Gun registry unites Tory rivals
Leadership hopefuls want it scrapped
CBC Newsworld invites five to debate
NATIONAL AFFAIRS WRITER
OTTAWA—Progressive Conservative leadership candidates yesterday differed on regional development grants, Air Canada and the Iraqi war — but were in solid agreement that the gun registry should be scrapped.
The front-runner, Nova Scotia MP Peter MacKay, argued that eliminating regional development programs in Atlantic Canada would be devastating to the region, while challenger and Nova Scotia colleague Scott Brison said that abolishing the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency would allow the market to pick winners.
Five of the seven candidates to succeed Joe Clark appeared on a debate on CBC Newsworld yesterday. Moderator Don Newman said that the five — MacKay, Brison, Saskatchewan farmer David Orchard, Calgary lawyer Jim Prentice and Quebec MP André Bachand — had been invited because they had a chance of winning or influencing the outcome.
Two of the candidates — former Quebec MP Heward Grafftey and former Canadian Alliance member Craig Chandler — were excluded because they had not received sufficient delegate support.
According to the Progressive Conservative party, MacKay is leading with 1,130 delegates, Orchard is second with 697, Prentice is third with 378, Brison is fourth with 265, and Bachand is fifth with 92. Grafftey has eight delegates and Chandler seven.
The new leader will be chosen at a convention in Toronto on May 31. The Tories are not contemplating any change of plans for the convention as a result of SARS, convention co-chair Dan Tish said yesterday.
Brison and Prentice both jumped at opportunities to criticize MacKay, accusing him of flip-flopping on the issues of gun control (he initially announced he would refuse to register his gun and then backed down) and Iraq.
Dismissing these arguments as "making political points," MacKay argued that Canada had been diminished by the federal government's refusal to participate with the United States in the war in Iraq.
Orchard, in contrast, called the war "immoral and illegal."
The other candidates argued that Canada should not restrict its sovereignty by insisting on Security Council approval before participating in a war.
Similarly, the candidates crossed swords on the future of Air Canada.
Brison argued that specific routes should be subsidized, not specific airlines.
But Orchard disagreed, saying, "We can't allow Air Canada to go down."
"I profoundly disagree with any proposed bailout," MacKay said. "Competition is good."