Before We Begin
This is a lengthy and detailed evaluation of the firearm policy statements made by each candidate in the Conservative Party’s leadership race.
To cast your ballot for leader you must be a member in good standing and the deadline for purchasing your CPC membership is May 15th, 2020 – just four days away as of today, Monday, May 11, 2020.
Both the horrific Nova Scotia murders and Trudeau’s massive gun ban [supposedly] in response to them mean guns are on everyone’s mind.
The people who know very little about guns hate them and believe most gun owners are little more than murderers-in-waiting.
Those who know a lot about guns know we are, statistically, far less likely than both the average civilian or police officer to commit a violent crime.
The current gun debate proves neither facts nor knowledge (or lack thereof) about firearms and Canada’s stringent firearm control system over them concern the majority of Canadians.
This overview highlights the severe challenges faced by the Conservative Party in the next federal election – an electorate who, for the most part, is terrified of guns and gun owners.
(Our own behaviour on social media does nothing to change their minds either, but that’s an entirely different issue – one I will address in a future column.)
It’s against this backdrop that Conservative Party members will elect the person who leads them into the next election.
The eventual leader’s policy on firearms could well be the difference between a Conservative government or another four years under a Trudeau Liberal majority.
CPC Leadership Candidates
Three men and one woman remain in the contest:
- Leslyn Lewis – a Toronto lawyer and first-generation immigrant. She does not currently hold a seat in Parliament.
- Derek Sloan – current Member of Parliament for Hastings—Lennox and Addington.
- Erin O’Toole – Former cabinet Minister in the Harper government and Member of Parliament for Durham.
- Peter MacKay – Also a former Cabinet Minister in the Harper government. MacKay also does not hold a seat in Parliament.
Vote in the CPC Leadership Contest
If you want to vote in the Conservative Party’s leadership contest, whenever that vote actually takes place, you must be a member in good standing as of May 15th, 2020.
Yes, eligibility to vote is being cut off even though we have no idea when the final vote will be held. See my notes at the end of this document for more on that point.
The deadline for purchasing a membership is May 15th – four days from today (at time of publication).
- Both Leslyn Lewis and Derek Sloan call for a full review of Canada’s existing firearm control legislation.
(Erin O’Toole promises to “update Canada’s firearms legislation.”)
- Only Peter MacKay published a detailed firearms policy online.
(Erin O’Toole’s campaign provided me a detailed policy document via email.)
- Derek Sloan’s firearm policy is the most likely to offend urban voters – the very electorate the Conservative Party must win over if they want to form government.
- Only Erin O’Toole addresses suicides and firearms.
Dr. Leslyn Lewis
Full Disclosure: I support Leslyn Lewis as my first choice on the ballot and have since she announced her candidacy. Here’s why.
The Conservative Party lost its connection to the people who created the Party – ordinary Canadians – some time ago. Lewis wants to change that.
“I entered the race because I believed that our Party needed a leader who would focus on listening to our grassroots members and who would lead with courage, compassion and common sense.”
The firearms policy statement on Leslyn Lewis’ website is clear and concise.
“I am proposing a fulsome review of current firearms laws to ensure that we are focusing our efforts on keeping guns out of the hands of gangs and other criminals, instead of wasting resources going after law-abiding Canadians. A safer Canada is one where we use Common sense to make our laws. That’s the kind of firearms approach you can expect from me.”
She expanded on this theme in a series of emails and posts on social media, some of which are reproduced below.
Email from Leslyn Lewis: March 21, 2020 (view full PDF)
Firearms laws need to be easy for everyone to understand. As a lawyer, I found the Firearms Act to be poorly drafted and confusing for even experts to follow.
I’ve been listening to Party members who care deeply about this issue. Their message is clear: it’s time for a complete review of Canada’s firearms laws to make sure that they are actually doing what they’re supposed to do.
Laws should keep Canadians safe, and get criminals off the street. As a country, we need to improve public safety by holding those who commit crimes to account.
When it comes to firearms, government action should focus on making sure guns are kept out of the hands of criminals, while respecting law-abiding Canadians.
