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since June 19, 2001


Liberal spin can't hide registry failure

With no credibility left, statistics-peddling on public safety given a shot


Liberal spin can't hide registry failure: With no credibility left, statistics-peddling on public safety given a shot

Friday 13 December 2002

p. A16

The cost of the federal gun registry was like one, gigantic snake -- hard to slay (it took seven years), but at least it was a one-headed serpent. In the past week, the Liberals have unleashed the multi-headed hydra of public safety to stave off shutting down the gun registry.

It's hard to know which hissing, specious head to cut off first. Then there is always the risk that for each specious safety claim one cuts down, the Liberals will throw out three additional claims.

Of course, Auditor General Sheila Fraser called the registry the worst cost overrun ever seen by the Auditor Generals' department. She even pulled her auditors from the Department of Justice because the registry's books were so poorly kept even her professional number-crunchers and shenanigan-uncoverers couldn't make sense of them.

But of course, there is nothing more determined than a Liberal with a bad idea. A wounded rhino in heat, suffering an excruciating horn-ache, is easier to reason with.

So rather than admit their registry is what it so obviously is to everyone else -- a colossally expensive and entirely useless failure -- the Liberals' current spin is: Sure there are problems. But we are working to fix them.

Besides, despite the cost overruns, the registry has already been a great benefit to public safety.

First spin, first.

One would have to be suffering from delusions to believe the Liberals were capable of rescuing this monstrosity.

I don't mean because it is impossible to rescue the registry. (Though it is impossible.) I mean it would be the other side of Fairytale Land to believe the Liberals could do it. The Liberals devised the registry scheme in the first place, so fundamentally flawed by their ideological blindness, wishful thinking and smugness that its net cost ballooned from $2-million to $1 billion, in just seven years.

For instance, the original computer system was so inadequate that $277 million has been spent on upgrades to software and hardware -- a quarter of the cost overruns. Still, outside experts have determined the system is now obsolete and needs to be scrapped.

Moreover, when it became obvious to the Liberals that the costs were skyrocketing, they not only approved at least $200 million in spending without notifying Parliament: worse yet they seem to have happily poured this good money after the bad.

And now their spin doctors would have Canadians believe the Liberals can be trusted to correct this mess? I wouldn't even trust them to know, yet, that they have made a mess.

Now, as to the registry making Canadians safer, let's start with firearms murders. From 1991 through to the opening of the registry at the end of 1998, murders committed with guns declined from 271 a year to 151, a drop of 44 per cent. Since the registry opened, firearms murders have climbed up by 13 per cent, to 171.

Thankfully, Canada never has had many firearms murders (or any kind of murders for that matter.) So while a 13-per-cent increase in firearms murders sounds significant, it is not. An increase of only 20 murders in a year makes for a impressive difference in the percentages.

But does anyone doubt that if the murder rate had dropped after their registry opened that the Liberals would now be spending millions on television ads trumpeting their genius?

So as long as the government is claiming its registry is worth the cost overruns, it is worth pointing out the above stats on firearms murders, because the talking points issued last week from Justice Minister Martin Cauchon's office on "myths and facts" about the registry, somehow overlooked the murder numbers. Curious, hmm?

Allan Rock, who gave birth to the registry when he was Justice Minister in the mid-1990s (and is thus the minister most compromised by its train-wreck performance) last week asked Canadians to overlook the registry's cost because it has saved 300 lives a year through reducing the number of firearms murders, suicides and accidents.

But Philip Stenning, a University of Toronto criminologist who has followed Canadian gun control policy for years (and who is not hostile to regulating gun ownership), doubts the registry has saved any lives at all, or even prevented any gun crimes. He told reporters last week that Rock's 300-lives claim was "totally outrageous. It's completely unjustified. Insupportable."

It's true that the number of combined firearms deaths -- murders, suicides and accidents -- has declined from about 1,400 in 1991 to around 1,000 today.

But most of this decline happened before the registry opened. Firearms suicides fell from approximately 1,100 in 1991 to 800 in 1999. Accidental deaths went from 66 to 37, and murders from 271 to 151. Since then, murders have risen, while accidents and suicides have largely levelled off.

Whatever the cause of these positive trends, it is clearly NOT the Liberals' registry.

Watch, though. When these newest Liberal gun "facts" are discredited, their next desperate rationalization will be to claim the registry is too new to have had a chance to prove itself.

But that's no more credible than their bookkeeping or their statistics-peddling.

Lorne Gunter
Columnist, Edmonton Journal
Editorial Board Member, National Post

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Posted 2002 12 13