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February 17, 2006
Liberating The RCMP

Canada's new government has begun scrapping their controversial gun-registration program, and the incoming minister of Public Security warns his countrymen that the total cost of the program will shock them. However, the program had hidden, non-monetary costs that may only become apparent when viewed in a wider context:

Canadians will be shocked by the true cost of the federal government's ill-fated gun registry, says new Public Security Minister Stockwell Day.

Day told The Canadian Press that figures bureaucrats have shown him during briefings for his new portfolio are much higher than previously thought. He would not divulge what the tab is, but said it's upsetting. ...

When the Liberals added the registry to the federal gun control program in 1995, they said it would cost taxpayers no more than $2 million. But the most recent estimates put the figure in the hundreds of millions of dollars, bringing the total cost of the gun program to more than $1 billion.

At last estimate, the gun program was said to be consuming $90 million a year to maintain.

While Dan Dugas at the Canadian Press includes quotes from incoming officials of the new Tory government that talk about freeing resources for actual law enforcement with the savings, he misses one subtle but important point. The RCMP did not get the full funding necessary for the registration program, in part because the Liberals kept insisting that it didn't cost as much as it did. In order to run the registry, the RCMP had to eat up internal resources to keep up with the registry's mandate. This has been an issue that Newsbeat1 has followed for several months.

Why is that so significant? Americans may not relate to this, but in Canada's parliamentary system, the government only gets checked by the Commons and the RCMP, which has the power and resources to investigate government malfeasance -- under normal circumstances. However, the government exists because it controls either a majority of seats or the support of a coalition of parties that comprise a majority. Unless and until that majority decides that the government has acted so egregiously that MPs are willing to throw their own party or coalition out of power, the only political check comes at mandated election times.

The RCMP, as the national law-enforcement agency, can act independently to investigate corruption and malfeasance. However, it needs the time and resources to do that. A government that wanted to avoid having the RCMP looking into its actions -- say in Adscam or other hidden scandals -- could handicap the agency by burdening it with a populist but massive new program, selling it as a low-cost civic safety program, and then underfunding it so that it ate up all of the agency's resources. That would leave the agency with no time and no people for other efforts, including political investigations.

When Canadians calculate this massive bill that Day warns will upset the electorate, they should also consider these non-monetary costs as well. (Alphecca has more thoughts on the general uselessness of registration programs in general, via Instapundit.)

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 17, 2006 7:18 AM

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