It's unlikely that websites alone will sway voters on January 23, yet the state of a party's website is often a reflection of its political acumen, whether you agree with it or not.
Torontonians often get grumpy in the winter, their thoughts turning to the beach. This year your best bet for a sun-filled vacation might be the New Democratic Party's website ( www.ndp.ca).
Follow the link at the bottom of the front page to The Great Paul Martin Credibility Hunt. The savvy surfer who can uncover a quote that proves Martin actually means what he says about "values" will win airfare and hotel accommodation in any of the countries whose flags Martin's ships flew to evade taxes while he was at the helm of Canada Steamship Lines.
Although the NDP gets points for using humour in its Web campaign, the front page is fairly empty. The site has a fairly weak, linear structure, especially under the party link, where the entries reveal a tendency toward megalomania, referring only to "Jack's books" and "Jack's bio."
The multimedia section is pretty comprehensive, and a large banner allowing users to "see our ads in Cantonese, Mandarin and Punjabi" clearly marks the NDP as an urbane vote.
Vive la difference
The French do everything differently, including their websites. At the top right of the main Bloc Quebecois page ( www.blocquebecois.org ) is a link to "Heureusement, ici c'est le Bloc," a minor-key rock song far more passionate than anything created for the Protestant sensibilities of Ontario voters.
The main page is pretty trashy-looking. Duceppe is pictured in a black overcoat and tight blue scarf (cravat?) that complements his piercing blue eyes, and looks like a well-groomed vampire.
As loath as I am to admit it, the Conservative party website ( www.conservative.ca ) is the best. Aesthetically, it's the most consistent, with blue, blue, blue everywhere, and the enticing "action centre" front and centre designed to help people find ways to help out. Clean roll-over menus allow you to check your options before the page reloads.
The site also boasts an unexpected link to a C-Boutique, an online store for Conservative-logo-laden goods like baseball hats and things with "golf" in their names (e.g., umbrellas, shirts).
It also gets the nod for tech-savviest website, offering podcasts for interested subscribers, although on the instruction page the advice reads: "All you need is the iTune software," which is false both in content and spelling.
Greens not a pretty site
The Green party website ( www.greenparty.ca ) is poorly designed, with a clutter of differently shaped windows and themes. The grey/green palette also makes a weak impression on the surfer with a short attention span. This is, however, the only site to put voter information tabs (Where do I vote? When can I vote?) on its front page.
Jim Harris posts most of the blog entries himself, although a secondary blog entitled Tales Of The Tour, written by the media team on the campaign trail, makes for a better read, a welcome meta-commentary on the state of election-time politics.
Liberals waste space
The Liberal party site ( www.liberal.ca ), predictably, is mired in defensiveness. Instead of using valuable space on the top third of the front page to promote Liberal policy, it merely refutes Conservative claims, with no fewer than five references to the Conservative platform within a screen's worth of information.
Also on the front page, a window on the right looks suspiciously like an ad, since the word "Blackberry" is twice as high as the blog title. Whenever the blog is referred to thereafter, it's called the "Blackberry blog," which can hardly endear it to voters already suspicious of a party that sells out to the highest bidder.