‘Parson’ Manning, in the pulpit, preaches a formula of failure to Alberta’s New Democrats

Posted on May 15, 2015, 1:22 am
11 mins

PHOTOS: Preston Manning, Godfather of the Canadian right. Below: Alberta Premier Designate Rachel Notley, Liberal prime minister Wilfrid Laurier, Social Credit premier E.C. Manning and United Farmers of Alberta leader Henry Wise Wood.

Preaching from the highest pulpit in the land, the opinion pages of the mighty Globe and Mail, Preston “Parson” Manning delivered a stern homily yesterday about how Rachel Notley must organize her cabinet to ensure the speediest possible return to conservative rule out here in unexpectedly social democratic Wild Rose Country.

Rachel-RThe charismatic and intelligent Ms. Notley, in case you missed it, was asked by Alberta voters on May 5, along with 52 of her New Democratic Party colleagues, to form the government of this province.

Not that you’d know all about this from Mr. Manning’s sermon notes. Leastways, he didn’t deign to mention Ms. Notley by name, presumably because he didn’t want to unintentionally sprinkle the sleepy pages of the dull old Globe with the political-mood-altering substance folks out here in Alberta have come to know as “Rachel dust.”

Well, who can blame him? Mr. Manning is the Godfather of Canada’s neoliberal right. His eponymous political boiler room in Calgary is bankrolled by well-heeled corporate donors to move Canadian politics farther and farther to the right.

As always, when Mr. Manning wants to make a point that will really stick with his congregation, he summons up the memory of Dear Old Dad – the first graduate of the Prophetic Bible Institute of Calgary, E.C. Manning himself, penultimate Social Credit premier of Alberta, or the first Conservative one, whichever way you want to look at it, because both propositions would be true.

The elder Mr. Manning’s advice to the unnamed New Democrat premier, channelled by the younger Mr. Manning: Be careful not to draw on the advice and experience of committed and experienced New Democrats when you create your cabinet.

That, explained Preston Manning, this time quoting himself, “would be akin to inviting the organizers of the Toronto International Film Festival to organize the Calgary Stampede – not a good idea.”

WilfriedLaurierActually, if you ask me, Mr. Manning’s idea isn’t a bad one at all. The Stoopede, as we knew it in my days as a reporter at the Calgary Herald, is pretentious, dull and consistently cruel to helpless animals. If the organizers of TIFF couldn’t make it considerably more entertaining, and notably less cruel, I’d be astonished. But that’s just me. Probably spur-wearing Wild West purists would lean toward Mr. Manning’s point of view on this, as is their right even in the kind of corporate-dominated partial democracy he and his financiers approve of.

Regardless, the person Mr. Manning really thinks Ms. Notley ought to listen to is … Mr. Manning (either one).

And what he is really trying to do, the clever old boots, is subtly set the narrative and tar Alberta’s popular new NDP government by association with the federal NDP led by Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair in Ottawa, which he seems to think will drag Ms. Notley’s party down a notch or two.

I’m not so sure. After all, recent polling, also not mentioned by Mr. Manning in his exhortation, suggests the federal NDP is making a comeback with voters. Just the same, he argues the unnamed-by-him Alberta Premier Designate risks the same fate as the Alberta Liberals when they were kicked out of office in 1921 for being, or so he claims, too closely tied with Wilfrid Laurier’s Liberal Government in Ottawa.

Could be, I guess. It’s been 94 years and I don’t recall the details very clearly any more, although I do remember something about Mr. Laurier presiding over the creation of the province of Alberta, so it couldn’t have been all that bad.

Whatever. Mr. Manning also omitted to mention that the unfortunate Alberta Liberals of 1921, who may actually have had quite a lot in common with the unfortunate Alberta Conservatives of 2015, were kicked out of office by the then-rather-NDP-like United Farmers of Alberta led from outside the Legislature by the idealistic Henry Wise Wood.

Ernest_ManningWhich segues nicely into the next Big Message Mr. Manning uses the Globe’s pulpit to preach, the claim the “dark cloud” that descended on Alberta’s conservatives on May 6 “has ‘cleared the air’ on the centre-right side of the political spectrum.”

He goes on to assert that the Alberta Progressive Conservatives last led by Jim Prentice had departed so far from conservative principles they had practically turned into New Democrats themselves.

There are a couple of things hilariously wrong with this presumably intentional misreading of recent Alberta history.

First and most obviously, it ignores the pivotal role Mr. Manning himself played in creating the disgust that brought down the Prentice government. Just six months ago he was telling Wildrose MLAs then led by Danielle Smith the PCs had become exactly what Alberta needed and therefore they must betray their democratic role, cross the floor of the House and join Mr. Prentice’s caucus. Ordinary Albertans were revolted when most of them did.

Does Mr. Manning really think our memories are that short?

It is true that there was plenty of strategic voting in the May 5 election – by rural progressives and moderate urban conservatives alike, all disgusted by the arrogance and entitlement of the Prentice PC Party. But Mr. Manning needs to take responsibility for his role in that, specifically his active encouragement of the profoundly undemocratic Wildrose defection debacle.

Second, it is categorically untrue, as Mr. Manning suggests, that there is now only one generally accepted model for the conservative movement or the PC Party in Alberta – his.

