The most significant influence in this campaign hasn't even happened yet.
But it will, at around 3pm pacific time, when Western Canadians will turn on their TV's, radios, and computers, and see election results stream in, before they cast their ballot.
The media blackout has been lifted.
And almost 5 million citizens will get a chance to vote, strategically, based on the eastern outcome.
It is that most frightening thing for political scientists: an untested variable.
The web is chocked full of goodness when it comes to these results:
The Globe has realtime results as well as regional breakdowns and interactive maps to the riding level.
CTV and CBC both offer live streaming of the results and the e-night cast. Neither are giving any glimpse into particular web-specific, value-added, content for the night.
The CBC's web wiz Tod Maffin is trawling the net to offer goodies to the TV radio side: "if you have a web cam at home -- even a cheap one -- we are now accepting short commentaries on what this election has meant to you, if you felt the leaders have addressed your issues, etc. Just go to here."
Wish it was more of a two way, interactive, conversation.
Canwest / Global is concentrating on the TV side, offering extensive local cut-ins of Kevin Newman's national show. Online: "The Decision Canada web site will also feature the latest election stories and exclusive post-vote polls, blogs and discussion.
CBC News revs up with a special edition of The National at 6 p.m. followed, from the Centre Block of Parliament Hill, by live coverage at 7 p.m. anchored by Peter Mansbridge with analysis from Keith Boag.
CBC promises to go live inside the war rooms of the three parties, with commentary from Mike Robinson of the Liberals, Tim Powers of the Conservatives and Dawn Black of the New Democratic Party. Covering from the regions are reporters Alison Smith (Atlantic Canada), Susan Bonner (Montreal), Don Newman (Toronto), Carol MacNeil (Calgary) and Ian Hanomansing (Vancouver). CBC's Wendy Mesley is with Paul Martin in Montreal, Eric Sorenson is with Stephen Harper in Calgary, Julie Van Dusen is with Jack Layton in Toronto and Jennifer Ditchburn is with Gilles Duceppe in Montreal. From time to time Rick Mercer will air "rants" on the election.
CTV's coverage starts early at 6:30 p.m. live from CTV's Election 2004 studios in Toronto, with old smoothies Lloyd Robertson and Craig Oliver anchoring the night. The panel of experts includes Edmonton North former Conservative (Alliance, Reform) MP Deborah Grey, Newfoundland's former federal Liberal leadership aspirant Brian Tobin, NDP strategist Judy Darcy, former Parti Québécois cabinet minister Joseph Facal and pollster Darrel Bricker.
On the road, CTV has reporters Lisa LaFlamme and Roger Smith (with Martin in Montreal), Tom Clark and Joy Malbon (with Harper in Calgary), Mike Duffy (with Layton in Toronto) and Rosemary Thompson (with Duceppe in Montreal). There will be cut-aways to CFTO for local Toronto results. Once it's over, there's a special wrapup, anticipated to start at about 11:30.
Global TV and sister station CH start at 6:30 with Kevin Newman hosting the news, followed at 7 by live coverage. Barry McKay of Wilfrid Laurier University is the expert. Global plans 30 minutes of live coverage every hour plus live coverage of key races across the country. Regional return desks will provide the fast-breaking results.
To paraphase Forrest Gump: tepid is, as tepid does.
Let's admit it. No one has been inspired by this election, outside the relatively small circle of political partisans and activists.
The 20 million or so Canadian citizens voting today will cast their weary eyes on the ballot, shrug their shoulders and, for the most part, hold their nose while they vote.
Except in Quebec, where they'll vote, overwhelmingly, to have nothing to do with the rest of Canada.
This mean, IMHO, a Liberal minority. They'll hold the east, lose some seats in Ontario to the NDP while the Tories will smugly wallow in the nostalgia of olden times. ("We're bringing the west back!" (psst: but only because the Right was such a failure for the past decade.))
Make no mistake.
This means the Liberals will win.
They will win because they will come into Government with such low public expectations, that there is no way but up.
Its not a vote of confidence. Its a vote of: well, show us what you can do because someone's got to do it.
But a mandate, even a minority, could do much to dispell the Chetiean scandals that have plagued the Liberal campaign. Martin will, quite rightly, be able to demand accountbility on his own government's merits, and the oppositon will have to focus on the present, not the past.
And Paul Martin, dependant on the support of third parties, will have to prove he's a better PM than PM candidate.
This is no easy task. But those who know Martin, would say he has a unique focus to do it: his own record of fiscal conservatism, his father's deep passion for social justice, his chosen committment to Quebec.
Martin is, perhaps ironically given his father's legacy, the best Canadian leader, since Pearson to lead such an effort.
Whether he'll get the backbench depth to form a solid cabinet, whether he'll draw on more seasoned staff, to accomplish this is another matter.
If I could bottle this election, the label would read: "Memories of David Peterson" summer campaign sauce.
Sure it looks like the old Liberal ketchup. But they promise you it's all new and improved. The taste is bland, but still manages to mask the meat of the election. And then you wonder why you've been forced to go to this BBQ at all.
