The long gun registry has been officially dead for over two years, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper told a group in Sault Ste. Marie Friday that Conservatives must regularly beat back efforts from the federal bureaucracy aimed at bringing back the controversial policy.
The unpopularity of the registry in Northern Ontario was a major factor that contributed to Conservative gains in the region. While Mr. Harper's government passed a law in 2012 that terminated the program, the party clearly wants to keep the issue in the minds of northern Ontario voters in the run up to next year's federal vote.
"I don't want to feed paranoia but I as Prime Minister, I can tell you that I share frustrations of our caucus members when I see – and we've seen it repeatedly since we ended the long gun registry – of, I've no other word other word other than bureaucratic initiatives... that we think are effectively trying to put the long gun registry back in through the back door. This is not something we're going to tolerate."
Mr. Harper made the comments during an on-stage conversation with Angelo Lombardo, executive director of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters. The Prime Minister said the government will fund further efforts to conserve wetlands and support the hunting and fishing community, which he stressed is not made up exclusively of rural Canadians.
Sault Ste. Marie is represented by Conservative MP Bryan Hayes, who won the riding from the NDP in 2011. It had been represented by New Democrats or Liberals since 1988.
Meanwhile the Northern Ontario riding of Nipissing-Timiskaming was an even closer upset for the Conservatives during the last election. Conservative Jay Aspin defeated the Liberal incumbent by just 18 votes. Mr. Aspin was in attendance for Mr. Harper's event.
The Prime Minister took issue with recent media commentary suggesting his Northern Ontario visit with angling and hunting supporters was about shoring up rural votes.
"Somebody said 'Well, this hunting and angling stuff is just the Conservatives looking after their rural base.' That really is first of all, as you know, a dramatic misunderstanding of reality. This first of all isn't just about some hobbies. This is an important business across the country in much of rural Canada. But it's beyond rural Canada. The fact of the matter is there are literally millions of Canadians who live in urban Canada who participate actively in outdoor activities," he said. "These are activities that unite a wide range of Canadians from all parts of the country, urban and rural and from all backgrounds. So these are issues often ignored by the media but not by our government because they are important literally to millions of Canadians."