NDP Leader Jack Layton has spoken passionately about the need for a federal long-gun registry, but he could end up with its demise as part of his political legacy.
Mr. Layton is head of a largely urban caucus that owes a third of its seats to the rural regions of Canada, where the registry is widely despised. Those party dynamics leave him far more exposed than leaders of the other parties, forcing him to straddle an issue that divides the country along city and country lines.
"Some Canadians have told me that they hate the registry because it's just more evidence that city folk are ignoring the reality of country folk," Mr. Layton told reporters on Monday.
Twelve New Democrats have previously voted in favour of a private member's bill to repeal the registry that was introduced by Conservative backbencher Candice Hoeppner. On Sept. 22, the House of Commons will vote on a motion to kill that bill.
Together with the 144 Conservatives and two independents, the rural NDP politicians could provide the votes required to end the program that has been a lightning rod for rural anger since it was passed into law by the Liberal government in 1995.
Mr. Layton is in a position that no other party leader faces. Liberal support is found mostly in the big cities, where gun control is applauded. The Bloc Québécois knows the registry has the broad support of Quebeckers. The Conservatives have their base in the West and in the agricultural regions of Central and Eastern Canada that have called long and hard for the registry's dismantling.
Mr. Layton said Monday that he would introduce his own legislation to address those issues that rural Canada has found most irritating. And some of the New Democrats who have voted to kill the registry may yet have a change of heart, providing the NDP Leader with a way out of his present dilemma.
On Monday, a long-awaited evaluation from the RCMP concluded that "regulating the use of firearms through the Canadian Firearms Program continues to be an appropriate approach to promoting the public safety and security of Canadians."
Joe Comartin, the NDP Justice critic, has done much to convince his caucus colleagues to support the registry.
The RCMP report, he said, shows that it's cost efficient and will reduce violent crime. "I have been making those arguments to them," Mr. Comartin said.
Charlie Angus, a New Democrat from Northern Ontario, has voted in favour of Ms. Hoeppner's bill - and he is no fan of the gun registry. He tells the story of an 84-year-old widow who wanted to register her dead husband's firearm and was told she would first have to get a licence, after taking a course in how to use it, even though she never planned to fire the weapon.
But "I have to say to my constituents, what's the best way to move forward here," said Mr. Angus, who is coy about how he will vote.
"I don't support Candice Hoeppner for a second," he said. He voted for her bill on a previous occasion, he said, because he wanted it to get before a Commons committee for debate. "I support what Jack Layton is doing and if we can find a way to move this forward, that's where I am going."