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Lawrence Martin (Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)

Lawrence Martin

(Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)

Lawrence Martin

Hey Liberals, stop boring us to death Add to ...

Comedian Redd Foxx once made a crack about how “health nuts are going to feel stupid some day.” They’ll be “lying in hospitals dying of nothing.”

You’ve got to wonder watching the Liberals these days if they are going to meet the same fate. They’re not dying of nothing just yet, but what a collection of bores they’ve become.

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The latest manifestation came in Winnipeg on the weekend in the second of their so-called leadership debates. The Manitoba snoozer was so bad, it was generally agreed, that right up there on the highlight reel was Marc Garneau’s proclamation that he enjoyed doing chores around the house, in particular vacuuming.

The debate moderator, a lob-ball throwing party insider, had asked the candidates to tell viewers something about themselves that people might not know. Well, revealed the former astronaut, there’s nothing quite like navigating the vacuum from room to room, feeling it suck up “the dust bunnies.”

Mr. Garneau’s love of hoovering prompted one of the few disagreements of the afternoon when another candidate opined that he hated vacuuming. Sheer drudgery, he said. The two men, to the relief of all, did not come to blows.

There are nine contestants in the Liberal race. None of them appear to realize as they traverse the country stirring up apathy that, speaking of vacuums, the party is in one.

The Winnipeg forum, even more boring than the first debate in Vancouver, was a content-free zone. The contestants barely landed a punch on Stephen Harper. They barely laid a glove on one another. They avoided discussion of most of the pressing issues of the day. They uttered not a memorable phrase.

This is a party in third place – at a historic low. The Liberal brand, most agree, needs rebranding, and you might think this would produce a sense of urgency and some heady, imaginative thinking from the candidates. Such is Justin Trudeau’s perceived lead that the other eight candidates are seen as long shots. They’ve got nothing to lose. They can go for it, throw out some radical ideas, bludgeon the Conservatives, tear a few strips off Mr. Trudeau.

But nothing could stop the torrent of platitudes. If Mr. Harper was watching, I’m sure he had a good chuckle. He has made the economy the top issue, yet it was nowhere on the debate ledger. None of the candidates has come up with a convincing critique or an alternative economic vision.

The Conservatives are vulnerable on abuse of power, but we are still waiting for a Liberal to unveil a real plan for the restoration of Canadian democracy. Mr. Trudeau is rolling out some ideas to cleanse the system, but it’s doubtful they will amount to the overhaul that is necessary.

In Winnipeg, one of the only pointed performances came from Deborah Coyne, who issued a strong rebuke of the government’s campaign against science and research.

Martha Hall Findlay continues to show more spark than the other candidates. She is capable of thinking outside the box. But her big issue, a reform of the supply management system, resonates with about 2 per cent of the population.

At one point Mr. Garneau got it right, warning against the party being too vague. It was seen as a veiled shot at Mr. Trudeau, who, in fact, has put out as many policy positions as the others. But questioned later, Mr. Garneau declined to say if he was criticizing the front-runner. That’s how hot it got in Manitoba.

Maybe these Liberals will awaken at some point. Maybe Mr. Trudeau’s arrival will be all that is needed to return them to contender status. But at this point they are a comatose lot, reduced to trotting out the same kind of mush that saw them get trounced in the 2011 election.

At one point during the Winnipeg proceedings, Mr. Trudeau said he sensed that Canadians are getting “excited that we might be doing politics differently.” You had to wonder whom he was trying to kid.

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