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Niki Ashton, the NDP MP for Churchill, stands to vote in favour of scrapping the gun registry in the House of Commons on Sept. 22, 2010. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
Niki Ashton, the NDP MP for Churchill, stands to vote in favour of scrapping the gun registry in the House of Commons on Sept. 22, 2010. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

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'Daddy's little girl' takes worst gun-registry shrapnel Add to ...

1. Nastiest heckle. Much was said and many insults were thrown around in the 16-month debate over the future of the long-gun registry. But Public Safety Minister Vic Toews's remarks in Question Period - just hours before the vote - have drawn the most controversy, especially from a trio of Liberal women who have witnessed such "bully-boy" tactics before.

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On Wednesday, Mr. Toews was asked in a set-up question by Nova Scotia Tory MP Scott Armstrong to update the House on "why it is important that all members of Parliament, including the member of Churchill, vote with their constituents on this issue."

Responded Mr. Toews: "The hardworking, law-abiding gun owners of Manitoba and Canada know that the long-gun registry does not work.

And then came the zinger: "I would call upon the member for Churchill to stand in this House and represent her constituents in rural Manitoba, like her father does in the Manitoba legislature, where he has consistently spoken out against the long-gun registry and with the NDP in that province who do not support the long-gun registry and not to vote with her downtown Toronto leader."

The member from Churchill happens to be New Democrat Niki Ashton, who is the youngest woman in the Commons; she celebrated her 28th birthday this month. Her father, Steve Ashton, is a long-time MLA and cabinet minister; the Manitoba legislature has rejected the long-gun registry.

Mr. Toews's answer - clearly prepared in advance - was seen as patronizing. "The gall of him telling 'Daddy's little girl' what to do is beyond reproach," Winnipeg Liberal MP Anita Neville said after the registry vote, which Mr. Toews and his Tories lost.

Ms. Ashton was one of 12 New Democrats to have initially supported the private member's bill to scrap the registry. But it wasn't clear Wednesday if she had changed her mind along with six of her caucus colleagues. In the end she voted with the government and against her so-called "downtown Toronto leader."

The NDP are saying little about this; one senior communications official said the Toews quip was patronizing and that the NDP were upset with the remarks. The Liberal women, however, are not keeping quiet.

Ms. Neville characterized the Public Safety Minister's response as "disrespectful to the women of this country." She noted this sort of comment is not new to Mr. Toews.

In fact, her colleagues Maria Minna, a Toronto Liberal MP, and Vancouver's Liberal Hedy Fry recalled an exchange a couple of years ago between Mr. Toews and Ms. Minna over pay equity.

Mr. Toews, then the Treasury Board president, heckled Ms. Minna during the debate, suggesting to her seatmate, Ms. Fry, who is a medical doctor, that she "prescribe her a pill," Ms. Minna and Ms. Fry recalled in an interview Wednesday.

The insinuation was that Ms. Minna was becoming too emotional and needed prescription drugs to calm down. "Take a valium," is how Ms. Neville interpreted his remarks.

They argue that a man would not have said this to another man. The women said that when Ms. Minna stood to complain about his demeaning remark, Mr. Toews denied making it.

2. Quickest spin. Within minutes of the Conservatives losing the vote on the long-gun registry, Tory strategists and MPs were busy spinning.

First, Conservative strategists circulated a memo to supporters trying to put the loss in perspective - blaming the opposition "coalition" and their "Ottawa bosses" for keeping the long-gun registry:

"Today in the House of Commons the Coalition voted to keep the long-gun registry," the Tories said. "Twenty Coalition MPs originally supported the simple and straightforward bill to scrap the long-gun registry, but under pressure from their Ottawa bosses they turned their backs on their constituents and voted to keep the registry."

The memo echoes what Prime Minister Stephen Harper said to reporters after the vote: "This is the furthest we have come to dismantling the $2-billion wasteful and ineffective long-gun registry. We will continue to work to scrap it."

A cabinet minister, meanwhile, sent this note to The Globe immediately after the vote: "Lose the vote... Win more seats."

And then a senior Tory MP quickly followed with this email: "It's not every day that you lose but win, think we can get an election... I think not. They know they just handed us a rally cry back."

3. Mulroney moment. Prime Minister Stephen Harper usually exits from the back of the Commons chamber to avoid having to meet with reporters. But previous prime ministers - Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien, for example - always took the stairs, which are in the foyer where scrums take place, up to their office.

That staircase provided good visuals for reporters and the leaders knew that. Mr. Chrétien used to take the stairs two at a time to show how vital and fit he was, despite his age. And Mr. Mulroney would stop on the stairs most days after Question Period to talk to reporters.

On Wednesday, like his predecessors, Mr. Harper stopped on the stairs to make some quick remarks. "After 15 years, opposition to the long-gun registry is stronger in this country than it has ever been," he told reporters.

"With the vote tonight, its abolition is closer than it has ever been. The people of the regions of this country are never going to accept being treated like criminals and we will continue our efforts until this registry is finally abolished. Thanks."

Then he walked up the stairs with Manitoba MP Candice Hoeppner, whose private member's bill to kill the long-gun registry, had just been defeated - an image that graced the front page of The Globe and Mail.

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