One of the bigger questions moving forward, where should the Liberals position themselves on the political spectrum, to maximize their electoral chances. Do they move left, and attempt to appeal to soft NDP supporters and to some degree Greens, or should they move to the center and retake some lost ground to the Conservatives? It's a pretty complicated reality, especially when voters don't necessarily fit into neat segments on a spectrum, so any overt positioning is problematic.
There isn't much argument that the Dion reign represented a move left for the Liberals, relative to his predecessor. Given the lack of voter support, one could argue that Liberals are mistaken, if they think moving away from the center is politically shrewd. Further confusing, any verdict must also factor in Dion's low personal appeal, maybe the message was attractive, the messanger not so much. Another leader, with the same progressive agenda may very well have delivered a mandate, so the latest election results shouldn't translate to any statement on the political spectrum.
However, no matter the equation, you do hear many Liberals now arguing that the party needs to sit firmly in the center, if we are too form the next government. Forget about the NDP, and remember Greens voters have more of a tendency to cut across the political spectrum. One could argue the Bloc is left in orientation, and yet, the Conservatives were within a serious gaffe or two of drawing away considerable support, ideological considerations aside. Moving to the center, doesn't necessarily alienate progressive voters, but it would appeal to soft Conservative support, you could build a winning coalition.
You don't find much in the way of striking evidence, if you look at the past elections. You look at where Chretien and Martin positioned themselves, and review the other party shares, it's hard to find consistency that would show a political preference. The Conservative share was down, but it was divided, and the NDP share was down too, and yet those Liberal governments were viewed as centrist. In the final analysis, any decision ultimately comes to down to a "gut" feel for where the party needs to be.
Apart from our leadership problems, I don't think there is much debate, that Liberals lost the battle with voters on the economy. Although, the strategy allowed for pumping past fiscal management, the Liberals were never able to get much traction, relative to Harper. Moving forward, with the economy almost a certain central argument next election, any spectrum considerations must incorporate this reality. The middle class will simply not endorse the Liberals on the economy if they were to move left, or stay left, with another advocate. Most voters, rabid partisans aside, are simply terrified of a federal NDP approach to the economy, particularly when uncertainty reigns. If you want to appeal on the economy, the Liberals are wise to return to their centrist ways, a mix of free market endorsement, that understands the global economy, fiscal prudence and competitiveness. A modern Liberal approach on the economy that is innovative and balanced, a program which rejects the left arguments, which isn't at war with business, which understands, as most already do, you need healthy big fish for the ecosystem to sustain. On the economy, a move back to the center is a good idea.
On social issues, it depends on the topic, but in general, the Liberals are fine where they are under Dion, possibly some room to move farther left. Two exceptions on this score, one crime and two immigration. The modern Liberal party must respond to people's concerns about crime, so that the perception of favoring criminal over victim doesn't remain. I don't think the party has to move much, just make a more coherent case for why their approach on crime is proper and forward thinking. On immigration, it's time for the Liberal Party to re-examine it's kneejerk policies and quit treating this file as a sacred cow. There is great risk for potential alienation, but the Liberals can stand apart if they develop a modern interpretation of integration and cohesion.
In a perfect world, I would like to see the Liberals centrist on economic matters, social progressive on others, within that a hint of practicality and pragmatism. Center-left on the spectrum, but more complicated than that on further review. Afterall, most people aren't philosophical purists, the trick is viewing each issue as a subset and understanding the appeal overall. Maybe the best strategy, the Liberals should let other parties be left and right, while we draw on each where applicable, morphing into something of a moving target on the spectrum.