There's something telling in the way Canadian polls on the federal parties seesaw back and forth. From what I've seen they're usually tied to Harper screwups. Harper goes ideologue and his numbers dip, sometimes enough to bring the Libs into 'statistical tie' territory. Harper backs off and his modest lead returns. It's like clockwork.
What this seems to suggest is that Harper drives the polls. In other words, the Libs can expect to win when Harper self-destructs. That's unacceptable.
What the polls appear to show is that the Libs need to focus not on Harper's failures but their own. Michael Ignatieff should be seizing the initiative, taking the fight to Harper. He ought to be acting much like Harper did when he took down Paul Martin. Two problems - one, you can't really do that on the beer'n burger circuit, and, two, that's tough to pull off when you've positioned yourself so closely to your opponent.
What issues do the Libs have where they're so superior to Harper they'll motivate disenchanted, disengaged voters to show up at the polls to dump the Tories? That's the only place the Libs are going to find the votes they need to retake power - the disengaged voter who has simply tuned out federal politics. What electoral arrows do the Libs currently have in their quiver? Arts funding, daycare? C'mon, get real. You're not going to beat Steve over the head with that stuff.
What about Afghanistan? Martin might have been hoodwinked into the Kandahar gig but Harper embraced it, made it his very own. Had the Libs stood their ground on the 2009 deadline, it might have cost them a bit initially but it would have stuck Harper with that foolish misadventure and cost him dearly afterward. Instead he squirmed right off that hook and now it's Ignatieff and Rae looking to drag out this fiasco. Good issue, dead loss for the Libs.
The economy? Ever since the great recession landed in 2008 the Libs have abjectly failed to present an alternative economic initiative. Instead Ignatieff was forced to back the Harper-Ignatieff Pinata budget and, even then, made a fool out of the Liberal opposition with his grandiose but hollow threats about putting Harper "on probation." Geez that makes me wince every time I recall it. No, sorry, way too close to Harper. No room to swing even if you knew how to land a punch.
How about the environment, Canada's existential threat of the 21st century? The Tories past paid dearly for accusing Jean Chretien of speaking out of two sides of his mouth but the Libs have painted themselves in just that corner on this one. You cannot be a Tar Sands booster and appear serious about fighting climate change. It can't be done. The IgLibs have declared themselves inveterate Fossil Fuelers and they have failed to exploit Harper's vulnerability on global warming lest they reveal their own. Once again, way too close to Harper.
Unfortunately there really is nothing useful for the Liberals at the centre-right. It used to be the Libs succeeded by controlling the centre where, as needed, they could force the Tories farther to the right. Now it's Harper who has control, who has managed to move to the centre-right where he's virtually immune to any effective IgLib opposition. By blurring the distinction between Tory and Liberal, Harper ensures a disengaged, indifferent electorate and that's just what he needs. It allows the Tories to retain power and to enjoy a complacent, timid opposition that, more often than not, can be maneuvered into advancing his agenda, bit by bit.
It's sad, really, to see this party so continuously mauled by a guy like Steve Harper but the Libs have no one to blame for that but themselves - and their leader. Until you Libs fix what's broken you'll just have to sit around and hope Harper self-destructs. Good luck with that.