We need to bring a common sense approach back to improving public safety by ensuring that law abiding firearms owners understand their obligations and are treated with respect, while targeting actual criminals who don’t care about the law or your safety.
Facebook: Guns and Common Sense: May 1, 2020 (View on Facebook)
The Liberals are using the recent tragedy in Nova Scotia to ram through new gun regulations.
I believe in cracking down hard on smuggled firearms.
I believe in empowering police forces to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
I will do everything in my power to keep our communities safe. But this new Liberal ban does not do that. It should be repealed.
Email from Leslyn Lewis: May 4, 2020 (View PDF)
Over 4500 small and medium-size businesses sell firearms, and employ over 40,000 people across the country. These businesses will now be stuck with large amounts of inventory that is suddenly illegal for them to sell or export. That includes ammunition that was used at completely legal gun ranges.
Businesses that cannot absorb these losses will need to cut jobs or shut down completely.
Remember when Justin Trudeau said he would stand up for jobs?
That was his talking point when it came to why he was trying to interfere with the prosecution of SNC Lavalin. The same concern doesn’t seem to be there it comes to oil and gas jobs, and now anyone who makes a living selling firearms.
I have promised to review all of Canada’s gun laws, to make sure they’re actually helping protect the public from criminal activity. These bans will be repealed, and we will adopt a common sense approach to all other gun laws.
I believe in cracking down hard on smuggled firearms.
I believe in empowering police forces to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
I promise to bring common sense back to Canada’s approach to firearms and review our firearms legislation to make it clear, practical and purposeful instead of adding more legislation to our already confusing laws.
Leslyn Lewis successfully applied the time-honoured maxim “seek first to understand, then to be understood” before writing her firearms policy. She spent a considerable amount of time learning about, and asking for feedback from, members of Canada’s law-abiding firearms community.
As a result, Lewis is saying all the right things on the firearms file.
Her legal background allows her to view the legislation through three critical viewpoints:
- as a member of the legal profession committed to protecting public safety through the criminal justice system;
- as a lawyer attempting to make sense of the legal quagmire that is the Firearms Act and its Criminal Code amendments;
- as a politician who desires to understand why gun owners view Canada’s firearm control system the way we do – as an adversarial system determined to pounce on us while ignoring repeat, violent offenders.
She is listening to the concerns of grass-roots members at a time when many of us feel the Conservative Party itself believes the Party belongs to them – and we’re the ATM they go to whenever they want more money.
What I appreciate most about Dr. Lewis is she is genuine.
Is she as slick and as polished as other candidates? No.
Is she learning more with each passing day? Yes.
Will she remain true to conservative principles at a time when other candidates toss theirs aside at the slightest hint it will help them win? Yes, I believe she will.
Dr. Leslyn Lewis is my first choice for leader of the Conservative Party.
What it means to be Canadian
While it has little to do with firearms policy, Leslyn Lewis’ April 11th email about what it means to be a Canadian is well worth reading. It highlights what Canadian values meant to her family and why they moved to Canada in the first place. (view PDF)
I reached out to his campaign to find out what Derek Sloan would do about Order in Council 2020-96. My assumption, based on the statement reproduced below, is Sloan would repeal it. If I hear back from his campaign I will update this section accordingly.
Mr. Sloan “supports the repeal of firearms legislation that has not provided any evidence of benefit to public safety, including former bills C-71 (2019), C-42 (2015), C-68 (1995), C-17 (1991), and C-51 (1977).”
“Derek will entrench property rights in Canadian law and conduct a complete review of the Firearms Act and related regulations to ensure the right of firearms owners to their private property.”
Derek Sloan’s full position on firearms is located here: https://www.dereksloan.ca/policies
Derek Sloan uses language guaranteed to appeal hard-core gun owners.
That same language repels urban voters who the Conservative Party must reach and convert if they hope to form government in the next election.
This will not happen, in my opinion, if Derek Sloan wins the leadership contest. The Liberals would shred him in urban Canada for desiring to, as they would undoubtedly frame it, “take us back to the wild west by repealing all gun laws in Canada.”
