Who are Canada's true conservatives? It's more than a battle of ideas between the Progressive Conservative Party and the new Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance. It's a legal fight over who has the right to use the word 'conservative.'
"The poor old Reform Party, they can't get by with their own name, so they're trying to take ours," Tory Leader Joe Clark said yesterday.
The leader of the Reform Party, Preston Manning, wrote to Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley yesterday to change the party's name to "Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance." Permission is necessary because under federal election law, no party can adopt a name that is "likely to be confused" with that of another.
So Mr. Kingsley has written to Mr. Clark, asking for views on the new party's name in writing by Friday.
Yesterday, Mr. Clark made the Tory position clear: Some voters might be confused by the name change. "There is a very real possibility" of confusion, he said. "They are doing [this]for a reason."
(Mr. Kingsley has also written to Paul Hellyer, leader of the little-known Canadian Action Party, which has argued that the public might be confused by use of the word "Canadian.")
But Tony Clement, who co-chairs the new party, said he's confident that Mr. Kingsley will at least accept "the Canadian Alliance," the name's short form.
If Mr. Kingsley accepts the long version, Mr. Clark said yesterday, the Tories might take their fight to court. But some members of the Canadian Alliance say they'd welcome a legal battle.
Prime Minister Jean Chrétien also weighed in on the name change yesterday, albeit jokingly and with the facts a little mixed up.
"There is no fundamental change in this party, there is just a need to change the name," he said. "You know Coca-Cola tried that and came back to the old one."
Mr. Chrétien was apparently referring to the famous marketing disaster in which Coca-Cola altered its taste for a time; it never changed its name.
The Canadian Alliance has already suffered derision because of its name. Days after the party's founding convention, it abandoned "Canadian Conservative Reform Alliance" because the acronym became "CCRAP" when the word "party" was used at the end.
The transformation of the Reform Party into the Canadian Alliance was a more immediate success in Parliament yesterday. With a small clutch of party members seated around him, House Leader Chuck Strahl asked that the party's 57 MPs be referred to under the new name. Speaker Gilbert Parent immediately approved the request.
Deborah Grey, who was the Reform Party's first elected MP, took over as interim leader of the Opposition after Mr. Manning resigned his post to work full-time on his leadership campaign.