The western Liberal empire collapsed because of the government’s gun control law, say anti-gun control activists, Reform MPs and even some Liberals.
“I think it cost us our seat,” said John Shead, campaign manager for defeated Manitoba Liberal candidate John Gerrard, who lost the Selkirk-Interlake riding to the Reform party. “Anyone who says any different doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
Several seats lost
The Liberals were virtually wiped out in the rural West, losing half their Manitoba members and four out of five Saskatchewan MPs. Two candidates were elected in Alberta and six in B.C.
Outside of Winnipeg, Regina, Edmonton and Vancouver there’s nary a Liberal MP to be found.
Polls early in the election campaign suggested gun control was a minor issue. Prairie Liberal strategists said they didn’t think people upset with the law considered it an issue big enough to base their vote upon.
But while national campaigns focused on unity and the economy, outrage at Bill C-68 may have driven thousands of voters away from the Liberals.
“Gun control was the only thing people wanted to talk about,” said Shead. “People get activated by something and the anti-gun law people did a good job and Reform jumped on the bandwagon.”
Reform Saskatoon candidate Allan Kerpan surprised many when he beat sitting Liberal Morris Bodnar – a victory Kerpan attributes to the gun issue.
“I knew it was going to be a big issue, but it turned out to be a huge issue,” Kerpan said. “It was the flashpoint for a lot of other frustrations.”
Many voters saw gun control as an attack on individual rights and rural tradition, he added.
Reform supported by NFA
National Firearms Association president Dave Thomlinson said his organization portrayed the issue as one of government invasion of individual liberties, and that pushed many gun owners into the Reform camp. The NFA endorsed the Reform party before the election.
Reform appears to have been the main beneficiary of the anti-gun law voters.
Kerpan, Thomlinson and Shead all said the NDP wasn’t able to catch most of the votes because of its vague position on the law. NDP MPs voted against C-68, but the party officially supports gun control.
The Conservatives had little credibility on the issue because the party introduced gun control laws when in government, said Shead, Kerpan and Thomlinson.
That left voters impassioned by the law to either vote Liberal, if they supported it, or Reform, if they wanted to get rid of it.
Kerpan is convinced he won over some NDP supporters because of his party’s promise to scrap the law.
Shead said he was frustrated by the willingness of voters to make gun control a vote-determining issue.
“People get obsessed with one issue and it’s very hard to get them to talk about anything else.”