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Toronto Star

August 15, 2009

The challenge the NDP faces in making a new name for itself

According to the experts (and, strangely, experts exist), there are a few good reasons to change your name.

One is trying to put something bad behind you. (For example, "No, it wasn't me that burned the post office down. You must be thinking of Paul Wilson. I'm Raul Wilson.)

Another is trying to steer toward something good ahead. (For example, "I'd like to borrow $500,000. ID? Sure, here's my three-year-old driver's licence. Just call me Paul.")

By amputating the "New" from "New Democratic Party" at a convention this weekend, some members of the would-be Democratic Party of Canada want it both ways.

There is the whole apathy-of-the-electorate thing to shake off. Then there's the allure of hitching your wagon to a rock star politician.

"I guess they're hoping for some kind of subtle link," says Roger King, the Toronto-based spokesperson for Washington's Democrats Abroad.

So far so good. This topic is being fiercely debated in D.C., is it?

"Not that I'm aware of," says King. "When you called them, they called me and said, 'What's all this about?' I don't think it's quite cracked the Top 10 down there." Not so good.

Steve Manning is CEO of Igor International, a San Francisco company that specializes in naming things. Manning is the guy who convinced Las Vegas hotelier Steve Wynn to name his $3 billion casino – wait for it – Wynn Las Vegas. And, no, he's not hiring.

Before opining on the NDP name change, he breezes through the federal party landscape.

Canadian Action Party? "Do they get together and watch Schwarzenegger movies?" Manning asks.

The Marxist-Leninist Party? "Doomed."

On to bigger fish. How about the Liberal Party?

"That's a divisive word around here, a really damaged word."

The Conservative Party?

"That sort of means we already know how we're going to do things. That's the 'you're with us or against us' party." Wow.

How about the New Democratic Party? "Hmm."

They're getting rid of the "New." This is our socialist party. In American, it roughly translates to "Red Menace."

"Well, maybe the 'New' thing is too associated with being too far left or too far outside tradition. People are fearful of change. Maybe 'New' reinforces that fear. How long have they been called that?"

Nearly 50 years.

"I think people are beginning to realize it's not actually 'new.'"

You'd be surprised.

"If they see an opportunity to jump onto this swell of relief and hope the world has experienced since Barack Obama arrived, then this is a good choice. 'Democratic' still has the connotation of fairness, like you're listening.

"The thing about changing a name is that it grabs people's attention ... But it's a one-time opportunity. Are they planning something big?"

Let me check the notes. There's some talk of a "greener and more prosperous" country.

"You see, there it is," Manning says, with a little excitement. "Green Party. Now that's a name people can understand."


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