The Liberal's problem in nutshell is this. The Conservative party is part of larger conservative movement and very notion of liberal movement sounds well odd. Conservative party draws strength from the movement and movement in turn draws strength from having a party that reflects their values. There is no liberal movement in Canada and the Liberal party, especially under Ignatieff, has done nothing to foster one.
Without a core set of policy goals to work towards, it at little wonder why the Liberal party is purely reactive and dominated by short term thinking. Other than returning to power, the party has set itself no goals. This is marked contrast to Harper. Harper has a long term vision and long term strategy for how to accomplish it.
Chrétien's successes provide the Liberals with no template. The seas parted for Chrétien in 1993. The constitutional wars sidelined two two major federal parties (NDP and PCs) for a decade and gave birth to two new parties (Reform and Bloc). The Liberals were the only established party left standing after the 1993 election. His subsequent majorities were based on taking a 100 seats in Ontario. The Liberals would do well to pretend that they never happened.