Justin Trudeau has scrambled to explain his stance on gun control with the politically polarizing issue providing an early test in his Liberal leadership campaign.
The fallout from his sudden disavowal of the long-gun registry has required the front-running candidate to deal with a controversial policy debate days after the flare-up over unflattering remarks he once made about Alberta.
Trudeau handled it Monday by trying to appeal to both sides.
He spent a news scrum with reporters juggling questions on an issue that resurfaced over the weekend with his description of the Liberals' registry as a failed policy.
Trudeau explained he hadn't actually flip-flopped on the gun registry. In fact, he said, he always supported it, and still does support it in principle. But he said now that it's gone it's too divisive to try bringing back.
In the next breath, however, Trudeau added he supports Quebec's effort to bring it back in that province because he said the measure is not controversial there.
Finally, he offered his explanation of how the long-gun registry fits into his definition of a "failed" public policy.
"I voted to keep the firearms registry a few months ago and if we had a vote tomorrow I would vote once again to keep the long-gun registry," Trudeau told reporters.
"However, the definition of a failed public policy is the fact that the long-gun registry is no more... The fact is, because it was so deeply divisive for far too many people, it no longer exists." He repeated that definition of public policy, in both English and French.
Trudeau said he would rather spend the next three years, before the federal election, trying to find evidence-based policies that will unite Canadians and not divide them.
He made the remarks while touring a mall in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. Trudeau exchanged greetings with several dozen people as he went into shops.
A Quebec reporter asked Trudeau about that province's legal fight to keep its portion of the registry and he replied: "I find it's a very good idea. Because in Quebec it was not at all as divisive as it was elsewhere in the country," Trudeau said.
"Perhaps a solution is to let provinces find different solutions. What's important is protecting Quebecers from gun violence."
The performance earned him a scathing rebuttal from a prominent gun-control advocate.
A survivor of the Montreal polytechnique massacre, which occurred 23 years ago this week, Heidi Rathjen pushed for the creation of the federal registry. On Monday she blasted not only Trudeau's gun policy but also his broader approach to leadership.
"It's just political garbage," she said of Trudeau's policy.
"He's basically saying that the registry is a good thing only where it's popular, but that's not what a political leader does, that's not how you lead -- by implementing a public safety measure only where there's no controversy...
"It's not clear, it's confusing and I think it's a cop-out because he wants to please everybody and then he ends up pleasing nobody."
Meanwhile, Trudeau was drawing criticism Monday from people inside and outside his political party.
Another Liberal leadership candidate, Joyce Murray, called Trudeau's initial remarks "disturbing," particularly with the Dec. 6 Polytechnique anniversary looming. She told the CBC she has always been a strong registry supporter and said she was glad Trudeau had clarified his remarks Monday.
Trudeau was also criticized by an activist former Liberal minister of justice.
Martin Cauchon, who is still pondering whether to run for the leadership himself, told The Canadian Press leadership contenders need to show they'll stand up for Liberal principles and values.
And he said the controversial registry, created by the government of Jean Chrétien in which Cauchon served, is an important part of the party's legacy.
-- The Canadian Press