If you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself.
Top gun advocate turns on Tories, runs as Independent
by Claire Wählen
The head of Canada’s main gun lobby group — a group that the Harper government has carefully wooed for years — is breaking ranks and running as an Independent in the B.C. riding of Cariboo-Prince George.
And Sheldon Clare, president and CEO of the National Firearm Association and a former Reform Party activist, is hitting the Conservatives where it hurts most — attacking the government’s controversial anti-terrorism law C-51 as a “dangerous” power-grab by the security sector that threatens Canadians’ privacy rights.
“When you consider the problems that happen when you give intelligence agencies enforcement powers, I think that this is a really dangerous road to travel down,” Clare told iPolitics. “The information-sharing between so many government agencies is another real serious threat to the privacy of Canadians.”
Clare said he chose to fight back against C-51 without seeking a party nomination because he’s “sickened” by how the party system stifles dissent and prevents MPs from representing the views of constituents.
“The biggest problem in the party system is that the individual MPs really count for nothing,” he said. “You don’t have a say, you don’t really get to represent your constituents in Parliament. Anyone who knows me knows I can’t be ignored and I will never be a placeholder.”
The NFA’s views on C-51 are widely known. Back in June, it was among a collection of right-leaning lobby groups that issued a public letter warning that C-51 — with its sweeping new powers for security services and absence of robust civilian oversight — risks splitting the pro-Conservative vote to the benefit of the New Democrats and Liberals.
“We are gravely concerned that, while faithfully promising his government would not allow the re-creation of a database of information on gun owners, and that any future measures would have political oversight, the Harper government is planning to create databases on all Canadians with no oversight, using Bill C-51,” the letter reads.
The Harper Conservatives have made efforts recently to keep the gun lobby in their camp. When Bill C-42, the Common Sense Firearms Act, returned to the Commons, Clare made it apparent that the NFA wanted amendments — notably on carrying restrictions.
Clare warned that, if the NFA didn’t get what it wanted, its 75,000 members might not bother going to the polls — with dire consequences for the Tories in swing ridings.
“I remember another Canadian prime minister who acted against the interests of Canadian firearms owners,” Clare said at the time, referring to former Conservative PM Kim Campbell. “The situation that she faced in that subsequent election is where large numbers of otherwise supportive voters chose not to support that party and in many cases they just didn’t vote … If anyone thinks the firearms issue was not part of her defeat, they are very, very mistaken.”
And the Harper Conservatives listened: the bill was debated, amended, and passed before the summer break. But that’s not all.
For the seventh time the government has postponed the enforcement of a regulation mandating gun markings for all firearms made in, or imported to, Canada.
And just before the election was called and Parliament dissolved, the Harper government quickly reversed a ban on two rifle types — to the immense joy of gun groups and enthusiasts.
Clare is continuing his work with the NFA, focusing on administration while his VP tackles the politics, but that stands to change if he’s elected.
“I am certainly not campaigning in any official capacity as NFA president, and while my position on firearms issues is well known, the main issues in the riding such as the economy and getting attention for Cariboo-Prince George within the flawed party structure are what I will address as key points,” said Clare.
The B.C riding of Cariboo-Prince George is historically Conservative with a strong NDP presence and is up for grabs with incumbent Conservative MP Dick Harris retiring after 22 years in office. The Conservatives and NDP earned 80 per cent of the vote in 2011, at about 50 and 30 per cent respectively, with Liberals barely managing five per cent of the vote with just over 2,000 votes overall.
EKOS pollster Frank Graves said Clare’s decision to run against his old allies reflects a growing “ambivalence” among core Conservative voters about the Harper government.
“I’m seeing some really different things in the Conservative party constituency this time out,” he said.
“Among the undecided, CPC voters in 2011 are three times higher than those for other parties. I believe this reveals ambivalence about what to do on the part of those voters. I also see that the CPC trail on ‘most certain to vote’, whereas they usually lead. Coupled with rising attention to Duffy, generalized regime fatigue and a tanking and stagnant economy, I think their current support levels are very soft and could be on a banana peel.”
Clare said voters in his riding know his views on gun ownership very well, which allows him to concentrate on things like C-51 and the economy.
“I’ve heard one MP arrogantly state that if you have never done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear (from C-51), but that just completely misses the point,” he said. “I’ve heard others say that if you’re against C-51, you obliviously haven’t read it. Well that’s just ignorance and I doubt the person who said that had actually read it.”