Paul Martin's proposal to remove the power of the federal government to invoke the notwithstanding clause of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would have been a bold move had he done it at the beginning of the campaign, when Stephen Harper was still establishing his position on the Charter's version of the Satanic verses.
Now it looks like a Hail Mary pass from deep in his own end zone.
Moreover, even if the federal government could deny itself the power, it could not itself deny the provincial governments the power to invoke the clause. The provinces would have more power over the Charter, and over their own legislative supremacy, than the federal government. So much, then, for Martin's claim to defend strong central government.
What could the federal government do if a province invoked the notwithstanding clause on a matter intra vires the province? Invoke the federal power of disallowance, long dormant but not removed from the Constitution Act? That is about it all it could do to defend the supremacy of the Charter in such a situation.
If the notwithstanding clause is such a great evil, shouldn't Martin have pledged to work with the provinces to abolish it, period?
Of course, then he'd have to work around an act passed in 1996 pledging the federal government not to introduce constitutional amendments that did not already have the support of all parties necessary under a modified form of the Victoria formula (2 Atlantic provinces, 2 Prairie provinces, Ontario, Alberta and B.C.).
Quebec could stop such an amendment before it ever got out of the gate.
Paul Martin's deathbed conversion to constitutional reform isn't going to save him. Deathbed conversions never do.