There were times over the last few months that when the Conservative Ignatieff just visiting ads came on that I thought to myself if only this were true. Last week I did not even need one of the ads to prompt such thoughts. I dreamt of driving him back to Harvard myself
Now do not get me wrong. Ignatieff is lot more salable than Dion ever was. No matter how much some people wanted to deny it, Dion's English was just not good enough and he came across as a consummate whimp. The Conservatives literally pooped on the guy. Ignatieff, at least, has a strong command of both languages and I never once thought of stealing his lunch money.
The problem with Igantieff is that as a politician he is a deathly boring panderer and amazingly insubstantive. He is of his party in other words. Martin had dreams of being all things to all people, but it was not until loosing power in 2006 that this sentiment really started to take hold of the party and has since culminated in Ignatieff's directionless leadership. A party that wants to be equal things to both social conservatives and social liberals, to both federalists and Quebec nationalists will not mean anything to anyone Ignatieff has stripped the party of any passion and any energy Indeed, the Liberals do not even pretend to stand for anything. When pressed as to why they have not introduced any policy, they either dodge the question or they answer in terms of political consequences. "The Conservatives might steal it" for example. Never mind the fact, that if the Conservatives are likely the steal it chances are it is not worth squat to begin with. Such messaging is only ever going to make sense to the dwindling number of Liberal die hards. Indeed, to your average voter, it does not matter a lick to your average voter whether another party steals a policy. What matters is whether they like that policy. And from a public policy point of view what matters is whether the policy is good for the country.
With the notable exception of the Dion's half baked notion that the Liberals could sail to victory by championing the environment, not since Trudeau have the Liberals been willing to advance anything resembling an agenda. In the Chretein and Martin years the Liberals did not so much advance policy as -- at least in their telling of it -- have it forced upon them either by external forces or by the courts. SSM is a classic case in point. The Liberals framed the issue as something that they had been forced to do. As Martin put it, you can not cherry pick charter rights; you take the good with bad. SSM was the just the price for having other rights guarnteed. SSM was the straight man's burden to bear.
All of this is in marked contrast to the Conservatives going all the way back to Mulroney. Whether it be an the idiotic idea of a Triple E senate or equally stupid idea of shutting the "long registry", full blooded Conservative parties have always known what they want and they have been willing to pursue it. What this has meant in the greater scheme of things is that just as the Liberals have feetered away the advantage their once mighty brand gave them the Conservatives have replaced the Liberals as the natural governing party of Canada.
The Liberals can not afford to not weigh in on contenious issues. Playing itself will not rebuild their brand. Playing it safe will not win them the next election. Playing it safe will mean a Conservative majority.