To Erin O’Toole’s credit, within an hour of Justin Trudeau’s gun ban announcement, he immediately said he would repeal the new Order in Council via Twitter.
As PM, I’ll scrap the politically-motivated ban announced by Trudeau today and will focus on working with border and law enforcement on stopping illegal gun smugglers.
I will also stop the Liberal soft on crime approach for partner violence and criminal use of weapons.
— Erin O’Toole (@ErinOTooleMP) May 1, 2020
O’Toole’s full statement is available on Spencer Fernando’s website.
On Erin O’Toole’s website, he says he will stand with law-abiding firearm owners.
“When I’m prime minister, I’ll put an end to Trudeau’s attacks on law-abiding gun owners. I’ll take aim at the real target – gangs with smuggled guns – and leave legal gun owners alone.”
I reached out to a contact in the O’Toole campaign who provided me a copy of O’Toole’s full policy statement on firearms, the highlights of which are reproduced below. (view PDF)
An O’Toole-led opposition will:
- Oppose efforts to reverse the former Conservative government’s policy advances on firearms, including the Trudeau government’s new proposals to confiscate legal firearms.
- Oppose regulations that do not advance public safety and instead penalize law abiding firearms owners. This includes the arbitrary reclassification of firearms and magazines.
An O’Toole government will update Canada’s firearms legislation to ensure that it is evidence-based and focuses on keeping Canadians safe, not demonizing those Canadians the Liberals do not like. The proposed legislative changes will:
- Reverse the Trudeau government’s unscientific and undemocratic gun confiscation plan.
- Conduct a review of the Firearms Act with participation of law enforcement and firearms owners.
- Update legislation by introducing a simplified classification system and codifying it in law, so that it is clear what types of firearms fit into each category and classification decisions can therefore be made quickly, and with the public and firearms owners having confidence that they are not arbitrary.
- Focus the resources of the federal government on criminals engaged in the trafficking and use of illegal firearms instead of imposing more layers of bureaucracy on law-abiding Canadians.
Erin O’Toole’s firearm policy also addresses suicide specifically in the context of firearms. As I noted at the outset, he is the only candidate who does.
While the number of people who choose to end their lives with a gun is small compared to Canada’s overall annual suicide rate (about 10% of all suicides are by firearm), we desperately need a better way of helping those who struggle with mental health issues because 77% of all firearm-related deaths are suicides. [Statistics Canada]
To help fix this, Erin O’Toole would, when elected Prime Minister of Canada,
Develop a suicide prevention strategy that encourages people – including legal firearms owners – to seek help when they need it. The current system actually discourages firearms owners from seeking help, due to the fear that the police will show up at their door, and the Trudeau government is making this worse, putting lives at risk.
O’Toole’s challenge will be to create a prevention strategy that can successfully balance a competing set of rights and responsibilities.
There is a lot to like about Erin O’Toole’s firearm policy. He said he would repeal Bill Blair’s OIC immediately, and his willingness to tackle the suicide issue alone puts him ahead of other candidates for second place on my ballot.
I have other concerns with Erin O’Toole’s campaign (unrelated to firearms) that may drop him off my ballot completely. While I was promised those concerns would be addressed by a member of his campaign team, his self-imposed deadline to do so has come and gone. Perhaps he will read this column and make good on his promise.
After Justin Trudeau announced his gun ban by Order in Council, Peter MacKay went on Facebook to express his outrage at Trudeau’s actions. This mewling sentiment, delivered at the very end of his 90-second video, falls far short of what gun owners wanted to hear.
“As Prime Minister, I can guarantee all Canadians that I will never take advantage of a tragedy like this to push a political agenda.”
Contrast MacKay’s words with Erin O’Toole’s:
“As PM, I’ll scrap the politically-motivated ban announced by Trudeau today and will focus on working with border and law enforcement on stopping illegal gun smugglers.”
Only one of these is a definitive statement, and MacKay lost a lot of ground to his primary rival because of it.
