With the financial crisis deepening day by day, the pundits are finally framing the election as "Who will be the best leader in a disintegrating economy?"
But I'm doubtful that's what the discourse is really about. More likely, the real question is: "Who has the best look of leadership?"
Stéphane Dion appears sincere, emotional but ineffectual; Stephen Harper avuncular, measured but oblivious. And Jack Layton? He looks like he's going to run a half-marathon as soon as he finishes the interview.
So what do we want in a leader anyway?
According to former Jean Chretien strategist Warren Kinsella, "Leadership hinges on portraying strength, certainty and the sense that this leader is someone who is like you. It boils down to 70 per cent appearance, 10 per cent what you actually say and 20 per cent how you say it."
Generally, experts say the public prefers candidates who broadcast steadfastness but stay cool. "Usually, those who show a lot of emotion tend not to get elected," says Harold Simpkins, a marketing prof at Concordia University's John Molson School of Business in Montreal.
"Harper hasn't really shown any throughout this campaign." Simpkins says keeping a low temperature telecasts a confidence that can be trusted. "We prefer the rational to the emotional."
But Geoffrey Roche of ad agency Lowe Roche, who developed his chops working on the now famous Morning In America spots for Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign and worked on both David Miller's mayoral bids, says leaders should worry more about looking inauthentic.
Both main opposition parties have missed the opportunity to tell their own story in this election, he says.
"The Liberals and the NDP have made a huge mistake by trying to out-Harper Harper. Dion should have stuck to the high road with the Green Shift and painted a picture of what Canada's future could be. Both the Liberals and the NDP have an interesting vision, but they've been dragged into the muck and mire," he says.
As for the NDP's A New Kind Of Strong, it's simply the wrong message, Roche claims. If people want a real strongman, they'll think of the Tory leader. "I don't think people are really looking for someone who compares themselves to Harper," he says.
So does it all come back to Kinsella's depressing formula? Sadly, I think so. Take my own reaction to Dion. Way back in 2005, I agreed with Layton when he said the professor would never become leader of the Liberal party because he had too much integrity.
But - surprise! - Canada's (perhaps now former) natural governing party chose him at its convention, indicating it was heading in a new direction.
Then came those awful campaign photos of the leader playing ball hockey that somehow managed to make the greatest sport on the planet look like ringette. I'm not proud to admit it, but that was it for me. I know this has nothing to do with climate change, affordable housing or Afghanistan, but there it is: the image that will stick with me from the Liberal campaign is of a guy who wimped all over the sport I love.
Arggh. We may say we want strong leaders with honesty, brains and integrity, but we really don't We just want them to look and sound that way.