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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Everything New Is Old Again

No longer so new:

Nearly 50 years after the New Democratic Party was founded, its members are soon to decide whether to lop "new" from their name.

The question is whether to do it abruptly in two weeks at a convention in Halifax or to put it to a consultation process and make the decision in two years at the half-century mark.

Whether the NDP should be renamed the "Democratic Party" promises a lively debate and vote by about 1,000 delegates at the party's national biennial convention in Halifax Aug. 14-16th.

"It's simply that we're no longer new," Windsor West MP Brian Masse said in an interview.

"We're an established Canadian party that has shaped many public policies in Canada, that has been instrumental in health care, pension reform and progressive environmental and economic issues. I think this is a natural evolution. Drop the new from the name and run with the 'Democratic Party.'

Yet the party is no more democratic than it is new. Stalled at below 20% in the polls, occassionally drifting into the low double digits, it has never attained a critical mass of support. In 1984 it reached the height of its popularity under Ed Broadbent's leadership, with 20.38% of the vote and 43 seats. 

An old marketing maxim holds that when desperate, change the name. Changing the name implies that the brand value is very close to zero, or even negative. Yes, calling a nearly half century old party "New" is absurd, but it wasn't that much less absurd ten, twenty or thirty years ago. It was a fairly silly qualifier in 1961. At some point the "new" party was going to be old hat. By that point, perhaps, the founders of the party asssumed that the socialist utopia would have been established. No such luck. 

What's very old about the New Democrats is their clinging to socialism, now expressed under the more acceptable euphemism of "social democracy." Hey, everybody loves democracy and who wants to be anti-social, eh? Under Pierre Trudeau, who was a member of the NDP forerunner the CCF, Canadians got a fairly strong dose of socialism. When Canadians voted to turf John Turner in 1984, it was a combination of throw the bums out and shutting the door on the Trudeaupian project. Sure they liked the "free" health care and generous social programs, but the next logical step never really followed. 

A sweeping nationalization of key industries, as had occurred in Britain in the 1940s, dropped off the political radar in the 1980s. National daycare and a slew of new social program failed to launch. Government continued to grow, of course, but only by the inertia of past political successes. The bold new utopia, for which the NDP fancied itself the vanguard, stalled about half way. Canadians went so far, but have little apetite for going further. What then is the point of the NDP? Should it at some point sink forever below the electoral waves, many would miss it. The paternalistic hectoring the party is legendary for seems to assuage the conscience of the nation. Previous generations went to church to be told to be good. The NDP does the same, albeit by calling upon the coercive aparatus of the state, rather than asking parishioners to seek within themelves. So long as altruism is considered a moral ideal, some will believe force is necessary to impose that ideal. From that wellspring the NDP lives.

Posted by Richard Anderson on August 5, 2009 | Permalink


Great, just what we need. Another undemocratic democratic party.

Posted by: Doug Gilchrist | 2009-08-05 7:58:01 AM


"So long as altruism is considered a moral ideal, some will believe force is necessary to impose that ideal."

This statement bothers me. Altruism, in my humble opinion, will always be considered a moral ideal. I myself consider helping your fellow man to be an ideal worth striving for.

What people need to understand, is that altruism can only be good if chosen. If not chosen, we lose the very thing that makes us human: our liberty.

Posted by: Charles | 2009-08-05 8:23:19 AM

You're certainly right about the non democrat New Democrats. Internally they weight votes in favour of the unions. Living up to the old adage that some people are just more equal than others. A union boss gets way more say than just your average rank and file member.

And there is nothing "new" about Marxist's, even if they are of the born again variety.

Posted by: Farmer Joe | 2009-08-05 8:51:07 AM

If the NDP wanted to be honest with itself and all Canadians, why not forget about the 'new' and the 'democratic' and just go with The Socialist Party?

Posted by: Leigh Patrick Sullivan | 2009-08-05 9:35:37 AM

Consider the upside to the NDP. Without that home for the radical loony left, they might park with the Liberals, deleveraging Conservative poling success which for all it's faults is slightly better than the scorched Earth alternative such as the current Democrat-led US. The significant presence of the Greens also helps in splitting-up the socialist-wacko vote. If Canada were a two Party system a la US, the core left liberal majority would be insurmountable other than during possible brief intervals following gross examples of corruption and arrogance. (Groundhog Day?)

Posted by: John Chittick | 2009-08-05 10:36:01 AM

Golly! I remember 50 years ago when it became the New DP. It was sooooo exciting!
They should recapture the magic by calling themselves the NEW New Democratic Party.

