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COMMENTARY: Recent Liberal announcements seem like little more than political distractions

Click to play video 'Trudeau unveils details of ‘assault-style’ gun buyback program and municipal gun ban' Trudeau unveils details of ‘assault-style’ gun buyback program and municipal gun ban
The federal government is launching its long-promised buyback program for banned assault or 'assault-style' weapons and as Ted Chernecki reports, the newly tabled legislation will also allow municipalities to ban handguns – Feb 16, 2021

The pandemic obviously doesn’t preclude the federal government from addressing other issues, even if the response to the former isn’t going as well as it should.

Given the current public mood, it’s fair to ask to what extent the “other issues” are intended to be a distraction from the pandemic response, specifically the vaccine rollout.

Case in point: the Liberals’ new gun control legislation, the details of which were released earlier this week. While there are those who think that gun control should indeed be a priority, it’s hard to see a lot of urgency on the government’s part.

Read more: Alberta justice minister accuses feds of targeting ‘law-abiding Canadians’ with new gun legislation

First of all, the government has waited until rather late in this session of Parliament to bring this legislation forward. It’s hard to see how there’s enough time for this to pass. And even if and when this legislation does pass, we’re still left at the moment with all sorts of questions.

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The Liberals, for example, are proposing a “gun buyback” scheme for certain firearms (the so-called “assault weapons,” a term for which the government has no working definition) that they’ve now prohibited, but we have no idea how much that is going to cost or how it is even going to work.

The Liberals are also proposing to allow municipalities to “ban” handguns. But again, it’s unclear how such a ban will work or what, specifically, cities might be able to do to further restrict the possession or sale of handguns.

Click to play video 'Feds prepared to support cities with handgun ban in face of provincial opposition: Blair' Feds prepared to support cities with handgun ban in face of provincial opposition: Blair
Feds prepared to support cities with handgun ban in face of provincial opposition: Blair – Feb 17, 2021

Questions aside, though, it’s clear that despite the government’s lofty rhetoric, the legislation is much more modest in terms of what it actually does. The so-called “assault weapons ban” doesn’t actually remove any of these firearms from their current owners. The buyback will be one option; the other option will be to simply keep the firearm.

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Similarly, the “handgun ban” doesn’t actually ban any handguns. The legal status quo for handguns will remain unchanged upon passage of this legislation. Depending on what exactly municipalities are willing and able to do on this front, it’s possible that little or nothing will change in the weeks and months after this legislation is enacted.

Another case in point: the government’s recent public transit funding announcement. Again, for many, public transit is a very important issue. The $14.9 billion for public transit announced earlier this month by the prime minister certainly gives the appearance that this is indeed a priority for his government.

Read more: $14.9B promised to Canadian cities for ‘major public transit projects’

However, the bulk of this money isn’t actually going to be distributed for another five years. In all likelihood, we’ll have gone through at least two federal elections by the time that most of this money starts flowing. We’re still awaiting a new budget from this government and so it seems rather premature to be making assumptions about government spending five years down the road. Plus, it’s not as though the Liberals don’t have a history of falling short on delivering on big promises.

So why trot all of this out right now, then? Why the urgency to announce initiatives that clearly lack any sense of urgency?

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It’s hard to escape the conclusion that this is all political. Clearly, the Liberals have been stung by the fallout on the troubled vaccine rollout. They’d obviously much rather inject some other issues into the national conversation, especially those that they feel are political winners for them.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Majority of Canadians say governments should have acted faster amid COVID-19, Ipsos poll shows' Coronavirus: Majority of Canadians say governments should have acted faster amid COVID-19, Ipsos poll shows
Coronavirus: Majority of Canadians say governments should have acted faster amid COVID-19, Ipsos poll shows – Feb 10, 2021

An election is all but guaranteed at some point this year. It’s no coincidence that the announcements on firearms and public transit are aimed at voters in Canada’s big cities. Frankly, they feel a lot like campaign announcements.

At the moment, the vaccine issue simply isn’t a winner for the Liberals. That may change, and — politics aside — we should all hope that vaccinations ramp up significantly over the next few months.

Given how important the vaccination question is, it’s unlikely that Canadians are going to be easily distracted by political hand-waving.

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For as much as the Liberals are looking to change the channel, their political fortunes are still very much linked to whether they can lead us out of this pandemic.

Rob Breakenridge is host of “Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge” on Global News Radio 770 Calgary and a commentator for Global News.