Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff says that if an election is called in the coming months, his party is the only true alternative to the Conservatives.
In an interview with CTV's Question Period, Ignatieff says that a vote for Jack Layton's NDP or Gilles Duceppes' Bloc Quebecois is essentially a vote for another Conservative government.
"What I'm saying is, it's time for Canadians to make a choice between two governing parties," Ignatieff said.
"Their priorities and ours are not the same," he noted.
"I'm trying to create that big, broad tent in the centre and represent a clear alternative to Mr. Harper," said Ignatieff, adding, "We put our emphasis squarely on the middle-class family."
Unfortunately for Liberals, this is a false choice.
Voters have shown for almost four years running that they really like having a choice of essentially 3 parties in Quebec (with the bulk of the Francophones favouring the Bloc and the majority of Quebeckers as well, and the Liberals and Tories pretty far down as second choices), one party getting most votes in Alberta and Manitoba and Saskatchewan (the conservative Tories), and the other provinces offering voters a choice between three parties (Tories, Liberals and Dippers).
And in all provinces, a protest vote for the Greens – with support thinly spread over just about all provinces, and deep in none.
What is clear from the polls and recent elections is that the voters do not think that the Liberal Party on its own – as presently lead and with the present lack of clarity of policies – deserves to win the bulk of the votes that do not go to the Tories.
In this way, the Liberal Party is in a position similar to that of the Labour Party in the UK, which was shut out of power for decades because it did not present voters with enough concrete positions that voters wanted, until New Labour came into being under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Only then did New Labour gain power.
Voters do not seem to want a "big tent" Liberal Party.
They seem to want a choice of other parties as well.
Just because other parties have different leaders, whom some voters prefer to Ignatieff? Perhaps.
Or it could also be because voters who vote for the Dippers and Greens want a party with policies similar to those two parties.
Leaving aside Quebec for the moment, what is more likely: that voters want the Liberal Party to stay where it is, and will leave the NDP and Greens to vote for the LPC in order to replace Harper's conservative party? Or that voters want some realistic realignment of Canadian non-Tory parties, reflecting policies and positions which voters who now say they will vote for the Greens and Dippers, can buy into?
I believe the second choice is what such voters really want.
I believe that voters want the three parties – Liberals, NDP and Greens – to stop smoking B.C.'s most significant crop and to get together in a progressive-centre party, which is a clear alternative to the centre-right of the "new" Conservative Party which Harper and others cobbled together.
Only then will we see real movement of voters, and a replacement of the Harper Tories by a majority non-Tory government.
With or without the Bloc's favoured position in Quebec being reduced substantially.
Perhaps it is time Liberal leaders – not just Michael Ignatieff, but his advisors and the other MPs who sway opinion in the Liberal Party – started thinking about what voters really want, rather than trying to foist onto voters a false choice.