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.