First off, the progressive vote is now split between four parties in Canada: the Liberals, the NDP, the BLOC, and the Greens. The liberals have no hope of poaching votes from any of the decided voters in the other three progressive parties. This means the liberals will have to concentrate on getting out their own vote and on targeting the swing voter. And here is the rub: there simply is not enough ideological difference between the liberals and the conservatives these days to make a real play for the swing voter. In the concrete the conservatives appear less extreme than they would like to be and in the concrete the liberals were more to the right than their self-image would like to admit.

The liberals cannot credibly hold themselves up as the protectors of the universal welfare state. Indeed it was they not the Conservatives that spent the better part of the decade waging an ideological and material attack on the welfare state. The liberals solved the federal deficit by forcing provinces to restructure their welfare programs and choke funding to higher education and health care. As such, when it comes to economic policy there is hardly a ray of light that separates the Conservatives and the Liberals: they are both neoliberals when it comes to the economy.

The liberals cannot credibly hold themselves up as the protectors of the environment. The Conservatives are right on this one. The liberals had the better part of decade to do something on the environment and they did next to nothing. Oh sure they talked a good game but they did worse than nothing. Anyone who is even faintly familiar of what went down in the federal Ministry of the Environment knows what schizophrenic organization it became under the liberals. Add to that the culling of inspectors and the lax enforcement of existing environmental protection and you get the impression that the Ministry of the Environment under the liberals was little more than an appendage of industry: kind of like Transport Canada which has always been an appendage of industry.

The liberals cannot credibly run as an anti-war anti-fear party. They drafted the draconian anti-terrorism legislation and they sent Canada into Afghanistan and determined the structure of that mission.

The liberals cannot credibly run as paragons of virtue determined to stamp out patronage. Indeed the liberals were a patronage machine and when patronage was not enough they shifted to envelopes stuffed with cash.

In short, Dion cannot credibly run the liberals as honest brokers. Given their previous record as the governing party they can neither poach votes form the left or the right because they have zero credibility on either side of that divide. Hence, it is going to be a popularity contest determined by Charisma, which is the one thing Dion totally lacks.

Get ready the Harper majority is coming.