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Lawrence Martin (Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)

Lawrence Martin

(Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)

LAWRENCE MARTIN

Trudeau and Mulcair are MIA on reform Add to ...

Where are Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair on democratic reform? What an opportunity they’re missing.

Instead of coming forward with bold new ideas to rebuild Canada’s democracy, they have been passive, leaving the field open to the proposal put forward by Conservative MP Michael Chong.

He’s the one getting all the attention and his party is benefiting from his noble intent. The opposition leaders are relegated to their role as attackers. High on complaints. Low on solutions. Business as usual.

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For a long time, the Liberals and New Democrats have been questioned about the need to prepare grand reform and for a long time, they’ve hesitated. They say they already have some proposals in their party platforms. There are some worthwhile measures, yes, but not the type to draw attention like Mr. Chong’s. Nor is the public aware of them. They haven’t bothered to give them a big push.

It’s all the more strange because the egregious democratic deficit, seen most recently in the Senate scandal, where even Stephen Harper’s own spokesman has acknowledged that a cover-up took place, is the one issue that offers them the greatest chance to make ground on the Conservatives.

On the economy, the Conservatives are hardly vulnerable. Mr. Harper has just landed a European free-trade deal. It’s one of his most noteworthy achievements. His party is very likely going to have a balanced budget for the 2015 election. They are very likely going to have all kinds of pocketbook goodies, tax breaks, to offer the middle class.

Where the opposition parties are fortunate, however, is that abuse of power is overtaking the economy as the No. 1 issue. It certainly isn’t their economic management that has dropped the Conservatives to 26 per cent in one recent poll. It’s the way their government operates.

Is the past prologue? We recall the handsome economic numbers put up by Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin. It wasn’t the economy that reduced the Liberals to a minority in 2004 and defeat in 2006. Their failings had more to do with voter fatigue and growing disenchantment at the sponsorship scandal and other ethical breaches.

It’s noteworthy how long it took the public to make them pay. Mr. Chrétien was on the hot seat in 2000 as Canada’s right went after him for Shawinigate and other ethical controversies. But the Liberals rolled to a majority victory. A decade later, in 2011, Mr. Harper’s Conservatives had been found in contempt of Parliament and hit with an array of other allegations. The public wasn’t prepared to make them pay the price. They won a majority.

Taking their cue from that election, the Liberals and New Democrats reasoned that they would probably have to make their mark on other issues. No intensive effort went into preparing a solution for a system that’s democratic in name alone.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has really missed the boat here. With his freshness and youth, he is best positioned to bring a forward a new democratic vision, one that will appeal to the younger generations so turned off politics.

A broad reform plan works in so many ways. It’s not an issue of the left or right, but cuts across party lines. It’s not an issue that requires big expenditures from the public purse – the Conservatives will be at the ready to decry any new opposition program proposals as tax-hike schemes. This issue will not give them that opportunity.

It’s not too late for the opposition parties. Although Mr. Chong’s plan has some good elements, it’s not broad enough to address the erosion of the checks and balances in the system.

But to this point, the opposition leaders’ passiveness on democratic reform has put the ball in the Conservatives’ court.

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