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No guts, no glory, the old saying goes. You gotta takes risks. Sit on a lead in the third period, watch the lead disappear.

Same thing in politics, as Thomas Mulcair and the NDP are learning now.

They've been serving up Pablum. Almost 70 per cent of voters say they want change. But on economic policy, the Orange Wave has come at them waving white handkerchiefs, surrendering to the mushy middle.

With victory in sight, they got cold feet. The party that once promised an overhaul of the capitalist system brought in an economic playbook that might well be titled, "Let's Scale The Smallest Mountains."

Reading it is like watching toenails grow. Stay the course on Conservative budgeting; no big stimulus package; raise the minimum wage for only a minimal portion of the population; no new taxes on the sumptuously rich.

They're bolder in other areas, like climate change and war and peace, but these positions are overshadowed by fiscal faint-heartedness.

At the start of the campaign, they topped the polls. Now, they are in third. To have any chance of winning, they have to hold their 55 seats in Quebec, but support in the province is plummeting. There and elsewhere, their yielding to the soft centre is viewed as a cause. With their left flank too exposed, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau pounced and now wears the mantle of the change candidate.

Not that Mr. Trudeau has become a renaissance man himself. He supports Keystone XL, he supports C-51, he's quiet on climate change. But he took the big leap on the one change that resonated. That was his decision to run deficits to spur the economy. It's an economy, as Mr. Trudeau repeatedly points out, that over the past 10 years has seen the lowest growth rate since the 1930s. Why not some stimulus?

The public seems to have taken to the idea, one which the workers' party would have normally pursued. But fear grabbed the Dippers by the throat. They reasoned such a move would play to their stereotype as big spenders; they reasoned Conservative Leader Stephen Harper would thrash them on it – even though Mr. Harper ran seven straight deficits himself.

Mr. Mulcair, it needs to be remembered, is not an old-stock NDPer. He served in the cabinet of Quebec Liberal premier Jean Charest. His tame-Tom economic approach is, therefore, not so surprising. And maybe he would indeed have been pilloried if he had advocated deficits. It could be a case that he was damned if he did and damned if he didn't.

He's a leader not normally afraid to stand on principle or take risks. Take his position, supported by the courts, of allowing women to wear niqab headgear at citizenship ceremonies. He knew this is highly unpopular in Quebec, but endorsed it anyway.

As for Mr. Trudeau, he learned from mistakes. Remember last fall, when his party had a handsome lead in all the polls. He became overcautious, reactive instead of proactive. The lead evaporated and when Alberta voted NDP in May, the Liberals tumbled to the back of the pack.

The NDP has a base which, like the Harper party, needs red meat from time to time. Mr. Harper has been unrelenting in delivering it to his flock, his anti-niqab position being a fine example, and it is paying off. Reactionary Canada, about one-third of the population, at the moment appears ready to give him another victory.

Mr. Mulcair has neither secured his base vote, nor the change vote, nor the Quebec vote. On the latter, his strategy of agreeing to two French-language debates – there's another one Friday – when being so far in front in that province made no sense.

When late campaign tides set in, they are hard to reverse. While it's possible the NDP can reboot enough to catch the Liberals, the big dream of winning it all, a dream that looked so achievable at the campaign's outset, is gone.