The rest of his firearms policy doesn’t fare much better.
“I will undo the changes made by Order in Council and repeal Bill C-71.”
Since Bill C-71’s provisions haven’t come into force yet, gun owners don’t feel any pain because of them. Promising to take away pain nobody feels is not a winning strategy.
Canada has a licensing system that includes an intensive screening process, rigorous training, and daily background checks. Canadian firearms owners are diligent about following the rules because safety is hardwired into the culture of lawful firearms ownership in this country.
Canadian gun owners are well aware of this fact. If this is meant to appease gun owners, MacKay completely misses the mark.
The rest of his published platform is well-meaning platitudes, as outlined below.
Here are the measures a Peter MacKay Conservative government would take to tackle serious violent crime and make our streets safer:
Immediately introduce measures to crack down on illegal firearms.
Provide for mandatory minimum penalties for possession and end the revolving door for repeat offenders.
Take the $600 million the Trudeau government proposes to spend on a wasteful gun buyback program and invest that money with frontline policing and Canada Border Services to go after the illegal guns that pose a real threat to Canadians.
Take decisive action to combat organized crime, which operates in cities, and more recently rural communities across Canada.
Toughen measures to deter and catch smuggling by seizing vehicles at the border where illegal guns are found.
Read Peter MacKay’s firearm policy statement here: https://www.petermackay.ca/canadian_firearms_laws
NOTE: I’m told the pablum currently posted on his website is only half of his firearms policy. The obvious question is where is the rest of it, and why wasn’t it posted?
Peter MacKay’s firearm policy is okay, as far as it goes, but it reads like MacKay and his team are afraid to stake out a clear position. I expected a much stronger firearms policy – and a far more definitive statement about Trudeau’s gun ban – than what I’ve seen from the MacKay campaign to date.
This is deeply puzzling, given two members of his team, Bob Zimmer and Blaine Calkins, are seasoned veterans on this file.
I have a ton of respect for both Bob Zimmer and Blaine Calkins. They know the firearms issue extremely well, leaving me to believe Mr. MacKay must be ignoring sound advice from the two men he (presumably) brought on board to provide on gun policy.
If MacKay’s intention was to hand the gun owner voting block to his main rival, he’s pretty much nailed it.
MacKay is also on the wrong track with mandatory minimum sentences, and not because I don’t like them. For certain crimes I’m 100% in favour of them, but my opinion is not the one that matters.
Judges balk at mandatory sentencing requirements. Every time a mandatory minimum is challenged the Supreme Court of Canada strikes it down because minimums tie a judge’s hands. They do not allow for an appropriate lesser sentence in the small number of cases that invariably fall outside the intended scope of these harsher penalties.
Even if Peter MacKay addressed these issues to my satisfaction, I would not view MacKay as an acceptable choice for leader of the Conservative Party of Canada because of this next item…
Peter MacKay and the Membership Cut-Off Date for Voting Eligibility
In a campaign email to supporters on March 23, 2020, Peter MacKay said:
“The cutoff to become a voting member of our Party should be moved to be sooner, not later, and a vote should occur as soon as logistically possible.”
This is the precise moment Mr. MacKay lost my support – and a place on my ballot.
I cannot and will not support a candidate who publicly opposes the grass-roots members of the Conservative Party while running to lead it.
Why is Mr. MacKay adamantly opposed to a robust leadership contest that engages the Party’s entire membership is engaged and every member casts a ballot?
Asked from a different direction, why is MacKay so afraid other leadership candidates might sell more memberships?
From the moment this contest began, both Peter MacKay and the Conservative Party’s backroom operatives worked hard to ensure the leadership race delivered their predetermined outcome – an issue I wrote about early in the campaign in my piece titled “Has the Conservative Party Forgotten its Grass-Roots Foundations?”
CAVEAT: A fifth leadership contestant may or may not be re-instated. We won’t know the outcome of a court challenge on that point until May 15th, at the earliest, so I won’t examine his firearm policy at this time. If he is re-instated, I will update this column to reflect that information.