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Out with the Guns, In with the Green

November 27, 2009

I’ve been putting off this article for a week or so, and its been piling up links, so here’s some unsolicited advice from me to the leaders of her majesty’s loyal opposition, both Mr. Ignatieff and Mr. Layton.  Start opposing with something Canadians actually want, not what the media punditocrocy and ‘common wisdom’ tell you.


Common wisdom tells journalists and politicians that Canadians are in favour gun control but not hard gun bans.  A recent story on the CBC highlighted the results of a poll showing that we are split on the Long gun registry that the Conservatives are trying to trash. It has cost a lot of money and not everyone, except all the police in the country, are sure it’s really that useful. Fine.  The story on CBC says no more about the poll, but if you actually read the poll data the real story isn’t about the gun registry.  The real story is what Canadians think about banning guns completely or partially.  A large majority of Liberal and NDP voters, and of the population as a whole in BC, Ontario and Quebec support a total gun ban.  Yes, you read that right, all guns.

This is kind of stunning seeing as this is a complete non-starter politically.  Perhaps more useful is the data on the question “Do you think there should be a strict ban on guns in urban areas”.  Look at the results, Ontario, Quebec, BC and the east coast: large majorities.  Even Alberta is 50/50 on this question.  Winning a total majority in Ottawa only takes a committed 45% of the country with the way we count votes, so why aren’t the Liberals promising an urban gun ban as part of an aggressive campaign for their base?  Do they really think they win many seats in the praries anyways? If they’re really skittish they could just promise a total urban handgun ban.  Did I miss this proposal?  I’ve never heard any Liberal say, “lets ban all handguns”, or “lets make it illegal for anyone but a cop to even have a gun inside any large city in Canada.”  What’s the worst that would happen? You win more urban seats and the gun clubs have to move beyond the city limits.

Signs of openness and pragmatism on guns are showing in the opposition parties.  None other than Bob Rae intervened to back off on the registry issue (which just further vindicates my belief that Bob Rae is the Liberals greatest asset).   Long guns are a sticky issue in a country with as deep an urban-rural divide as Canada.  But the opposition can save face, openly embrace the importance of shot guns in rural Canada and simultaneously consolidate and expand their urban votes with a bold, detailed new plan for gun restrictions where Canadians want them : a total gun ban in large urban areas.


The other big missed opportunity for the opposition parties is Canada’s environmental policy.  I know they complain about how bad the Conservatives are, but the fact is the Liberals don’t have a lot of credibility here with their own history and the NDP seem to nitpick about the perfect approach rather than broadly embracing any progress.  Which is surprising since a wide majority of Canadians, even over 60% in Alberta, are embarrassed by how far behind Canada is in dealing with climate change.

You’d think a smart opposition party could come up with a real proposal and stick to it knowing Canadians actually support it.  But apparently all it takes is some conventional wisdom and Conservative commercials to push them off perfectly good ideas like carbon taxes.

Now the opposition has yet more ammunition, if they dare to use it.  Prime Minister Harper has finally deemed the Copenhagen summit important enough to be worthy of his attendance, now that US President Obama is going. Meanwhile, a number of groups are calling for Canada to be kicked out of the Commonwealth if we don’t smarten up.

Good for them, we deserve to be punished for our delinquence ….. but is this really the best way to do it? Using this threat may be a mixed blessing for opposition parties.  The Commonwealth is a holdover organization from the British Empire.  There are many Canadians, not a majority, but a large minority, who would love anything that put some distance between us and the anachronism of the British Monarchy.  I happen to like this particular anachronism, it provides a ceremonial and historical flare that a young country such as ours has difficulty creating on our own.  But the recent visit by Prince Charles reminded us that some day soon, Long Live the Queen and all that, Chucky might end up on our money.  Which I must admit, makes my skin crawl a bit for some reason I can’t quite put my finger on.

Actually avoiding said currency change, or updating the role of the Governor General or our relationship with the Queen are all thorny, constitutional issues most politicians would like to avoid.  Being kicked out of the clubhouse of former colonies for doing things differently, on the other hand, might seem to some people like a good way to let off some steam  against the monarchy without any serious consequences.  So, while the opposition parties need to get serious about moving Canada into a 21st Century green economy, the importance of the Commonwealth angle may not be the one they want to go with.

Whether Mr. Ignatieff and Mr. Layton will seriously tackle either of these issues is hopefully keeping them up at night right now. If it isn’t, then they aren’t much of an opposition and they aren’t listening to what real Canadians actually want.

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