Stephen Harper's Conservatives are denying any ties to the National Rifle Association, a powerful American gun lobby, arguing instead that Michael Ignatieff's Liberals are trying to demonize rural Canadians by wanting to save the long-gun registry.
"We are saddened to see Michael Ignatieff trying to use American methods in our own political system," Pierre Poilievre, the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, said Tuesday afternoon. He suggested Mr. Ignatieff learned these tactics while living in the United States, employing the well-worn Tory tactic of reminding Canadians that Mr. Ignatieff lived outside the country for three decades.
Not only that, Mr. Poilievre accused the Liberals of "questioning" the patriotism of Canadians who are against the registry. He was responding to earlier attacks by Liberal House leader David McGuinty, who charged that the Conservatives were playing the "worst form" of Republican-style wedge politics.
Mr. McGuinty also accused the Tories of being too cozy with the U.S. firearms group after the CBC reported the NRA had given logistical and tactical support to pro-gun lobbies in Canada fighting to kill the registry.
It's been a tit-for-tat rhetorical battle as the future of the registry hangs in balance. The vote on its fate is scheduled for next Wednesday in the House of Commons, with the numbers so close it could result in a tie.
So the intensity has been building all week, with the Conservatives aggressively fighting the Liberal charges. In addition to sending out Mr. Poilievre, Tory strategists issued two memos to to the party faithful - one attacked the CBC for its report linking the NRA to the Harper Conservatives and the other attacked Mr. McGuinty.
"The CBC's claim is offensive and its motivation is obvious," the party memo says. "Blinded by ideology, the CBC refuses to report the truth: Candice Hoeppner's bill to repeal the long-gun registry responds to the homegrown frustration of Canadians who realize that the long-gun registry is wasteful, ineffective, does nothing to address real crime and penalizes law-abiding farmers, hunters and rural and Northern Canadians."
Ms. Hoeppner is the Conservative MP from Manitoba whose bill is at the centre of the controversy.
And under the headline "David McGuinty's Hysteria," the Tories say: "There is not one iota of evidence to suggest that there is any connection whatsoever between the Government, the Conservative Party and any US advocacy group."
The memo adds: "Frankly, it's a laughable conspiracy theory."
Northern Ontario NDP MP Charlie Angus, meanwhile, is calling on the Prime Minister to fire Conservative MP Garry Breitkreuz as chair of the public safety committee.
Ms. Hoeppner's bill was studied by the committee and Mr. Breitkreuz has for many years been the biggest proponent in the Tory caucus of killing the registry. Mr. Angus charged that, in an article Mr. Breitkreuz wrote for The Mark, he employs almost word-for-word some language used by the NRA.
He pointed to this passage in the Breitkreuz article: "They [the police]won't admit it, but it appears they don't want Canadians to own guns. To that end, they need a database that will help them locate and seize those firearms as soon as a licence or registration expires."
And he said it is similar to NRA talking points that he saw in the CBC report: "It [an NRA infomercial]cautioned gun owners the registry was a government plot to find out how many guns there were in order to seize them and leave citizens helpless to defend themselves."
"The man chosen by Stephen Harper to be head of the Public Safety committee is using the talking points of the National Rifle Association to undermine our police," Mr. Angus said. "I think Stephen Harper owes Canadians an explanation. I think he has to take action."
Mr. Angus is one of the four NDP MPs who recently announced he will vote to keep the registry after supporting its demise on second reading. He is incensed by the Tory tactics, including the radio and print ads they have run to pressure him into not changing his vote.