Thursday, November 19, 2009

Still for the gun registry

This item caught the eye yesterday and prompted some thought about the gun registry issue. It's still a big unknown as to what the parties are thinking going into committee on C-391 and whether it will survive a committee vote. Or whether a new piece of legislation might be considered by the Liberals and NDP, as suggested here, in conjunction with killing C-391. That seems a stretch to me but whatever route would defeat the registry killing C-391 is worth considering. For now, for what it's worth, here are some thoughts on why killing C-391 is the good political choice for the opposition, with emphasis on Liberals in particular.

1. This is a time when Conservatives think they're virtually invincible, on the cusp of a majority. Maybe it'd be good to hand them a loss and send a big signal to the Canadian people in doing so. Raise some doubt about that winning perception right now, show that the Conservatives can be beaten.

2. A win of any kind would be good for Liberals at the moment. Don't underestimate the wind (breeze?) that may be at your back with a "win" on an issue, no matter how it's done. Liberals (and other parties) can get a win here simply by defeating a private member's bill. It's cheap, there is no monetary expenditure required, no tv ads to be run, no travelling required. Just vote against it. It's a win simply by defeating a bill that is dear to the Conservatives and this in and of itself is motivating. It's also a win because you can spin it easily enough. "Hey, all we did was defeat a private member's bill, happens all the time, very few of them pass. If the government were behind this gun registry abolition they'd move a government bill on it." You can also easily say you're just maintaining the status quo. The gun registry will be left intact, nothing's changed so let's not lose our heads here. At the end of the day, it's a win for those wanting to keep the registry.

3. It can be used as a small step toward redefining the Liberal party as progressive. You have to distinguish yourself from the Conservatives. Ignatieff has been fond of saying Liberals are the "party of the center where elections are won," but that's not really doing much for the numbers these days. It's not easy, especially while in opposition, to be in the mushy middle on everything. People are lumping Liberals in with the Conservatives, show them it's nonsense. And really, it's not redefining here, it's reaffirming a basic Liberal policy, for gun control.

4. You can afford to ignore the polls on this issue. When it comes to your principles, stick to them, otherwise you're just a pollster, putting your finger to the wind and you'll be blown back and forth and all around. What are the Liberal numbers at lately anyway...28% or so? Aren't the numbers of those supporting the registry around that or a little higher? You're not going to hurt yourself, you might even strike a chord with Quebec voters if you speak to the issue well. Is the next election going to be won or lost on the gun registry issue? Probably not. Grow that base, cultivate it, women, Quebec voters, progressives. If you are perceived as taking a principled stand, the numbers may grow in your favour.

5. You can reach out while standing up for the gun registry. The way in which you act and publicly position yourself while voting to keep the registry counts. You don't have to do it in a way that is dismissive or condescending to those who have legitimate concerns about the registry. Appeal to them by saying OK, it's not perfect, let's try to fix it and pledge to do that in the future. But let's not take a wrecking ball to what we have now, that we've invested in - yes - but which system is up and running now at a manageable cost every year. This is actually an improvement, politically anyway, on the Liberal position, you can say we're not just status quo gun registry, we're status quo but let's have a debate about improvements. We're the party that doesn't tear down and destroy, we fix what's wrong even though that's hard work.

6. You can seize the law and order issue. To an extent, anyway. The police use the registry thousands of times a day yet the Conservatives want to destroy that valuable law enforcement tool. Huh? How can they plausibly be the "law and order" party if that's how they value the police? Turn the issue against them here, do some of that Karl Rove jujitsu (how it pains me to say). Say "we're with the police," over and over.

Again, hard to say what's going to happen here. But there are plenty of ways to handle this politically if the parties can get it together to defeat the bill in committee or perhaps at third reading.