The New Democratic Party, Debating Its Old Name, Should Think More Globally
After nearly fifty years, it seems that the New Democratic Party has finally come of age. Among the burning questions to be discussed at the party’s upcoming convention in Halifax is that of whether to drop the word “New” and proceed as the Democratic Party. My immediate reaction was that it would be a shame to lose one of the venerable old party names in Canadian politics – which probably indicates in itself that change is overdue.
This would not be a matter for us internationally-minded Canada’s Worlders, except that some commentators have been quick to notice that the United States already has a Democratic Party. The significance of this, however, is somewhat disputed. Party activist Ian Capstick has sensibly pointed out that no one is likely to confuse Jack Layton with US President Barack Obama.
Nevertheless, the Globe’s editorialists suggest that the name change “would be an awkward attempt to take advantage of Barack Obama’s popularity” and would even be disingenuous in linking the no-longer-NDP to America’s Democrats. Lawrence Martin, in the same paper, seems to think that a bit of linkage would be just the thing, and gushes enthusiastically that the name change would be “like a fresh coat of paint”. How inspiring.
What this debate highlights is the lamentable myopia of the Canadian media. We Canucks sometimes enjoy mocking Americans who think the United States is the only country worth paying attention to, but many Canadian journalists seem to think there are exactly two countries deserving of such notice – the United States and Canada. Nobody worries unduly about whether Michael Ignatieff is distinguishable from Malcom Turnbull of the Liberal Party of Australia (although the answer is probably yes) or whether Stephen Harper is illegitimately taking advantage of the popularity of the UK Conservatives.
Names of political parties tend to be rather unoriginal the wide world over, and coming up with a good one that isn’t in use anywhere else is hardly a trivial task. A few minutes with Wikipedia reveals Democratic Parties in Uganda, Argentina and Mongolia, among others, and even New Democratic Parties in Albania, Sri Lanka and the Caribbean nation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. (Although it looks as though ours might just be the oldest New Democratic Party in the world.)
Accordingly, I think it’s silly to use the existence of a Democratic Party in the United States as an argument either for or against renaming our NDP. However, the folks at the Globe also make a much better point, which is that “Democratic Party” is awfully generic. Do we have any parties in Canada that don’t espouse democracy? They suggest that the New Democratic Party become the Social Democratic Party of Canada, which is at least substantive and distinctive. I personally think it would be nice if Layton and the gang could find a way to keep the NDP acronym, for example by becoming the National Democratic Party. No, wait a minute, that will never do – there’s already one in Egypt.