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Helena Guergis won't rebel <br/>against Tories on gun registry

The Globe and Mail

1. Does she fear the whip? Every vote counts in the battle over the long-gun registry. And as the Sept. 22 showdown approaches, it appears the controversial program will live or die by the narrowest of margins.

This has led to some delicious speculation as to how some MPs will vote. And one MP, in particular, Conservative outcast Helena Guergis, is the subject of much interest.

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Will she support Prime Minister Stephen Harper and her former colleagues? Or will she decide to be mischievous - and exact some revenge - by voting against the government?

Recall that Ms. Guergis was forced to resign her junior cabinet post and kicked out of Tory caucus over allegations of unethical behaviour linked to the business practices of her husband, former Edmonton Conservative MP, Rahim Jaffer.

Both were later cleared by the RCMP of any wrong-doing. Yet, Ms. Guergis is not back in caucus and the party does not want her to be their candidate in the next election in her Ontario riding of Simcoe-Grey. So, she doesn't owe the Conservatives anything.

This week, the Tories lost one vote when NDP MP Glenn Thibeault announced he would support his leader, Jack Layton, and vote to kill the private members' bill from Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner.

He was one of the 12 NDP MPs who voted last November on second reading in favour of the government member's bill. Eight Liberals also supported. Since then, however, Michael Ignatieff has ordered all of his MPs to vote against the bill or face punishment.

Mr. Layton is not whipping his caucus but is trying to persuade the rest of the dissidents to back his compromise position, which would keep the registry. NDP officials believe they need at least six of the original 12 MPs to vote against the government for the program to survive.

This is why Ms. Guergis's vote is so important. What will she do?

"Candice's bill is clear and straightforward and reflects my position: repeal the long-gun registry," she told the Globe and Mail in an email.

"The registry is not cracking down on crime like the Liberals promised it would. It unfairly targets hard-working farmers, hunters and even recreational shooters, not criminals. Hundreds of thousands of Canadians, including many in Simcoe-Grey, have never changed their opinion on this, and neither will I."

Chalk up one for the Conservatives.

2. Majority rules. Mississauga Liberal MP Paul Szabo has put together a provocative primer on the long-gun registry - exposing the truths, the untruths, the strategies and scenarios around the upcoming vote.

The veteran MP voted against the bill last November on second reading.

"The big lie is that this is a [private member's bill] which is subject to a free vote," he says. "It is in fact Conservative Party national policy, which should have been dealt with as a government bill."

To be clear, he notes, that the first vote on Sept. 22 is not on the Tory MP Candice Hoeppner's bill. Rather, it is on a Liberal motion recommending the bill be given no further consideration.

This came out of the Public Safety committee, which had been studying the bill. If the motion passes, the Hoeppner legislation dies and that's the end of the debate. If it doesn't, however, life gets even more interesting on Parliament Hill.

The arcane rules of the House of Commons would allow the Conservatives to stall and delay and keep the Hoeppner bill in the system - and in play - until next January. This scenario, Mr. Szabo believes, is the ideal one for the Harper Conservatives.

"The Conservatives have used the PMB route to more fully exploit the issue for politically strategic reasons," he says. "They get more mileage if it stays around so I think it is very plausible that they will continue to slow play it until the election plans are set."

Indeed, there is a view that the Conservatives benefit from the split between the Liberals and NDP on this issue. Showing the opposition divided is good politics for the Tories.

"Ideally, they would then like it to be defeated or at least die on the Order Paper for the call of an election," the Liberal MP says. "Then they can say that to scrap the gun registry, we will need a majority government."

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