Stephen Harper's Conservatives are fighting hard against charges of political interference from the opposition, circulating a memo in which they turn the tables on Michael Ignatieff's Liberals.
"In a shocking statement the Ignatieff Liberals called for the government to actively meddle in the internal management of the RCMP," Tory strategists told their MPs and supporters late Wednesday.
The Conservatives are in damage-control mode. The memo is an attempt to counter negative reports revealing that RCMP Chief Superintendent Marty Cheliak, a strong proponent of the long-gun registry, was removed from his post as head of the Canadian Firearms Program and sent to French-language training on the eve of a crucial vote on the registry's future.
The Harper government wants the registry scrapped. MPs will vote Sept. 22 on a motion that will decide its future.
Demands by Liberal public safety critic Mark Holland that Chief Supt. Cheliak be reinstated "immediately" provoked the Conservative charges of meddling. "We totally disagree [with Mr. Holland]" the memo says. "This is not a political matter. The RCMP makes its own personnel decisions, free from political interference."
The memo notes the Conservative Party's belief that the long-gun registry is wasteful and ineffective, and should therefore be abolished. Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed these sentiments Wednesday while touring in Nova Scotia. He also denied any political interference in the superintendent's move.
Mr. Harper was asked about the issue again Thursday while visiting Miramichi, N.B., home to the gun registry's central processing centre. "We don't think it's effective to register millions of long-guns, used by duck hunters ... and farmers," he said. "We believe in controlling guns that are held by criminals and that's exactly what we're doing."
The Prime Minister had announced a job-creation project for the area and he tried to mitigate concerns in the community about job losses if the registry is scrapped. "That centre does more than look after the registry. ... Gun control will continue."
Reports of Supt. Cheliak's reassignment came just hours after veterans' ombudsman Pat Stogran conducted a scathing press conference, attacking the government's policies concerning veterans. The retired colonel's term as ombudsman is not being renewed. The confluence of events led to opposition criticism that a disturbing pattern of silencing dissent is developing within the Conservative government.
Liberals, meanwhile, are dismissing the Conservative attack, charging the government sat on an RCMP report that showed the effectiveness of the gun registry. Indeed, last May it was revealed that Peter Van Loan, who was public safety minister at the time, tabled the report two days after an important vote on a private members' bill calling for the registry to be scrapped. The bill passed into second reading with help from Liberal and NDP MPs.
"This is the pot calling the kettle black," a senior Ignatieff official scoffed.