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Liberals accuse Harper of U.S.-style tactics in long-gun registry battle

Liberal House Leader David McGuinty speaks with reporters about Conservative plans to kill the long-gun registry outside the House of Commons on on Sept 14, 2010.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Michael Ignatieff's Liberals accused Stephen Harper Tuesday of playing U.S. Republican-style wedge politics in the battle over the future of the long-gun registry.

With just a little over a week before the Commons vote on the registry, Liberal House leader David McGuinty held a press conference, charging that the Prime Minister is not interested in public safety. Rather, his aim is to divide the opposition in an effort to "pick off eight or 10 ridings."

"Mr. Harper is having a wedge politics debate ... it's the worst of right-wing Republican wedge politics," Mr. McGuinty asserted. "You pick an issue, you sensationalize the issue, you try to remain above the fray ... and you keep everyone else distracted with debates that are divisive."

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He said that Mr. Harper "excels" at this strategy as does his chief of staff Guy Giorno, who cut his political teeth at the "knees of Mr. Harris in Ontario." Mr. Girono served as chief of staff to the former premier.

The atmosphere on the Hill among the opposition and government over the long-gun registry's future is becoming highly charged. Next Wednesday's vote is too close to predict. Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is demanding the eight Liberal MPs who voted last November with the government to scrap the registry reverse their votes or face punishment. It is still not clear if all the eight Liberals will obey his edict.

NDP Leader Jack Layton, however, is not whipping his caucus. Rather, he is trying to persuade each of the 12 MPs - who initially supported Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner's private members' bill - to reverse their positions. So far he has four on side.

Meanwhile, Mr. McGuinty was also reacting to a CBC reports that the National Rifle Association has been trying for a decade to abolish the long-gun registry. The Opposition House Leader presented a list of previous ties between the Conservatives and the powerful American gun lobby.

For example, he noted that former Canadian Alliance MP Jim Pankiw appeared in an NRA video, arguing the registry turned law-abiding Canadians into "instant criminals."

He also said that former Harper cabinet minister Maxime Bernier's chief of staff was named as executive director of the Canadian branch of the Safari Club, gun lobby group with ties to the NRA.

Still, Mr. McGuinty's analysis left reporters wondering what point he was trying to make. He argued it is not appropriate for an American gun lobby to be involved in the upcoming gun debate.

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"We are a sovereign country," he said. "If the NRA wants to fight its good fight over its views on guns it should do so in the United States. We do not need an expansionist NRA on Canadian soil."

A senior Conservative official criticized the Liberal logic on the NRA and its connections to Canadian Conservatives, given that the Liberals heard from U.S. Democrat Howard Dean at their 2006 leadership convention.

"I can't get over the hypocrisy here," said the Conservative official. "American style politics? The Liberals actually bring up US politicians to speak at their national conventions!"

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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