For years the Liberals had nothing to offer the NDP in terms of experience or comparisons. There used to be two natural governing parties in Canada (Liberals used to embrace the idea that there was only one and in spite of their success that was never the case- they were just the stronger of two).
This duality meant that whichever party was in opposition only had to prove the other was deficient in order to wear the mantle of governance. Today, the traditional weakling of that former duality has emerged not only the stronger but the only natural governing party.
Jeffrey Simpson speaks about the fact that the Liberals used to stand for somethign but don't anymore. http://tinyurl.com/y8pccco.
That may be debatable. I would argue that there was a time when the Liberal party not standing for something did not matter. They could defeat the Liberals in the way they were defeated simply by proving the current government was not performing up to snuff. That was because they were a natural governing party with the presumption of an ability to rule.
Now only the Conservatives hold that presumption (misplaced but a fact nonetheless). The cumulative damage of the Sponsorship scandal, the poor election campaign of 2008 and a leader that did not become PM, means that the Liberals are not presumed to be government ready. They are now effectively in the same boat as New Democrats and competing with them, perhaps for the first time for the role of alternative government. They have to earn their place. (I could argue that the Liberals once were briefly in this same position in the late 1980s early 1990s. They broke out of it with the Red Book that reasserted themselves as a governing option.)
Now the Liberals for the first time since 1993, actually have to stand for something in order to be elected.
Now their problems and their experiences and their solutions are relevant to New Democrats. I say this because what used to work for the Liberals would not work for the NDP because it used to be if you defeated the Conservatives the Liberals would be elected (except for 1993). Now defeating the Conservatives will leave them elected, still, by default. People will vote for the Cons even if they are discredited until another party proves it has the ability to govern.
This is the reason negative advertising as a campaign mainstay works for a natural governing party but not for others. Now that the Liberals are not a default option, the Conservatives can keep them that way through negative advertising but Liberals cannot regain their former position through the same tactic -- just as the NDP cannot make significant headway that way.The NDP used to find it frustrating when the NDP would launch a hard hitting attack on the Cons only to see the Liberals benefit.
Turned off people hold their noses and vote the way they did, for a natural governing party, or stay home. Now, both the NDP and the Liberals have the challenge of showing why they should be the government and if neither one is able to do so the Conservatives will continue to win even as they become more unpopular.
Now, however, the NDP can look to what the Liberals do and learn from it for the first time because now they are in the same situation. And now of course Liberals can look to the NDP to see what works or does not work. But both parties should give up employing the tactics that have elected opposition parties in a time of two natural governing parties and start employing the tactics required to establish or re-establish their parties as governing options. Those are very different tactics. The NDP must avoid negative based campaigns (single negative ads in a positive based campaign can still work) until it can establish itself as a recognized option. Only then can the benefit from a campaign be picked up. Now the Liberals are in the same position. If the NDP can understand this, the NDP might be able to become the next recognized option with the Liberals running the negative campaigns that get New Dems elected.
Bottom line is: what is good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander. The NDP must figure this out before the Liberals do or the NDP will be once more outside looking in.