They've failed to win power in four straight provincial elections. And now some Progressive Conservatives are saying it's time the party considered rebranding itself.

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This article was published 17/11/2011 (3593 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

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They've failed to win power in four straight provincial elections. And now some Progressive Conservatives are saying it's time the party considered rebranding itself.

How does the Manitoba Party sound?

Jim Downey: Time for a debate

Jim Downey: Time for a debate

Some Conservative members -- inspired by the success of Brad Wall's Saskatchewan Party -- have been musing about a name change since they watched in disbelief Oct. 4 as the NDP won its biggest majority ever.

"I think it's time the party had the debate," former Manitoba deputy premier Jim Downey said Thursday.

Downey served in the PC cabinets of both Gary Filmon and Sterling Lyon. He noted a name change was successful in Saskatchewan, where the centre-right has thrived under Wall, who has won back-to-back majority governments.

Likewise, in Ottawa, the Conservative Party of Canada has become a political powerhouse after undergoing a couple of branding changes.

In Manitoba, the Progressive Conservatives are rock solid in rural areas, but attracting Winnipeggers remains a challenge. A new name could attract disenchanted Liberals as well as new Canadians, Downey said.

But the idea may be a tough sell, judging from the reaction Thursday.

PC Party president Michael Richards, a Winnipeg lawyer, was cool to the idea.

"I'm not sure how widespread that view is. Speaking personally, I'd be very cautious about moving in that direction," he said.

The Conservatives in Saskatchewan sought to rebrand themselves after being dealt a mortal blow in a corruption scandal. That's not the case here in Manitoba, Richards said.

"We have a legacy of accomplishments in government that we can all be very proud of. Our challenge is to build on that foundation and to offer a more compelling alternative going forward."

Hugh McFadyen announced he was resigning as party leader after the Conservatives captured only 19 of 57 seats in the Oct. 4 provincial election.

Brian Pallister, who is weighing a run to replace McFadyen, said he's also heard talk among party members about rebranding the PCs along the lines of the successful Saskatchewan Party.

But like Richards, he said there are few parallels between the Saskatchewan and Manitoba situations. And PCs should feel no shame in falling short of forming government this fall, he said.

"The popular vote was up in the majority of ridings and the candidates were excellent," Pallister said.

Tuxedo MLA Heather Stefanson, who confirmed Thursday she is also mulling over a run for the Tory leadership, said she's heard rumblings about rebranding, but it's not something she's discussed with anyone.

"I'm a member of the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba, and we just came through an election where we got 44 per cent of the vote. I'm a member of that party; that's where I'm at right now," she said.

Paul Thomas, a Winnipeg political scientist, said a brand change would be a "gross overreaction" to the Manitoba PC Party's recent election defeats.

"This is the party of Duff Roblin, after all. If they can't find enough of an historical legacy and tradition and somebody to embody that, then they've given up too early, in my opinion."

PC organizer Ken Waddell, who publishes the Neepawa Banner newspaper, said he's heard street talk on the issue and nothing more. For a new party to replace the PCs, it would need a dynamic, committed leader, he said. "And you would need a lot of upset people, and we don't have that in Manitoba."

Downey said he's "darn proud" of the party and its record in office. He said he expects he'll be "roasted" by some fellow Conservatives for raising the name-change idea, but he feels the debate would be good for the party.

"We are in a world of branding."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca