If several high-profile individuals have their way, one of Canada’s major political parties could be on the way to a rebranding even before the summer is out. The New Democratic Party could enter the fall session of parliament with a new name, simply called the “Democratic Party.” The move has been promoted by a mounting number of MPs and other party members at the grassroots.
Two NDP riding associations have passed resolutions calling for a rebranding—simply dropping the “New” from the party name—that will be debated at the party’s national convention in August.
Victoria MP Denise Savoie recently made headlines for expressing support for the idea in Public Eye Online, but she is not the first sitting MP to call for such a rebranding.
Windsor MP Brian Masse says he has favoured a change since his first by-election win in 2002. His reasons are the same as his colleague from Victoria: the party is no longer new.
“Those that are coming into politics or getting interested in Canadian politics need to know that we’re a mainstream political party that has established itself in the Canadian system,” he says.
“This is not an attempt to rewrite our history. It’s an attempt to bring our history forward and to show confidence and pride in a party that has shaped Canadian politics and actually shaped the lives of Canadians—often punching above its weight.”
Masse says he expects other members of parliament and party operatives to come forward with support for the idea in the weeks leading to the convention.
Ian Capstick was for several years a member of Jack Layton’s inner circle. He has since moved into the private sector but remains an NDP member—and he aggressively supports the idea of a name change.
“To be blunt, we’re not new anymore,” he says, adding that he’s aware of support for the resolutions from one end of the country to the other.
MP Peter Stoffer, who has represented a riding on Nova Scotia’s eastern shore for 12 years, says he has advocated a name change for many of those years. He says he has also heard calls for the party to be renamed the Social Democratic Party of Canada.
“I don’t think it’s much of a major discussion that you have to worry about, but I think the grassroots would probably accept it once they’ve heard the arguments,” he says.
Stoffer believes that a name change would be almost purely cosmetic, but Capstick thinks a rebranding would—and should—get the party thinking about more than its name.
“That has to involve policy,” he says.
Capstick suggested that the NDP ought to re-examine its relationship with organized labour. He says that the party isn’t winning the labour vote and that there is no “labour” party in Canada.
“Does it make sense to have so many of the party’s decisions—particularly the leadership—weighted towards the organized labour movement in Canada?” he asks. “I don’t know. I think there is a healthy discussion to be had around that.”
He added that he didn’t want to advocate shutting labour out.
Masse emphasizes that he wants the name-change debate to be a positive one.
“There are a lot of people who like the current acronym, so there will be those who are tied to that,” he says. “But at the same time, once [members] start to think things through, I’m hopeful that we can see some unity on this.”
Recently, long-time party activist Gerald Caplan wrote in the Globe and Mail that, at the party’s August convention, “the only faux-excitement will be an elite-led attempt to change the name.” Capstick disagrees with the assessment that this move is elite-driven.
“Quite frankly, I think the leadership of the party is not entirely impressed with this,” he says, because the change will be costly. It will also spark discussions among provincial parties, some of which have had considerable success with the current name.
Masse says that his riding association’s resolution doesn’t directly impact any provincial NDP.
“We don’t want to force this upon any of the provincial parties, because they are different organizations affiliated together,” he says.
Stoffer expects a name change—if it happens—to coincide with the NDP’s fiftieth anniversary in 2011, but he added that any decision about that is up the party’s members.
Nick Taylor-Vaisey is an Ottawa-based freelancer who writes about federal politics and higher education. His work has appeared in print and online publications across the country, including University Affairs, Capital Xtra and Maclean’s OnCampus. He writes about the effects of the recession on arts groups in the July-August 2009 issue of This Magazine.