Funny how the Left doesn't want to unite

The Social Democratic Party of Canada is to blame for the dismal election result we just had. If such a party existed and had run, we'd have a majority government. First, let's back up.

The outcome last Tuesday is definitely not Stephen Harper's fault. True, 143 seats out of 308 isn't a majority. But 133 of 233 outside Quebec sure is. And it isn't fair to ask, if Mr. Harper couldn't win a majority against Stéphane Dion or Paul Martin, whom can he beat? His problem was Gilles Duceppe. Besides, the right went through a prolonged period of soul-searching in the 1990s, and even if you don't like what they found, it's reasonable to assume there isn't anything else there they could go back and get.

The situation on the left is very different. So the first requirement for political progress in Canada is that Liberals avoid blaming Stéphane Dion and his admittedly wretched campaign. They must accept that they are not the natural governing party any more. They haven't won a majority in Canada under an Anglophone leader since Mackenzie King in 1945, nor a majority of Quebec seats since 1984. People have voted in three elections who weren't born then. This is not their grandfather's Liberal party and to see the policies they value implemented the Grits can't follow his strategy.

The second requirement is for the NDP to abandon the belief that they're still on the verge of that big breakthrough they've been expecting since 1961. Sure, they gained seven seats, but their share of the national vote rose by less than one per cent. And while they're understandably boasting about winning an Alberta seat, their most remarkable achievement is winning a Quebec seat in a general election for the first time ever.

That brings me to the Bloc and its weirdly anodyne campaigns. Their slogan this time was "Présent!", which is normally what you say when you show up but don't vote. The day after the election a BQ press release attributed to Mr. Duceppe the idea (my translation) that "the election result shows clearly that two visions confront one another, that of Quebec and that of Stephen Harper; the proof is that it is Quebec that kept the Conservatives in a minority by giving the Bloc two thirds of the seats." But the Tories got less than half the seats in Ontario and were wiped out in Newfoundland. Plenty of other voters and politicians desperately wanted Mr. Harper held to a minority, and helped do it. Why not work with them?

Mr. Duceppe's explanation makes no sense. From 1921 through 1988 every majority government in Canada included more than half of Quebec's MPs. Since 1993 it seems Quebecers have taken leave of their strategic senses, giving a majority of their seats six straight times to the one party that will never form even part of a government. Yet it can't be a deliberate attempt to paralyze our politics so that we will let them leave, because in referendums they keep voting to stay. So what is their game? It's a fair question, and the third requirement for sorting out our politics is that we get a sensible answer.

One prominent separatist tried to ask it during the election, reproaching Mr. Duceppe for having made the BQ just another social democratic party. The Bloc leader brushed him off. But social democrats should raise the same question from the other side, demanding to know what policies the Bloc, and their supporters, want implemented in a separate Quebec that could not be implemented across Canada by a social democratic government.

Of course neither the party of Laurier and Trudeau nor that of Tommy Douglas would form a coalition with separatists. But why does sovereignty matter when the position of the Bloc on questions from abortion to Kyoto to Afghanistan is substantially identical with that of Liberals and the NDP? Why not form a Social Democratic Party of Canada and implement them, in Quebec and elsewhere?

In Wednesday's National Post Jonathan Kay suggested that the divisions among left-wing parties are essentially cultural. But as Thomas Sowell says, culture is a set of working tools, and there should be no taboo on discussing whether some of the gear in the shed is plumb worn out. Especially given the equally powerful cultural phenomenon, unmistakable in parliamentary committees, that Liberal, NDP and Bloc members share a political sensibility as well as a political philosophy and are very comfortable working together. It's time they took responsibility for governing.

Even the Tories would benefit; the only way they can get a majority now is for the nation to try coherent social democratic governance and decide they don't like it very much.

I'm not saying I want a Social Democratic Party majority after the next election. I just want an explanation of why the social democratic majority doesn't either.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

Columns, PoliticsJohn Robson