Posted by: Patrick Armstrong | 2009-08-05 11:11:44 AM

Why not be honest and call themselves the Canadian Prohibition Party: prohibition of freedom, wealth and progress.

Posted by: Alain | 2009-08-05 11:16:46 AM

What people need to understand, is that altruism can only be good if chosen. If not chosen, we lose the very thing that makes us human: our liberty.

Posted by: Charles | 2009-08-05 8:23:19 AM

Agreed Charles.
My wife and I do what we can to help in our community as well as support foreign kids in an effort to get them an education.
But we are extremely limited in what we can do in "boots on the ground" manner when we are taxed almost out of existence by those who claim they are doing so much good with the proceeds of extortion.
A couple of young people came to our door soliciting for some charity or other last week.
I suggested they contect the Federal Government if they wanted some of our money, because that's where most of it goes...

and "Democratic Party" as a new name?
Why not? Don't most Socialist and Communist organizations rely on doublespeak?

Posted by: The original JC | 2009-08-05 11:52:27 AM

"This statement bothers me. Altruism, in my humble opinion, will always be considered a moral ideal. I myself consider helping your fellow man to be an ideal worth striving for.

What people need to understand, is that altruism can only be good if chosen. If not chosen, we lose the very thing that makes us human: our liberty."

Unfortunately Charles I must strongly disagree on this point. Literally altruism means "otherism." Practiced consistently, which very few people even attempt, would mean placing the needs and well being of others above one self. This undermines the moral, and therefore the political and legal, sovereignty of the self. The political statist is a moral collectivist.

He regards the individual as being less important than the group, in other words he is altruistic in believing the self must be sacrificed for others. Saying that altruism should be voluntary is beside the point. By conceding it as a moral ideal you've surrendered the literal moral high ground to the statist collectivists. If altruism is an ideal, why shouldn't it be imposed by force? Freedom allows people to be selfish, which is morally wrong. Do you support a social system that encourages immorality? I've heard that argument more than once. Freedom "works", but it is immoral.

There is a distinction between compassion and altruism. Altruism says you must sacrifice the self for the benefit of others as a moral duty. Compassion says help others when you deem appropriate. The latter preserves the moral sovereignty of the individual.

As I mentioned earlier few practice altruism consistently. It nevertheless exerts a powerful moral influence on many. They are often guilted into supporting statism as a result. I've met more than a few socialists who say they believe in freedom, and would be fine with laissez-faire, if it could guarantee that people would sacrifice themselves willingly.

Posted by: Publius | 2009-08-06 7:49:37 AM

They could also name themselves after their records across Canada compared to the Conservatives and Liberals and call themselves the balanced budget party.

Posted by: Roy | 2009-08-06 10:13:26 AM

Thanks, Roy - I needed a good laugh this morning! (Ont. and Sask. not included, right?)

Posted by: Leigh Patrick Sullivan | 2009-08-06 11:03:18 AM


"half way"... Right on: the USSR had almost 100% of the economy in the guvmint hands. Canada is almost 50%. In typical Kanadian fashion we are moving sloooowly. But definately closing in the goal of Utopia!

"no apetite"? I'm not so sure: more than half of the voters are of the "no-liability" type, or at least believe they get more freebies than they are paying for... So it is obvious to me we are PAST the point of no return!

Posted by: Christian D | 2009-08-06 10:08:34 PM

How about the "Second Runner-up Party". So far it is the most accurate.

Posted by: PGIB | 2009-08-07 3:46:25 AM


Sorry for the late reply but I was looking at old comments and realized you had responded.

You seem to be taking the position that selfishness is the only morality. Please don't get me wrong, I don't think selfishness is immoral. In fact, I believe selfishness is a moral act since it is the act of taking care of oneself. It also leads to very positive results in society.

On the other hand, I don't think altruism is immoral. If I sacrifice my well-being to help let's say, drug addicts; is that being immoral?

To me morality is respecting other individuals' moral/natural/negative rights.

Using force, to me, is the most immoral act of all, which is why you can never force altruism, or compassion, or selfishness on anyone. Let's turn the argument around. Say selfishness is the only morality. Then is it wrong to force people to be selfish? Let's make all charitable giving illegal. Every dollar earned must be reinvested to maximize wealth or go to jail. That to me would be immoral because you are imposing, by force, your morality on to someone else.

No one's morality will ever be exactly the same. Which is why to me it makes sense to let others live their own lives as long as they don't prevent me from living mine as I see fit.

Posted by: Charles | 2009-08-11 2:36:35 PM

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