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NDP Leader Jack Layton is welcomed by his caucus on Parliament Hill on Sept. 23, 2010. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
NDP Leader Jack Layton is welcomed by his caucus on Parliament Hill on Sept. 23, 2010. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Fallout

NDP draws a bead on wedge politics after gun-registry vote Add to ...

NDP Leader Jack took some time Thursday to savour the narrow defeat of a bill to end the long-gun registry - one that could have caused him political difficulties had it gone the other way - and to declare his party to be the bridge between the rural and urban divide.

At a gathering of New Democrat caucus members and staff, Mr. Layton accused both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff of playing one part of Canada against another on the gun issue.

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Mr. Harper "is fuelling offensive stereotypes about rural Canadians," he said. "He's got people believing, because he puts it this way all of the time, that the only thing people in rural Canada care about is their rifle and whether or not they have to register it."

Mr. Layton said the rural Canadians he has talked to care more about job losses in the forestry sector, retirement security, elder care, drug prices, the costs of post-secondary education, childcare and high home heating costs.

"And I have to say a word about Mr. Ignatieff who, unfortunately, is playing the same kind of … dangerous game of pitting Canadians against one another, driving wedges," Mr. Layton continued, accusing the Liberal Leader of practicing the "American" politics of division.

"The truth is you can't become a leader in this country by writing off rural, northern, western or aboriginal communities and the diversity that this country represents," Mr. Layton said.

A Liberal motion to kill a Conservative bill to end the long-gun registry passed by the slim margin of 153 to 151 in the House of Commons on Wednesday. The defeat of the bill was made possible because six of the 12 members of Mr. Layton's caucus who previously voted to end the registry changed their position in the weeks before the vote.

Unlike the Liberals who hold mostly urban seats, or the Conservatives who have been largely shut out of Canada's largest cities, the NDP caucus split is between urban and rural seats. Mr. Layton allowed his members vote their conscience but he did not want the death of the gun registry pinned on the NDP.

Now, he said, he will focus on bringing in legislation to resolve the differences of opinion expressed about the registry in the various parts of the country. "We're launching legislation to fix the gun registry so that it can work for everyone."

Canadians want to know that "police officers are protected when they are on the job with all of the tools that they need because they are ready to stand in the firing line for us and we've got to make sure that we are responding," he said "But we also want to address the real complaints and problems that have existed with this registry for too long."

On the other hand, Mr. Layton would be the first to admit that the Conservatives hold de facto control of the Senate right now and, as of November, will hold an outright majority of seats in the Red Chamber. That means any opposition efforts to change the registry would require the support of the government and Mr. Harper has shown no interest in such reform; he wants the registry gone.

Dennis Bevington, the NDP MP who represents the Northwest Territories seat of the Western Arctic, was one of the members of Mr. Layton's caucus who opposes the registry and who did not change his vote to support the Liberal motion. In an opinion piece he penned recently to explain his decision, he lambasted the Liberals for the "ham-fisted" way in which they brought in the registry 15 years ago.

Because provinces and territories are allowed to opt out, "we now have a situation where a criminal law is unevenly applied as the western provinces will not prosecute those who do not register their long guns," Mr. Bevington wrote.

"The RCMP report admits that the law is not enforced on reserves or aboriginal communities in the provinces. These are an untenable situations as they breeds disrespect for the law and do nothing to promote peace, order and good government."

Mr. Bevington said he is looking forward to the legislation that will be introduced by his party but, in the aftermath of the vote, it is time to take a step back and let cool heads prevail.

"I think," he said, "in a lot of cases, the debate being as emotion as it is, has made it difficult for anybody, as a legislator, to come to a rational landing on it."

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