A billion dollar mess
The Liberals cooked the books, ignored the advice of legal experts and hid the true cost of the much criticized gun registry program from parliament, says Auditor General Sheila Fraser.
The first warning of the cost overruns was noted in her December 2002 report, where Canada’s Auditor General attacked the federal government for exceeding its estimated budget on the gun-registry program.
When the fog lifted and all gun owners had registered their weapons, the program would have cost taxpayers more than $1 billion. The opposition, like vultures attacking a failed policy carcass, pointed out that figure is 500 times more than the initial $2 million cost projection.
May 16, Fraser’s follow-up audit reported that the defeated Liberals had twice misinformed parliament about overspending.
Fraser also noted that the computerized gun registry system was three years overdue and has cost three times more than the estimated $90 million.
By circumventing parliament, the former Liberal government deterred parliament’s mandate to control public expenditures. Fraser revealed that the cost-hiding saved Liberals the humiliation of asking parliament for more funding for its costly and mishandled program. Treasury Board President John Baird described Fraser’s findings as “deplorable,” “a cover-up,” and a “complete violation of Canadians’ sense of right and wrong.”
He described the audit as “a painful conclusion to [the Liberals’] 13 years in power.”
NDP Leader Jack Layton described Fraser’s audit as “truly a sordid and shocking tale.”
Stockwell Day, the Public Safety Minister, announced that the government will introduce legislation to eliminate the long gun registry. The four-step critical path includes cutting the annual operating budget for the program by $10 million; an amnesty for individuals who have not registered their non-restricted firearms; the RCMP assuming responsibility for the registry; the government providing refunds for those who have registered their long-guns and eliminating registration payment for long-gun owners.
Although Quebec and Ontario support the long-gun registry, Prime Minister Stephen Harper noted that his government will not change course. “The provinces have been divided on this issue from the beginning, but this is a clear federal jurisdiction,” he says.
Wendy Cukier, president of the Coalition for Gun control, argued that the real problem is that gun control has become a hot-button political issue. “It is not about safety. It is not even about money. It is just payback to the gun lobby.”
The gun registry has its defenders. Police note that the databank is consulted 5,000 times a day. Former Justice Minister Irwin Cotler defended the long-gun registry, introduced by the Liberals in 1995 after the murder of 14 female students at l’École Polytechnique in Montreal. He noted that public safety groups and police forces endorse the gun registry program. However, Fraser argued there is no way of measuring whether the program is delivering what it promised and that there is little verification, and almost no follow up.