The dark outline of a semi-automatic weapon used in two murderous shooting sprees will feature in new NDP billboards attacking the Harper government's move to scrap the long-gun registry.
More than three years from an election, the new billboards will attack Tory policies, but also borrow from their playbook – launching political ads between campaigns in the hope they will have a corrosive effect on opponents later on. It suggests permanent ad campaigning, outside the run-up to voting, is now part of Canadian politics, even during majority governments.
The NDP message will be reinforced with the barrel of a gun. The image of a Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic, a "non-restricted" weapon which won't have to be registered when the long-gun registry is scrapped, sits above the tag-line "No More Safeguards. Is that why you voted Conservative?"
The choice of weapon is intended to provoke: the Mini-14 was used both by Marc Lépine in Montreal's 1989 Polytechnique massacre and by Norwegian Anders Breivik in the July rampage that killed 77.
The NDP's decision to mount the ad campaign now, backed by a new website, appears to solidify the permanent campaign of Canadian politics, with ad buys far outside election periods. Mr. Harper's Conservatives made that a feature of five years of minority government with ad campaigns aimed at undermining Liberal leaders Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff.
The three cities chosen for the billboards are notable because they are all areas where the NDP made new inroads in the 2011 election. One of the key target audiences is Conservative ridings in Toronto, but it is intended to reach a broader spectrum – and two of the target cities are in Quebec, where the NDP have new-found strength, and where support for the registry is high.
On Parliament Hill, the vote on scrapping the gun registry appears decided in advance. The Conservative majority is set to pass a bill, already before the Commons, that will not only eliminate the requirement to register "non-restricted" long guns but also destroy past registry records.
But the campaign is, according to NDP strategists, intended to mark a moment and make it stick in voters' minds – with a message.
The NDP will use the campaign to argue that Mr. Harper is using his majority government to go too far, farther than he let on, by destroying past records from the gun registry despite complaints from provincial governments, such as Quebec's, and changing requirements so a gun seller won't verify whether a buyer of a non-restricted gun has a valid license.
"I don't think that's what [people]bargained for. Because they have a majority the Conservatives think that they can go ahead and do whatever they want," said NDP national director Chantal Vallerand. Hopefully, it will stick with people years from now, she said.
The Conservatives have targeted the long-gun registry since taking power in 2006 – and now have the majority in Parliament to scrap it. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has insisted it is costly and intrusive, and said the records from past registrations will be destroyed to make it harder to revive the registry in the future.
The registry has long served as a wedge issue that has divided Canadian voters, and it has also divided New Democrat MPs. Some of the party's rural MPs voted in the past to scrap it. The NDP has sought to argue there's a compromise by easing enforcement, for example by making registration free and decriminalizing first offences.