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since June 19, 2001


Shot in the foot by their gun registry

Auditor general confirms Liberal boondoggle has cost us at least $1B


Shot in the foot by their gun registry: Auditor general confirms Liberal boondoggle has cost us at least $1B

Wednesday 4 December 2002

p. A18

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, too.

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 boondoggle.

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 them.

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 overruns.

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.

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

Related Articles by Lorne Gunter:

Anti-gun rhetoric fails test of time
Costs, crime statistics belie Ottawa's arguments in favour of registry

The Edmonton Journal, Fri 15 Nov 2002 

Dead is dead, and safe is safe
Liberals' registry is targeting the least dangerous guns in the country
Edmonton Journal, Sunday 10 February 2002

Index to some of Lorne Gunter's articles

On global Warming

On other issues

More information on guns and gun-control issues

Debunking the myths driving the gun-control lobby

The surprising truth about privately owned guns: more guns, fewer crimes (Full Story 2002 11 28)

whiterose.gif (6796 bytes)The White Rose
Thoughts are Free

Posted 2002 10 28