Shot in the foot by their gun registry: Auditor general
confirms Liberal boondoggle has cost us at least $1B
Wednesday 4 December 2002
As recently as last week, David Austin,
official spokesman for Ottawa's gun registry, was on CBC Radio denying that the registry
had cost anywhere near $1 billion. He laughed off suggestions of such a high price tag. By
implication, Austin was suggesting that the registry's critics were dishonest or foolish,
although he was careful not to say so directly.
Austin explained that critics, particularly Canadian Alliance MP Garry Breitkreuz, had
filed lots of access to information requests. But they must have misunderstood the numbers
the government had furnished in reply. They had double counted the figures (or maybe they
were stretching the truth). The registry had cost nowhere near $1 billion so far, and
would not come close to that sum anytime in the near future either, Austin reassured.
In the interests of consistency, I now expect Austin to imply that auditor general
Sheila Fraser, too, is foolish or dishonest. After all, her report on the registry,
delivered Tuesday to Parliament, said exactly what Breitkreuz has been saying for the past
seven years. Exactly. If Austin feels free to scoff and sneer at Breitkreuz -- indeed, he
has always seemed delighted to do so -- the least he can do is scoff and sneer at Fraser,
To the end of March this year, the registry had cost $688 million. By the end of the
current fiscal year, it will have consumed another $185 million, for a total of $873
million. Even if it manages to stay on budget (something it has never even come close to
doing in any given year), by the end of 2004, the registry will have devoured $1 billion.
Austin is not alone in his condescension, of course. Every minister of justice since
1995 has been equally mocking of Breitkreuz and any others who dared question the
sensibility or cost of the Liberal gun scheme. Allan Rock, Anne McLellan and now Martin
Cauchon have all dripped with disdain when accused of presiding over a billion-dollar
This prime minister, his three justice ministers, their officials, Liberal MPs and
members of the cabinet have all ridiculed, jeered, derided and scorned any accusations
that their mighty registry was useless and its costs out of control. Well, the opponents
have now been proven correct by the auditor general on the registry's costs. It is not too
much of a leap, is it, to think they might be correct, too, about its inability to lower
crime? After all, it turns out that the ones who have been dishonest or foolish all along
have been the Liberals.
Fraser said the registry was a glaring example of the Liberals' "inexcusable
failure" to account properly for the way they spend Canadians' taxes. But more than
that, she accused the Liberals of misleading and deceiving Parliament. It wasn't just the
"astronomical cost overruns, although those are serious. What's really inexcusable is
that Parliament was in the dark."
Progressive Conservative Leader Joe Clark insisted that Cauchon uncover who had
authorized "the deliberate withholding of information from Parliament," and fire
That's going to be a VERY long list.
In 1997, the government was
caught lying about
the crime rate to justify the need for the registry. Now it has been caught lying to
Parliament and Canadians about the cost of the registry, no doubt so as to maintain public
confidence in this bureaucratic disaster.
Who authorized the shady set of books? Who authorized the character assassinations on
those who dared raise concerns? Who authorized bringing in Statistics Canada to claim that
anyone who criticized the registry had their crime statistics wrong? Who authorized the
rubber-stamping of licences and registrations, just to make this scheme look like a
success, when the Canadian Firearms Centre proved itself incapable of doing proper
background checks within the time allotted?
As I said, the heads-will-roll list would have to be very long indeed -- if the
Liberals had any honest intention of correcting this debacle. But, of course, they will do
nothing to make up for their duplicity and incompetence.
In Cauchon's press release responding to Fraser's scathing condemnation of his
department, the justice minister pledged to accept "all recommendations resulting
from the auditor general's report." But then he went on to add that "projected
costs for this year (for the registry) are $113.5 million." That figure completely
ignores the extra $73 million he asked for and received just two months ago for cost
Old habits die very, very hard with this government. Even when pledging to be honest,
they are incapable of speaking the full truth.
What's more, Fraser added that she did not think the spending her office had uncovered
"fairly presents the cost of the (registry) to the government."
In other words, as staggering a sum as $1 billion is, even that is not the full cost of
the registry. More costs have been hidden in the budgets of other departments, and even
Fraser's staff cannot find them. But they know the extra costs are there.
If the Liberals had any shame at all, they would close their registry tomorrow. They
don't, of course.
Columnist, Edmonton Journal
Editorial Board Member, National Post