NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh had a bit of an awkward moment outside the House of Commons on Wednesday after he was asked if his caucus supports his position on the government’s recently tabled gun control bill.
Singh, who does not yet hold a seat in the House and has said he may not run until the next election, spent several minutes taking questions from reporters. At one point, he was asked about Bill C-71, the Liberal gun control legislation.
More specifically, reporters wanted to know if Singh’s personal support for the bill was shared by other members of his caucus, especially MPs like Niki Ashton and Nathan Cullen, who once voted to dismantle the federal firearms registry.
“On this bill, our critic is Matthew Dubé, so he has provided a way forward in terms of our position on the bill,” Singh replied.
“The principles will always remain: we want to create a safe country … as it stands right now, this (bill) is something that does address issues of safety.”
Asked again whether his caucus agrees with him, the NDP leader seemed momentarily at a loss.
“Give me a moment,” Singh said, then turned to NDP parliamentary leader Guy Caron, who was standing behind him. Singh whispered something inaudible, and after listening to Caron’s equally inaudible reply, turned back to the cameras.
“So yes, right now our caucus is in support of this bill,” he confirmed.
WATCH: Federal government announces raft of new gun control measures
Among other things, the wide-ranging legislation would require purchasers of rifles and shotguns to present a valid licence, expand the scope of background checks on those who want to acquire a gun and force retailers to keep records of firearms inventory and sales for at least 20 years.
Wednesday’s awkward moment from Singh may have been an attempt to avoid a more serious blunder. Since becoming leader, he has sometimes made public comments that have contradicted those of NDP MPs in the House.
Last fall, for example, Singh went on the record stating that a judge who speaks an Indigenous language, but not French, should be eligible for appointment to the Supreme Court. Members of the caucus pushed back, noting that this wasn’t the NDP’s official stance, and Singh was forced to issue a statement backtracking on his earlier statement.
Singh came under fire once again in March, when he punished veteran NDP MP David Christopherson for breaking rank during a vote on the government’s controversial changes to the Canada Summer Jobs program.
Several NDP MPs spoke out publicly against Singh’s decision in that case, and again, the leader backtracked.
On Thursday, NDP MP Peter Julian dismissed Singh’s apparent blunder on the gun control bill.
“He’s going across the country, attracting massive crowds … there’s a lot of excitement,” Julian said. “When he comes here, as MPs, as critics, we have a responsibility to brief him quickly. And I think we’ll make sure that that happens.”
-With files from Bryan Mullan