Amid all the bad news for the federal Liberals this fall, the good news is that they've finally started doing a little homework. Spurred on largely by the efforts of Gerard Kennedy - who knows something about opposition from his seven-plus years as a senior critic in the provincial version - they've begun to do some digging rather than just feign outrage at the headlines of the day.
As a result, the Liberals have recently had some success highlighting the Conservatives' propensity to disproprtionately reward their own ridings, and more recently to reward fellow Tories with patronage appointments. The question now is whether that's a narrative they're going to invest some real time in.
It goes without saying at this point, based on the polling numbers alone, that the Liberals have failed to make a strong case against the current government. That's partly because they haven't tried to make a case - they've tried to make a whole bunch of different cases, and failed to see any of them through.
Over the past ten months, we've heard that the Conservatives are inadequately committed to fighting the recession, and unsympathetic to Canadians suffering its effects. We've heard that they're a bunch of spendthrifts who've recklessly ran up a huge deficit. We've heard that they're embarrassing Canada on the world stage, on everything from foreign aid to consular services to environmentalism (or lack thereof). We've heard that they're Reformers in sheep's clothing, waiting to unleash their secret agenda upon the masses. And so on.
A couple of these messages are contradictory; most aren't. Some may even complement each other. But they've not been constructed into any kind of coherent and consistent theme.
If the Liberals want to build the case that this government is practicing politics-as-usual, more interested in helping out its friends than in helping people who are in real need, then they'll need to set aside some of the other stuff and focus on that. They'll need to map out a strategy to exert some control over the news cycle, rather than just follow it, and they'll need to stick with that strategy rather than get distracted by all sorts of shiny objects along the way.
Of course, it's entirely up for debate whether that's a case that can be successfully made, particularly by a party that - in the eyes of many Canadians - came to more or less define politics-as-usual by the end of its time in office. But if not that theme, the Liberals need to commit to another one. Otherwise, they'll just look like an opposition party flailing about - which, when you get down to it, is pretty much what they've been for the better part of the past four years.