Michael Ignatieff plans to whip his caucus to vote against a controversial Conservative bill to abolish the long-gun registry. MPs who do not vote with him will be punished.
Usually, MPs are allowed to vote their conscience on private member's bills but this one is different - it has caused much consternation and embarrassment for the Liberals.
"Let me be perfectly clear: the Liberal Party opposes the Conservatives' effort to scrap the gun registry altogether and we will vote against the Hoeppner bill a third reading in the House of Commons," the Liberal Leader told the Canadian Police Association today at their annual general meeting in Ottawa.
Mr. Ignatieff was referring to the private member's bill by Manitoba Tory MP Candice Hoeppner to abolish the long-gun registry. It is not clear when exactly it will be coming back for third reading.
Last year, eight Liberals voted against Mr. Ignatieff and with government MPs to support Ms. Hoeppner's bill. The Liberal votes helped it pass through the Commons and on to committee.
It was highly embarrassing for the Liberals. Under Jean Chrétien, they had brought in the registry - spending much political capital in the process - as part of their support of gun control.
Mr. Ignatieff and some of his senior MPs had pleaded with their caucus not to support the Conservative MP's bill. But their entreaties fell on deaf ears.
After the November vote, Mr. Ignatieff told his caucus he may reconsider allowing MPs to vote their conscience on such issues as the Tories effectively used a private member's bill to divide the Liberal caucus.
Mr. Ignatieff has had trouble with discipline in his caucus. This year, some of his MPs voted against or abstained from a Liberal motion on the G8 maternal health initiative. The motion was defeated; it was more egg in the face for the Liberals.
In his speech today, meanwhile, Mr. Ignatieff laid out what a Liberal government would do about the long-gun registry. He said program is supported by police groups but "it would be wrong to ignore the frustration and legitimate concerns that we have heard about the gun registry, particularly from rural Canada."
Indeed, the Liberal Party is increasingly becoming an urban party; it is trying to come up with policies to attract rural voters.
Given that, Mr. Ignatieff, says a Liberal government would not scrap the registry but a first-time failure to register firearms would be treated as a "non-criminal, ticketing offence." Currently, it is a criminal offence. The Liberals would permanently eliminate fees for new licenses, renewals and upgrades and they would streamline the paperwork.