Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity to speak to what I view as not just a bad bill, but a dangerous bill. The bill talks about common sense and when we put “common sense” and “firearms” in the same sentence, one has to wonder whether this is really just a political bill and not actually something to make us safer.
I wish I had a nickel for every time a member opposite said, “This is our top priority”. No matter what we are talking about, whether it is the environment, public safety, rail safety, drug safety or food safety, everything seems to be the Conservatives' top priority, yet the evidence is that everything has suffered budget cuts under the government. In order to provide Canadians with tax cuts, it has had to cut public services and make Canadians less safe. That is something the New Democrats do not support. In a few months' time, the NDP leader and the party, with their experience and plan, will be able to replace this tired government and actually fix the damage it has done, including the damage this bill would do to the safety regime of Canadians.
The bill should be titled “relaxing guns laws in Canada”, because that is really what it does. It would not make some common sense amendments or find some way to make more sense. It is designed to relax guns laws, and that caters to a particular lobby that the Conservatives like to cater to and have done so since they took office in 2006. They have done a number of things over the years to make it less safe for Canadians.
Bill C-42 would make it easier to transport guns. Canada has specific and very strict rules about how to transport firearms. We do not want to become like the people in the U.S., where the transportation of guns is allowed openly and without any restrictions whatsoever, in most cases. This bill would allow people much more freedom to transport their firearms without having to first know where they are going. The police will have very little way of knowing what is going on when people are transporting their guns.
In addition, and perhaps more tellingly, it would give the cabinet and the minister the power to change the definition of what is and what is not a restricted weapon. I think this in knee-jerk reaction to a decision that was taken by others than the Conservatives that they did not like. Bill C-42 would give the cabinet authority to override firearms classification definitions in section 84 of the code by the way of regulations carving out exceptions. By regulation, cabinet could deem firearms that would otherwise by captured by the definitions of prohibited and restricted firearms to be non-restricted firearms. Similarly, cabinet could deem firearms that would otherwise be prohibited firearms to be restricted firearms. It would basically transfer authority over definitions and classifications to cabinet, rather than putting the emphasis on public safety.
As we all too poignantly recall from the disaster at École Polytechnique, the classification system in our country allows very dangerous weapons to be in the hands of ordinary citizens and when those ordinary citizens are not stable, disaster can result. It would also limit provincial powers to attach conditions of licence. Why are we touching provincial jurisdiction? The government claims to want to leave everything to the provinces to decide, but as much as it can, it will get out of housing or public transit and just give money to the provinces and tell them to do whatever they want. Yet here, it would actually remove the right of the provinces to attach conditions of licence, which is not a good thing. It is not more safe.
Finally, it would grant a grace period to persons whose licences expire. Every year I get a notice from the Ontario provincial government that says my car licence is going to expire and I had better renew it. Every five years I get a notice from the provincial government saying that my driver's licence is going to expire and I had better renew it.
If the same thing were to happen with firearms licences, there would be no excuses. Is this because the government does not want to bother finding people? Is it because the Conservatives do not want to bother reminding people, because it is something that, maybe, needs a bit of a reminder. To actually grant an exemption or a grace period is dangerous, according to some witnesses.
We in the NDP put public safety first. That is very clear in all of our positions and our comments on the various budget decisions that the government has made and in all of our positions on issues like food safety. The Conservatives were in power when the listeriosis outbreak took place. Public safety was put at risk to the point where people lost their lives. This is something that we should not and cannot accept. To cut the budget of the department that is responsible for keeping people safe, such as the food safety department, is an unconscionable act of neglecting the public safety that we on this side of the House are so determined to protect.
There was the E. coli outbreak. As far as we know, no one died. People did get sick, and our reputation with the U.S. was seriously harmed. At the same time, it was the budget cuts to the health and safety of Canadians and to the safety of the system that caused public safety to be put at risk.
Rail safety is another point where the Conservative government has actually lowered the safety standards to the point where 47people in Lac-Mégantic lost their lives in July, 2013, and the centre of an entire town was decimated. The government said that it had better fix things, but since that time, there have been several other major train derailments that have taken place in other parts of the country. Only by good fortune and luck did the government escape yet another massive disaster. What do we know about the reaction of the government? We know there is one new inspector out of the hundreds of inspectors. There is no determination by the government to make our rail system safer.
In keeping with the notion of gun safety, we have learned that the RCMP is sometimes ill-equipped with its own firearms to go up against the firearms that are available to other Canadians. Some of them lost their lives as a result, and that is shameful. We know the government has cut the budget for the RCMP to the point where it has to abandon good programs in order to focus on the programs that the government says are the priority. We cannot keep juggling without running the risk of leaving some people unprotected, and that is exactly what happens.
In my riding of York South—Weston, none of what is going on in Bill C-42 would actually make anybody any safer. In fact, the problem in my riding is the preponderance of handguns, particularly among young people. When I go to a grade 10 class and ask the students how many of them own an illegal handgun or know someone who owns an illegal handgun, half of the hands go up. That is absolutely astounding, and it has been not just once, not just twice, but on several occasions that I get the same result. It means that among the residents of my riding, there are illegal handguns in the hands of young people.
This is happening because the government has cut the CBSA. It has reduced the number of inspections that go on at the border. As we discovered this week, CBSA officers do not even have access to proper information to stop criminals from re-entering Canada and stop people who have no business coming into Canada from entering.
The NDP believes that public safety is one of the most important things a federal government should be in charge of and should ensure. For the Conservative federal government to abandon public safety at every turn is absolutely wrong, and we will not stand for it. This bill would do nothing to make people safer. It would make them less safe. As a result, we will be opposing this bill.