Pints & Politics: Debating name changes in Alberta

The other night I went out to Pints and Politics at Brewster’s Pub in Edmonton, a gathering of people interested in talking about politics.

It was pretty good. I had the opportunity to meet a few MLAs (Dave Taylor – Alberta Party, Kent Hehr – Liberal Party, and Jonathan Denis – Conservative Party) and chat with people from those parties as well. I was surprised I didn’t meet anyone from the Wild Rose Party, but I didn’t meet everyone there either.

What I so often discover from casual, in-person discussions about politics is that our differences usually aren’t that far apart.

I prefer these types of discussions to online political discussions. The trolls usually don’t come out to these events, preferring the perceived anonymity they possess behind their computer screens and pseudonyms.

What’s in a name?

I had fun prodding a few of the Alberta Liberals in the room. We got onto the topic of changing the name of the provincial Liberal party, which apparently has little connection to the federal party.

I still find it odd that the Alberta Liberal party is so stuck on keeping the name, when it’s so obvious that it’s the biggest impediment to their political success in this province right now (leaving aside the issues of ineffective leadership).

The provincial Conservatives love to bring up the 1980s National Energy Program, signed by Conservative premier Peter Lougheed. When the NEP is mentioned, there’s a collective knee-jerk around the province, and it’s never good for the Liberals, despite the fact the provincial Liberals probably had absolutely nothing to do with it. The truth has nothing to do with the issue.

The rationale I heard was that the Alberta Liberals are worried their stream of donations would dry up if they were to change their name. I countered that it would likely increase as they tapped new sources of donations.

I have to respect the Alberta Liberals for manning the helm of their swamped ship to the bitter end, but a touch of Machiavellian sensibility wouldn’t hurt. Would a name change mean a complete abandonment of their principles? Absolutely not. Why would it?

I heard something interesting too, that nobody has ever presented a motion at a party convention to change the party name. About time it happened, but it won’t be me doing it. So, what should the name be?

The Prairie Party

I thought this would make sense, because the Alberta Liberals, according to what I heard, are a truly provincial party with few ties federally. It’s the same in B.C., where the B.C. Liberals are really Conservatives and have few real ties to the federal party.

Albertans, and here I’m stereotyping a little, tend to be quite patriotic about their province, and a name like the Prairie Party could be appreciate by many in the province, particularly rural voters. I have never seen a province where its residents feel so strongly about their home.

My thought is that if you’re truly convinced your principles are worth fighting for and should be adopted here, why would something like a name change be so problematic? It is puzzling. In fact, it’s truly odd, considering so many political parties would be willing to force their mothers to work in a Chinese sweat shop if it meant they could get into power.

In some ways you have to respect that kind of conviction, but in other ways, it’s sort of dumb. Apparently Einstein was quoted as saying “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

I also came up with a cute slogan that captures why the name change should happen: change the name and you change the game.

Looking at it practically, a good portion of the voters in the province have grey hair, like it or not. Voter turnout here is pathetically low, but you can count on seniors to get out and do their civic duty. They don’t tend to be swing voters either. They’re loyal and often conservative. They also remember the NEP, rightly or wrongly, so if the Liberals (with that name) expect to form government here, it’s likely not going to be until the baby boomers are dead and gone.

The Saskatchewan Party

I used these guys as a good example for the Alberta Liberals to follow. They formed in 1997 and 10 years later they were in power. There’s so much wrapped up in a name and such a name has broad, subconscious appeal to Saskatchewan residents, obviously.

This is why the Alberta Party has a positive future ahead of it, no matter what their policies, no matter what they do, no matter who the leader is. The party has the right name. It’s all about the brand. That’s not knocking the positive things the Alberta Party is up to, but having the right name gives them a leg up on their competition. Right out of the gate they have an advantage.

There’s been some public bickering about parties merging, but the Alberta Party would be crazy to do it, if it meant adopting the Liberal Party name. If anything, the Liberals should merge with the Alberta Party and adopt their name.

The one thing the Liberals could do to counter the Alberta Party brand is to come up with one which symbolizes Alberta, and that’s the Prairie Party. I’m not going to launch into some poetic description of how the name represents the province, it just does.

The real question is, how long are the Liberals going to sit on the sidelines of Alberta politics as other parties pass them by? My prediction is that the Alberta Party will form the official opposition not after this election, but the election after that (sorry Wild Rose Party). Perhaps when the Alberta Liberals are down to their last member in the Legislature, they’ll consider a name change, but by then it will be too late.