A re-elected Liberal government would spend more new money on a camping program for children than on new programs to combat gun crimes in Canada, according to the party’s election platform.
In the platform, released on Sunday, the Liberals say they would spend $525-million more over four years for a proposed learn-to-camp program and an extra $400-million over four years for initiatives aimed at reducing gun violence.
The distinction is bringing fresh charges from the Conservatives that the Liberals’ priorities are “backward," but gun-control advocates say the investment in a buyback program for military-style assault rifles shows “serious political will.”
The expanded learn-to-camp program, unveiled last week, would ensure that all children learn camping skills by Grade 8 and would also cover accommodation costs and up to $2,000 in travel expenses for low-income Canadians who want to camp. The total cost for the program was released on Sunday.
The new cash-for-gun program would allow for a $200-million buyback next year for all legally purchased assault rifles. Another $50-million a year would be available for municipalities to fight gang-related violence and to help municipalities meet the needs of at-risk communities.
The Liberal Party says the difference in spending skews the other way if you add up the current spending and the new spending on the two areas. According to the party, the total spending commitment on guns and gangs is $823-million and the total spending commitment for learn-to-camp is $547.4-million.
“We recognize that there’s always more to do and we will keep doing it," Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said when asked about the difference in cash for the new camping programs compared with new anti-gun initiatives.
“We are making choices that both protect the environment and make our communities safer. And again it’s a direct contrast with Conservatives who want to weaken gun control and will do nothing to protect our environment,” Mr. Trudeau said.
Conservative candidate Pierre Poilievre said the differences in planned spending shows the Liberals have the wrong priorities.
"It illustrates how ridiculous a leader he is,” Mr. Poilievre told reporters at an Ottawa news conference, where he provided his party’s reaction to the Liberal platform.
In a statement, Toronto Mayor John Tory called the new spending directed at municipalities a “step forward” and he urged all parties to make similar commitments.
“I believe these investments, coupled with tougher gun and bail laws, support for our police and increased efforts to combat gun trafficking across the border, will help address the rise in gun violence we are seeing across Canada,” Mr. Tory said.
A growing chorus of mayors have raised concerns about gun violence in Canada’s major cities. Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart this month joined the call for municipalities to be granted the power to impose handgun bans after police raised concerns about gun crime in the city. In one 15-hour window this month, there were three shootings that sent four people to hospitals.
The Liberals say they would give municipalities this power, but it’s not clear how it would work with provinces that are opposed to the handgun ban.
Meanwhile, the number of gun homicides across Canada continues to climb: By the end of 2018, they hit 249 (up 60 per cent since 2014). Shootings in Toronto notched a record high of 428.
As of Sept. 22, in Canada’s most populous city, there were 325 shootings this year with 484 victims.
The specific funding for an assault rifles buyback program was applauded by Heidi Rathjen, who runs Poly Remembers, a gun-control advocacy group created in remembrance of the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal.
“This represents a substantial investment in public safety,” she said in an e-mail.
With reports from Patrick White and Ian Bailey