As electoral hopes fade, the Liberal party suffering identity crisis

Andy Radia
Canada Politics

The Liberal Party of Canada is in the midst of a "full-on" identity crisis.

Unfortunately, it's happening at the worst possible time - during an election campaign.

The crisis seems to have started with a move to left of the political spectrum in 2008, when the party incorporated a disastrous  "Green Shift" in order to gain support from left-wing voters.

Enter Michael Ignatieff in 2008 and the party shifts back to the centre-right.

Politicos like Liberal blogger and Toronto Sun columnist Warren Kinsella have long been critical of Ignatieff for moving the party to the right of the political spectrum with his stance on issues such as Afghanistan and the oil sands.

Fast forward to this election campaign - the Liberal strategy has been to differentiate themselves from the Conservatives with a policy platform that focuses on revamping Canada's social programs.

The 98-page platform was a clear shift to the left, and even had the NDP's Jack Layton joking the Liberals were taking planks right out of his party's books.

Now with the NDP and Liberals in a virtual dead heat in the polls, Ignatieff  is changing course yet again, trying to differentiate himself from the left-of-centre New Democrats - another shift back to the right.

If all this movement from left to right is making you dizzy, you're not alone.

National Post columnist Kelly McParland summarizes the Liberals' yo-yo strategy as follows:

"Since he replaced Stephane Dion two years ago, Michael Ignatieff has been all over the map, a conservative-minded academic running a party that has moved steadily to the left, but which zigs and zags with each new headline," he wrote.

McParland's advice to the Liberals — "Quit reacting. Find a reason for the Liberals to exist."

John Ivison, also of the National Post, recently wrote, "Mr. Ignatieff has come across as a chameleon figure who can be buffeted by the crosswinds of politics. Witness how his campaign has tacked in several different directions."

Tim Powers of the Hill-Times suggests Ignatieff 's lack of identity is one of the reasons he's not connecting with the electorate.

"Ignatieff never seems to have had a succinct ballot question whereas Layton and Harper have been more clear of what they are asking voters," he wrote. "Layton, not unlike Harper, has also been precise in developing an identity that might be a consequence of experience."

The Liberals need to "find themselves" and more importantly, they need to find a way to articulate their identity to the electorate.  If they can't do it this week, and that's unlikely, they'll have four years to figure it out if the Conservatives win a majority.

(CP Photo)