A group of Alberta NDP loyalists say it’s time to change the party’s name that’s become a millstone around its electoral fortunes.
The name is too often synonymous among many voters with the federal NDP, a perception that has cost votes in close races in the past two provincial elections, particularly in the decisive battleground of Calgary, said Alberta’s Progressive Future (APF) spokesman Brian Malkinson.
“This misconception that (federal NDP Leader) Jagmeet Singh controls Rachel Notley is a drag on the party’s support,” said Malkinson, who lost to his Conservative opponent by 191 votes in Calgary-Currie in 2019.
“It’s particularly the case in Calgary and the surrounding areas — it’s something we’d seen at the doors, and nobody had actually raised money and done polling to confirm what we’ve heard.”
Six candidates who lost their races in May — four of them in Calgary — are listed as supporters of the idea.
Janet Brown Opinion Research polled voters last September for the APF and found 50 per cent of respondents thought the federal NDP had considerable influence on the Alberta party.
Malkinson said it also found 12 per cent could not vote for the NDP at this time, while another 12 per cent indicated the same sentiment but would be willing to vote for another centre-left party.
While it’s not certain a name change would have translated to a victory in May for the NDP, which lost by about an 8.5 per cent popular vote margin, it would remove one significant barrier to that goal, he said.
“If you can’t get over the name, you can’t have (our policy platform) judged over its merits,” said Malkinson, adding the name is also an issue in rural Alberta where the party won only one seat in the spring.
The federal NDP’s alliance with the Trudeau Liberal government magnifies that branding factor, said Malkinson.
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The APF on Wednesday launched a campaign on social media and at albertasprogressivefuture.ca for public input on the issue.
A new name for the party remains up in the air, said Malkinson. “We’re not going to get bogged down on what that name is, but it can’t have the acronym NDP.”
On Wednesday, NDP Leader Rachel Notley dismissed the idea of a name change, calling it a distraction from pressing issues.
“I’m proud of our brand but, more to the point, I’m focused on turning our attention to the issues that matter to Albertans — health care, CPP, the cost of living, affordability,” said Notley.
The NDP name is associated, she said, with its principled stands on maintaining the Canada Pension Plan and a reliable public health care system.
“These are issues very much tied to the NDP brand,” said Notley.
Some observers have pointed to Notley’s perceived weak performance in the televised leaders’ debate and the party’s decision to call for a corporate tax hike as crucial blows to the party’s electoral fortunes.
Malkinson wouldn’t dismiss those factors but said the party’s name has become a consistent barrier to an NDP victory.
“We’re not saying (the party’s name) is the thing, but this is always something we need to get over,” he said.
Distancing the party name from federal entities is a legitimate discussion given how the UCP used that association as an electoral cudgel last spring, said Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt.
“They don’t want to have the UCP beating them over the head with this again four years from now, because it worked,” said Bratt, who nonetheless considers that perceived association inaccurate and unfair.
He said the discussion echoes what’s confronted the decimated Alberta Liberals, who’ve never been able to surmount that name association with the federal party, he said.
Attempts to politically distance by name has been done multiple times by provincial parties with mixed results, said Bratt, citing the decision by the former B.C. Liberals’ transition to the title B.C. United Party that’s “hurt them.”
“We’ve seen many provincial parties decouple and there can be a danger,” he said.
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The APF’s push could also signify a serious discussion to drop Notley as party leader following two successive electoral defeats, said Bratt.
“Notley was able to do a pretty effective job but they’re looking beyond Notley,” he said.
A major reason the NDP was able to pick up 14 seats in the last election was “because of doubts about (Premier) Danielle Smith, but it doesn’t mean a decision about decoupling isn’t warranted.”
Malkinson insisted his group isn’t focusing on the leadership nor on “taking over the party,” but acknowledged it’s an active issue.
“Rachel Notley took the Alberta NDP to new heights . . . does she have the fight to go one more time?” he said.
“It’s a question for her — the party has evolved and it’s time the name evolved.”