What's in a Name?
I figure the best way to approach this is to first look at the arguments against a name change, which I’ve lifted from the “New Liberal” document, as it makes the most compelling case against a name change I’ve read anywhere.
[Note: For the purposes of this post, I’m equating a name change to founding a new party which, of the two, I think is the better option.]
1. “For many Albertans [a name change] will likely seem overly simplistic and possibly even insulting. While trying to fix the problems with our party, we fall prey to one of our biggest: this elitist sense that voters somehow just aren’t getting it, and are shallow enough that if we change the name, we’ll fool them into giving us a second look.”
Agreed, but only in the sense that a name change must be part of something larger. Simply changing from “Reform” to “Canadian Alliance” didn’t do the right any favours in Canada because it was seen to be a hollow move. A name change can, however, be an effective vehicle for drawing voters’ attention to a shift in attitudes and focus.
2. “It is also a complete capitulation. We are giving credence to every Progressive Conservative attack against liberalism they’ve ever made. If our upheaval ends at a name change, we may come out the other side seen as a party of liberals so ashamed of what they are that they hide it – hardly a positive step forward.”
Maybe it would be admitting defeat but, then again, most people are willing to admit defeat after losing for 87 years (Hillary Clinton being the exception). Admittedly, it would somewhat reek of desperation and the media/PCs/NDP would certainly try to exploit it. So I guess it depends whether or not people believe it has reached the “desperation” stage yet.
3. Even if a philosophy shift was not the intended goal, it would be very difficult for the Liberal Party to stay philosophically liberal should its name be changed. Our name is our compass. People coming from any other jurisdiction in this country immediately know what our core philosophy is.
This debate is probably better reserved for another post on the topic of philosophical shifts but isn’t this argument the definition of an “elitist sense that voters somewhat just aren’t getting it”? If people aren’t buying what you’re selling and it’s not an image problem, then you better change what you’re selling. And “our name is our compass” might just be the most eloquent argument in favour of a name change I’ve heard as of yet.
4. Logistical problems: You need 75% approval to change the name. If you created a new party, an ALP rump would siphon off 10% of the vote. [paraphrased]
Logistically, it certainly would be difficult to orchestrate which is why I’m skeptical this will actually happen. Having been actively involved in the ALP for quite some time, there are a lot of people suffering from NDP syndrome – “I’ve lost as a Liberal for 40 years and I’d rather keep losing as a Liberal than compromise”. I do question the claim that the “old” Alberta Liberal Party would be a vote drain on the new party if it achieved a critical mass of support – that reminds me a lot of the “Progressive Canadians” movement started by disgruntled federal PCs after the merger. However, I do think that there would be some backlash from federal Liberals that would, at least initially, cut into the volunteer and donor base of the new party. So unless the new party drew a few disgruntled PCs in, it wouldn’t be worth the effort.
5. “The Alberta Liberal Party survived having no seats through the late 60s to the mid 80s. For a brand supposedly so toxic, it has amazing longevity, and an uncanny ability to bounce back where other parties have been forced to fold. Its resiliency is a strength and must be seriously considered in any proposition that asserts it can simply be willed out of existence.”
Umm…I’m not sure if “survived having no seats” should necessarily be the shinning achievement of any political party. Do we really want to be the Toronto Maple Leafs of the political world?
To that list, I’d add the following arguments against a name change:
6. “Decore nearly won in ’93 as a Liberal, with the NEP a lot fresher in the collective minds of Albertans.” This is probably proof enough that winning as a Liberal isn’t impossible – although the economy tanking certainly helps.
7. “Victory would be a lot sweeter, if it was a Liberal victory”. And the resulting book about that election would sell a lot more.
Tomorrow, I’ll look at some of the arguments in favour of a name change and offer my opinion. Although this post probably had a heavy pro-change tone to it, that’s more for the sake of debate than anything else; I’ll try and poke as some holes in the pro-change arguments tomorrow.
Labels: Alberta Liberal Party