If we can get past Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s blackface picture, Green Party leader Elizabeth May’s photoshopped coffee cup and Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s embellished resumé, let’s take stock of the first half of the federal election campaign and what’s at stake for Canada.

On Sept. 11, the Liberals and Conservatives went into this election in a dead heat in the polls. That’s where they are now as the campaign proceeds toward Oct. 21.

Although the Conservatives may win the popular vote nationally, the Liberals have been ahead in the riding-rich region east of Manitoba.

That translates into a solid, steady lead in projected seats. As a result, the Liberals may be able to cobble together enough seats to form Canada’s 13th minority government.

If that happens, the Liberal campaign team can give themselves a pat on the back. A truly good team is one that can salvage victory after the boss has screwed up horribly.

The only thing different since the official election period began involves the smaller parties.

On Sept. 11, there were really two campaigns going on. One was between the two major parties. The other was a survival struggle among the smaller players, with the New Democratic Party and the Greens hammering each other for third place and probably the balance of power.

That campaign appears to be over, with the Bloc Québécois the surprise winner. That’s right: a regional separatist party will have gone from non-party status to holding the balance of power in a hung Parliament.

In the national polls, the Bloc was at about 5% – but that 5% could be worth 15 seats in Quebec. At the same time, the NDP has been stuck at around 13% nationally and is likely to barely hang on to its official party status – and the parliamentary budget that goes with it – at 12 or 13 seats.

The Greens had a good start and looked like a threat to the NDP for a while, but then became accident-prone. Now they are concentrating on holding their four seats on Vancouver Island.

Of course, should the Conservatives manage to form the government, the Bloc holding the balance of power would be Andrew Scheer’s worst nightmare. It would be unlikely that the Bloc would support a government bent on killing the carbon tax.

On the other hand, the Trans Mountain Pipeline extension probably is safe because both major parties support it. However, some Liberals probably are thinking that because Trudeau spent $4.5 billion to buy that pipeline, Alberta voters are a bunch of ingrates who deserve to be thrown under the bus. (That would be Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s worst nightmare.)

As for the larger parties, their leaders are their major baggage.

Scheer has a bad case of what the advertising industry calls “brand fog.” Voters’ reaction to him has been, well, “meh.” So much so that Trudeau hardly bothers to campaign against him. At one campaign event, the Liberal leader attacked Ontario Premier Doug Ford 14 times while hardly mentioning Scheer.

Meanwhile, the crowds at Scheer’s campaign events have been as thin as his pre-politics resumé.

Trudeau has been the victim of a litany of his own mistakes that began with his vaudeville trip to India in February 2018. In fairness, his father also had a damaged brand in his second election, when he was reduced to minority government, in 1972.

If Justin Trudeau continues to mirror Pierre Trudeau’s career, he will be able to mend his brand. But, damaged brand or not, Justin still is drawing crowds.

Trudeau the Elder emerged from the 1972 election so damaged that he needed all the help he could get from Jim Coutts, the late Dick O’Hagan and Pat Gossage to stay in office. Justin needs spin doctors like those.

When this campaign is over, there will be one big loser – Canada. Just as truth is the first casualty of war, the first casualty of this campaign has been substance.

Climate change is just getting the attention it deserves now. But discussions on issues such as the collapse of Canada’s foreign policy, what to do about Mad King Donald to the south or this country living paycheque to paycheque are being crowded out by promises of boutique tax goodies for strategic demographic targets.

This election won’t be a milestone in the country’s development like the free trade election in 1988 was. If there is any comfort, we will have a redo in a couple of years.