For it before he was against it

An odd footnote to the gun registry debate that was pointed out to me last night: though he voted against it on third and final reading, when the Firearms Act was offered for second reading in the House 14 years ago, a young and idealistic Reform MP by the name of Stephen Harper voted in favour.

The Canadian Press dispatch on that vote is below, the relevant portion in bold.

Canadian Press Newswire
Wed Apr 5 1995, 8:05pm ET
Section: National General News
Byline: By Jim Bronskill
Dateline: OTTAWA

OTTAWA (CP) – Three Liberal MPs broke party ranks and voted against federal gun-control legislation Wednesday.

Several others didn’t show up or abstained from voting, but the controversial bill easily passed second reading – approval in principle – and headed to committee for study.

Ontario Liberals Rex Crawford, Benoit Serre and Paul Steckle voted against the proposed legislation.

The cracks in party unity were evidence of pressure on rural Liberal MPs from constituents who oppose the bill’s tough registration provisions.

Under the legislation, a gun owner who does not register his firearm could be charged with a criminal offence and face up to 10 years in prison.

Many farmers and hunters say the bill takes aim at law-abiding citizens instead of criminals.

Bob Speller, chairman of the Liberal rural caucus, had advised members troubled by the bill to skip the vote.

But three put their opposition on the record along with Reform MPs, a handful of New Democrats and Tory Elsie Wayne.

Two other Liberals – Rose-Marie Ur of Ontario and David Iftody of Manitoba – formally abstained from voting.

“I’m not going to hide behind a curtain, or my office walls,” Ur said before the vote.

The tally was 173 in favor, 53 against.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien said he was disappointed three MPs broke ranks, but looked on the bright side.

“I’m very happy there was great support for this bill,” he said during a visit to Dallas.

In a surprise move, Calgary Reform MP Stephen Harper voted for the bill – the lone member of his party to do so – because a clear majority of his constituents favor gun control.

“I felt I was obliged to support their position.”

Harper said he had discussed his vote with party leader Preston Manning, who urged him to support his constituents’ wishes.

Bloc Quebecois MPs voted in favor, but want the gun registry – to be phased in over several years – sooner.

Most Liberal MPs support the gun-control package, which also includes stiffer penalties for criminal use of firearms and measures to combat weapon smuggling.

A number of Liberals with concerns agreed to vote in favor now in hopes of getting changes before it becomes law.

Manning accused the Liberals of ramming the bill through the House by limiting second-reading debate. He said the government is rushing the process because it knows support is weakening.

Justice Minister Allan Rock said it was time to move on.

“We have a number of other issues we have to deal with, not only in Justice, but on the government agenda generally.”

Liberal Joe Fontana of London, Ont., said opposition within government ranks has waned since Rock recently promised to consider a change so gun owners who don’t register weapons aren’t treated as criminals on a first-time offence.