Michael Byers, a prominent candidate for the re-opened NDP nomination inVancouver Centre, has called for the party to drop the "New" and becomesimply the Democratic Party.
I agree, the party needs a new name. Others, wiser in party ways than I am,have also mused about changing it. For instance, Ed Broadbent, the formerleader, and nominator of current leader Jack Layton (Ed himself wasnominated by none other than Tommy Douglas) wanted the NDP to become theSocial Democratic Party of Canada. Mel Watkins, a former two-time candidatein the Toronto Beaches East-York riding, who was the first to get JackLayton mentioned in print as a leadership candidate, came up with the GreenDemocrats as a possibility. Long-time NDP MP from Burnaby, and candidate inVancouver Centre in the last federal election, Svend Robinson, like MichaelByers today, wanted the party to drop "New" and become, simply, theDemocratic Party.
My own preference (expressed on babble, when rabble was first launched) wasfor the party to be re-constituted as the Citizens Party. Kari Levitt, one-time party candidate in the Montreal area, commented that the word "party" went over badly. She preferred Citizens Initiative or Movement. Changing its name is no sure guarantee the party will build support, and gain electoral strength. But, there is a good argument that the current name hinders, not helps the party.
That is certainly the case in Ontario where the massive propaganda campaignmounted against the Rae government has marked political consciousness eversince. While losing Bob to the Liberals is cause for hope the Rae effectwill dissipate, there is little evidence to date that it will happen soonenough to counter the long, lingering, negative effect.
The worst feature of the current name is the unhappy connotation of itsFrench equivalent: Nouveau parti dÃ©mocratique or NPD. In French, PD is usedas a slur against homosexuals, so on first hearing, NPD carries a bignegative to any Francophone, creating a strong, lasting, bad first impression. Since in French, Democratic Party becomes Parti DÃ©mocratique, unfortunately, the problem is not resolved by the name proposed by Michael Byers.
Words have magic properties. Names matter. Billions of commercial dollarsare spent creating brands. NDP works for current party supporters, but thereare not enough of them for the party to win a federal election, obviously.So why not change the name, if it helps to attract more supporters, membersand voters?
There is nothing more gratifying to party leadership (short of victory) thanto see potential candidates of the quality of Michael Byers, and Anne LagacÃ©Dowson (in Westmount Ville-Marie) put themselves forward, as happened lastweek. Outstanding candidates draw supporters to the party, and create theenergy needed to bring out the vote. But federal elections are about votingfor parties, not local candidates. While strong candidacies strengthen theparty (as has improved fund-raising, and increased campaign savy) to createa party that people want to go out and vote for in large numbers requireseven more. Leaders matter, but electoral politics is about a comprehensivepackage.
The NDP would stand a better chance of winning federal elections if itre-invented itself a stand-alone federal party. Currently, it is easy toconfuse the federal level, and the provincial level, which works against theparty in much of the country. One good reason to change the party name,would be to keep the two levels separate, so that the sins of one do not carry over in the minds of potential supporters.
Today, I would go along with Mel Watkins, and support the proposition thatthe New Democratic Party become Canada's Green Democrats. The resultingconfusion created with the existing Green Party is something that could bebest resolved by a merger, or at worse lead people to understand that thereare many ways to be green, some much better than others.
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