12/14/2011 03:51 EST | Updated 02/13/2012 05:12 EST

Gun registry bill left sitting on the rack as Tories fast-track other new laws

OTTAWA - Somewhere between planning the annual turkey trap shoot and getting ready for the big game and fish awards, members of the Williams Lake Sportsmen's Association in B.C. had hoped for a little party this fall to celebrate the end of the long-gun registry.

Good thing they didn't send out any save-the-date cards.

The bill to abolish the long gun registry, which the Conservatives have held in their sights for almost a decade, has been left on the shelf as the House of Commons prepares to break for Christmas.

Bill C-19 was introduced in October around the same time as a slew of other marquee Tory legislation, such as legislation to end the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly and the addition of 30 new seats to the House of Commons.

All were campaign pledges, as was passing an omnibus crime bill into law within the first 100 sitting days of Parliament.

To speed up the process, the Conservatives used their majority power to restrict debate on all those proposed laws. The crime bill was hustled to the Senate so quickly that the Tories realized too late it needed some amendments.

But while the wheat board bill and seat redistribution could be passed into law as early as Friday, the gun registry bill has yet to make it to a final vote in the House of Commons, never mind study in the Senate.

The Tories say they just couldn't get around to everything.

"There is unfortunately limited time for debate in the House," Michael Patton, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, said in an e-mail.

"Rest assured that we will be proceeding with ending the wasteful and ineffective long-gun registry in the new year."

Observers say holding back the gun bill could have both practical and political motivations.

Next year's planting season could be affected by the wheat board legislation, while the proposal to add members of Parliament needs to be in place before Elections Canada begins its adjustment of federal electoral districts early next year.

And Conservatives argue they needed to get the crime bill into the Senate quickly in order to meet a campaign pledge to pass the legislation within the first 100 sitting days — a deadline that gives them until March.

As for the duck hunters and farmers who were promised the end of the registry, they're resigned to the realities of the legislative system.

It's why the Williams Lake Sportsmen's Association delayed picking a date to collectively burn their registration cards.

"We would have liked to have seen something happen before Christmas," said Jacques Drisdelle, a retired RCMP officer who is president of the association.

Drisdelle said that he doesn't doubt the government's will to get the bill passed next year, but he's worried it could be held up.

A decision by the Quebec government to launch a lawsuit over the destruction of registry data might slow things down, he said.

"We just hope that nothing will stop it, politically," he said.

The fact the Conservatives are moving forward on their other promises signals the gun registry can't be far behind, said Greg Illerbrun of the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation.

"We've had it for 16 years, so another week or two or month is not a big deal in the big picture," he said.

"There's still work to be done. We are still all criminals at the end of the day and I'm not happy about that."

The Opposition say they find the delay odd, given the priority focus the Conservatives have placed on ending the gun registry over the years.

But they acknowledged that bringing the bill forward in December would have seen the legislative debate held as Parliament marked the national day to end violence against women — an anniversary created in the wake of the shooting rampage at Montreal's Ecole Polytechqniue on Dec. 6, 1989.

The massacre left 14 women dead and more than a dozen injured. It was the motivation for the creation of the long gun registry.

"The month of December is quite an emotional month in Quebec," said the NDP's Francoise Boivin.

Her New Democrat colleague Jack Harris suggests the Tory promise to end the gun registry has been so good to the party, they're loath to let it go.

"It has been a fundraising tool for their party for five years. They've benefited from the delay by doing this, making it continuously an issue," Harris said.

But some Tory supporters are suggesting the delay means coal in the Christmas stockings of Conservative party fundraisers who have come knocking again in recent weeks.

"I am not about to start bribing a government financially to carry out promises that they made to me to get elected in the first place," wrote one commentator on an Alberta Outdoorsmen Forum in response to a post that the Conservatives were phoning around in November asking for cash.

"If we start doing that, what comes next, do they start auctioning off proposed bills, and then only act on the ones that they collect the most cash for?"