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A rifle owner checks takes aim at a hunting camp near Ottawa on Sept. 15, 2010. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
A rifle owner checks takes aim at a hunting camp near Ottawa on Sept. 15, 2010. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

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Tories target NDP hopeful Niki Ashton's gun-registry flip flop Add to ...

A day after declaring her candidacy for the NDP leadership, Niki Ashton stands accused by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives of not keeping her word on scrapping the controversial long-gun registry.

And so Ms. Ashton, the ninth candidate to enter the race to succeed the late Jack Layton, has become the latest victim of a poison pen in Tory party headquarters.

Previous candidates – backroom strategist Brian Topp and Toronto MP Peggy Nash – have found themselves under attack, too. They were accused of being too close to organized labour, with the Tories arguing they’d be under the thumb of union bosses should they become leader.

But how to attack Ms. Ashton, who at 29 is the youngest candidate? She is not tied to the unions nor does she have much experience in the private sector. But as a second-term MP from a rural riding, she has a voting record on the gun registry.

“Ashton previously voted to scrap the wasteful and ineffective long-gun registry and strongly defended her vote as what her constituents wanted her to do,” Mr. Harper’s team notes in a memo circulated to the Tory faithful. “She did not keep her word. On November 1, she voted to save the wasteful and ineffective long-gun registry.”

They add: “How can hard-working Canadians seriously believe anything Ms. Ashton will propose during this leadership race when she cannot keep simple commitments?”

The memo reprises a series of quotations from Ms. Ashton in which she vows to abide by the wishes of her constituents on the issue. There is one in which she trashes the registry as a “billion dollar boondoggle” and says the feedback in her riding was clear, as was her determination to vote in favour of ending the registry.

Indeed, last year Ms. Ashton was one of only six NDP MPs who did not vote with the party to keep the registry. Regardless, the program survived by just a whisper at the time.

But now armed with a majority, the Tories brought back legislation to kill the registry as well destroy its records. It passed second reading last week and will go to committee for further study. Ms. Ashton voted with her party this time – two of her colleagues who did not were punished – and against the government, which provoked the Tory attack.

In a recent interview with The Globe, Ms. Ashton skirted around questions about how she would vote on the long-gun registry. “We’re sort of watching where this government is coming from,” she said, adding that she finds the “vigour” with which the Conservatives are pushing the legislation “shocking.”

Ms. Ashton, who is working hard against the government’s bid to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board (which will have devastating effects in her riding), is suspicious about the timing of the two bills.

“A lot of us in Western Canada are seeing how quickly this legislation has come up compared to the Wheat Board legislation,” she told The Globe. “And people have told me they also think so many Western Canadians are really opposed to what the government is doing on the wheat board. ... How much of the timing of the gun registry bill is linked to trying to placate people?”

The Churchill MP is also concerned with the government’s decision to destroy the gun-registry records. She calls the move a “scorched earth strategy” and is pleased to see resistance to it in Quebec – a region in which the young, bilingual Canadian hopes to sign up new members and win support for her leadership bid.

“Obviously, we know that the registry doesn’t work for some parts of our country and it’s important in others,” she said. “I am waiting and watching to see the debate. I think we all want effective legislation and right now the eagerness to burn the records is ... is not reflective of a desire to come up with legislation that works for all of Canada.”

Fly like an eagle

Like Jack Layton, Shredder is a fighter. And although the NDP leader did not win his fight, Shredder – a Hornby eaglet – is winning hers.

On Monday, she was released back into the wild at B.C.’s Little Qualicum River. The event was dedicated to Mr. Layton’s memory.

Rescued in August by the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society – she was dehydrated, starving and near death when she was found – the eagle was nursed back to health. Apparently, she has a feisty personality and was named Shredder for her habit of shredding her blankets.

“Quite a flight to freedom and to the boundless sky,” Mr. Layton’s widow, Toronto MP Olivia Chow, told The Globe in an email. “Shredder, the eagle, didn’t look back at all!”

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