Do political ideologies matter anymore in Canada?

Canada's political spectrum used to be easy to understand.

The NDP were on the left, championing programs for the marginalized groups such as labourers, the poor and aboriginals in our society. The Conservatives were on the right, espousing free-market principles. And the Liberals placed themselves smack dab in the middle.

People of my parents' generation often picked a party early in life and supported it through thick and thin. Ideologies mattered.

But now we have a former provincial Liberal cabinet minister leading the federal NDP. We have an ex-NDP premier at the helm of the federal Liberals. And the federal Conservatives, traditionally the most fiscally responsible party, have offered up some of the largest budget deficits in Canadian history.

What the heck is going on in Canadian politics?

Former Liberal MP Glen Pearson says what's happening is that all parties are moving to the centre of the political spectrum in an attempt to gain and, in the case of the Conservatives, retain power.

"The rush to the middle is killing the historical political construct," he wrote in his blog.

"Thomas Mulcair's victory as the new leader of the NDP assures it."

Susan Delacourt of the Toronto Star suggests Canadians don't vote for a specific party anymore, they vote for a leader.

"In some pockets of Toronto, I'm reliably told, there are people who have voted in the past 18 months for Rob Ford, Jack Layton and Dalton McGuinty — and probably see no contradiction between those choices," she recently wrote.

"Voters just aren't all that into political parties these days."

Both Delacourt and Pearson agree that the blurriness of ideologies is one of the reasons for the lack of civility in Canadian politics.

"First, when ideological/policy differences get fuzzy, the personal differences get sharper. It's easier to attack your opponent's personality than his/her complex, ever-evolving views," Delacourt writes.

"Second, because the public doesn't seem to be all that ideological, you can't capture their attention with appeals on that front. Far better to present your rival as a cartoon character: a bully/dictator/weakling/whatever."