Ok, the metaphor ran thin around the second line.
But it sure seems like Ontario 1990 all over again.
Despite high polling numbers, voter appetite for change was even higher. Support was soft. Opposition parties, previously ineffectual, had rising credibility.
And no one knows why an election was called, other than expedient political strategy.
Both Liberal campaigns were high on daily campaign press ops and stunts: slick ops and advance for the cameras, but a mushy message. This nebulous "vote for me if you love Canada" theme. (Its the old marketing stunt of pushing people to attach their own personal value into the product: Coke is "it". What is "it"? Whatever you want "it" to be. Who is Martin? Martin represents Canadian values. What are Canadian values? Whatever you want them to be.)
Which brings us to Martin's recent attack ads. If you're going to wrap yourself in the Canadian flag, present yourself as the protector of Canadian values, you had better be Captain Canada. Chretien could pull off those kind of campaign theatrics. Martin? I have no doubt about his love of country. His staff may see the passion on a daily basis, but the public still sees a Martin as a Finance Minister, the man that brought down Chretien.
The Libs new "west wing" strategy, "Let Martin be Martin," is an attempt to establish a leadership image, and his one strong point: high personal poll numbers.
What's the other reason for voting for Peterson / Martin? He's not the opposition.
But once again, the third place parties have latched on to a salient issue, using it to weaken the Liberal theme. In 90 Harris played bad cop, hitting the Libs fiscal responsibility message with attack ads on taxes and Patti Starr scandals; this time its Layton, poking holes in the Libs social consciousness balloons. It works because they have credibility launching the attack.
Then there's the heavy third party influence. In 90 it was any protester within megaphone range of a bored media. This time is the Liberals themselves: McGuinty's health tax, Campbell's BC burnout, etc.
The media, seeing a real horse-race, is having a ball.
Rae and Harper, meanwhile, watching in stunned amazement as they gain ground by doing nothing.
Which bring us to the debates.
Watch for the opposition leaders to gang up on Martin, to try and make general dissatisfaction stick to Martin personally. Expect a lot of "But when you were finance minister..." Like Peterson in '90, Martin needs to take on all comers, and strike KOs, in the debates. He has to be the last leader standing. But that rarely happens. If it doesn't, the post-debate spin will go against Martin.
Blame the folks in the test kitchen. You can sell the sizzle, but the steak is still undercooked.
Remarkable comments from Paul Martin, on the recent poll numbers: (via Yahoo/Reuters):
"That's my vision and it's one that I'll be asking Canadians to accept. Now if they don't, they don't. I didn't come into public life simply to get elected," he told a news conference in Vancouver.
So: What are the numbers?
IPSOS reid has the Grits at 34%, the Tories just four points behind: " after a week of campaigning the bottom has fallen out of the Liberal strong-hold in Ontario. If an election were held today the survey shows Canadians would elect a weak Liberal minority.
But, the daily tracking from CPAC / SES still shows Libs on top by 11 point, with NDP gaining strength. (interesting to note 53% say it is "time for change")
It is a horse race.
Betting may not be legal -- but at least one internet bookmaker has placed the odds, Martin in the lead.
Everyone sang O Canada along with the choir. It felt so special. Then, PM and his team entered the room with "It's a Beautiful Day" literally blaring from the speakers, and the entire mood changed dramatically.
His entrance had a real "campaign" feel to it. Ok, it's an election. What got to me, though, was that he didn't sing with the kids or come in to hear the welcome song or the band play. Don't tell me the school arranged it that way. Campaign teams typically set the itinerary and, even if the school had arranged it that way, a savvy team would have made it a point to have the PM hear the students perform and then sing the national anthem along with them. It felt so wrong.
It is all, apparently, downhill from there as PMPM ignores the students and plays to the cameras -- of course, the whole purpose of modern campaigns.
Now Zolner is, clearly, no Liberal fan.
But where else, but a blog, are Canadians gonna get this kind of local, grassroots, political commentary?
(UPDATE: ok, try the Globe Blog, where Campbell Clark casts a pro's eye, and finds more to Martin's pitch: The truth, however, is that the answers were better, and more revealing.
And Paul Wells notes "Heart of Canada", and wonders if he's caught a "virulent, fast-acting strain of Stockholm Syndrome. ":
... I didn't say the guy was perfect. What he did was show himself to be competent and engaging in a discussion about foreign policy, trade policy, security policy. The very stuff and essence of a national government's unique role.
Also from Wells (UPDATE: Wells' comment now deleted on Blog --- no explanation. Did PM fill the time?):
Question of the Day: With the polls going the way they are, why does the workaholic prime minister of Canada have a schedule for today that provides him with a cumulative total of five hours in Vancouver away from any public event and any reporter?
Just click on any of the politicals blogs.
By tomorrow, the Liberal's slip in the polls will be spun into a full blown crisis; the Girt's internal war will wholly dominate coverage.