Henry_Wise_WoodAs we saw just the day before yesterday, there is another, quite different approach – that advocated by former premier Ed Stelmach, who urges moving the party’s policies back toward the political centre from the dangerous right-wing territory staked out by Mr. Manning and his fellow neoliberal ideologues.

So it is quite wrong to suggest all Alberta conservatives are now in agreement on policy, or that all that is required to restore conservative rule in Edmonton is to “unite the right.”

What Mr. Manning really has in mind is uniting the right behind his radical market fundamentalist project – which in fact is part of the reason the PC Party in Alberta got into trouble in the first place.

Mr. Manning is arguing for Margaret Thatcher’s long-discredited slogan, There Is No Alternative to the corporatized market fundamentalist dystopia he and his cronies have in mind for Alberta and Canada.

Well, Ms. Notley has just proved that’s not true!

Mr. Manning ends his sermon with an exhortation to the business community to rise to the challenge of leading the economy when “such leadership is unlikely to be provided by the provincial government.” Says who? Mr. Manning’s blood must run cold at the thought – quite likely, actually – that resource prices may soon improve and the economy perk up significantly on Ms. Notley’s watch.

This would provide the NDP with the opportunity to do what 68 years of incompetent Social Credit and Conservative governments, including the elder Mr. Manning’s, failed to do since oil was struck at Leduc in 1947: diversify Alberta’s economy enough to weather the peaks and valleys of petroleum price volatility.

I take this to be a coded call by Mr. Manning for big business to undermine the government at every turn, even at the risk of harming the economy. If so, there would be nothing unique about it in Canadian political history. The business responses to the NDP governments of Dave Barrett and Bob Rae in B.C. and Ontario, which bordered on open sabotage, spring to mind.

But perhaps I’m now the one letting a tendentious interpretation of history get the better of me. I certainly hope so.

Regardless, Ms. Notley would do best to listen to the counsel of the people who truly support her program, and to be mindful of the aspirations Alberta’s increasingly moderate and progressive electorate had when it voted for her, not to the likes of Preston Manning. I’m confident she will.

A good place to begin would be for her to ensure passage of her promised legislation banning political donations by corporations and unions.

One idea she could profitably take from Mr. Manning, however, would be to urge the Calgary Stampede Board to hire some talented Alberta artists and filmmakers to bring that moribund and cruel spectacle into the 21st Century!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

25 Comments to: ‘Parson’ Manning, in the pulpit, preaches a formula of failure to Alberta’s New Democrats

  1. Sam Gunsch

    May 15th, 2015

    re: “Mr. Manning ends his sermon with an exhortation to the business community to rise to the challenge of leading the economy when “such leadership is unlikely to be provided by the provincial government.” ”

    As Climenhaga points out, thus Manning reveals his true corporatist/market fundamentalist ideology.

    I’ve sometimes questioned myself about being too hard on Manning re his idolatry of the ‘market’.

    No more.

    A number of observers have written about how Presto created the Reform party mostly via preaching a false populism: claiming he represented a politics for the ordinary citizen against the elites. When in fact he was trying to undermine/emasculate democracy in legislatures/parliaments so as to empower corporate/private interests.

    What a fraud he has perpetrated on the citizenry.

    And thus via Presto’s preaching, he gave birth to Harper’s politics for the wealthy and corporations. A repeat of Thatcherism, of Reaganism. A pastor sermonizing for a politics that would be applauded by Freidrich Hayek, Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman. Harsh.

    • Shepsil

      May 17th, 2015

      One thing conservatives have never had a problem with and that is consistently contradicting themselves.

  2. Eric Cameron

    May 15th, 2015

    OK, I almost always enjoy your excursions. But this one had me laughing out loud, cheering, and clapping.

    ” It’s been 94 years and I don’t recall the details very clearly any more …”

    “Does Mr. Manning really think our memories are that short?”

    “What a fraud he has perpetrated on the citizenry.”

    I was having a good day before I read your post. Now I am having a great day.

  3. anonymous

    May 15th, 2015

    ‘Parson’ Manning is simply trying to protect his franchise. I mean, how many donors to the ‘Manning Centre for Building Buildings’ will think twice – after his spectacular political failure – before they cut the next cheque.

    Preston, and his spawn, Steve, must be getting hot and bothered under the silk.


  4. Filostrato

    May 15th, 2015

    When I saw the Manning face beside the article headline on the G&M site yesterday, the first thing that came into my mind was the Air Farce’s Don Ferguson and his “Prestonman” voice at its most nasal and strident intoning the virtues of the Re-FOORRRMMMM Party. Kind of hard to take something seriously when that soundtrack is running in your head. As for the article’s title itself, “Time to rebuild conservatism in Alberta”, my only reaction was “Why?”.

    As for the Stampede, I can’t stand to see perfectly beautiful animals being wrestled to the ground and tied up by not-very-beautiful human animals or the terror of injured horses after the moronic chuckwagon races with eyes wide and white in pain as they are “put out of their misery”. Putting them into such misery should be rewarded with the same solution.

    And the “Rachel Dust”, keep it coming, Ms. Notley. Prevailing winds are from the west at this time of year. The whole country may benefit from it.

  5. Francis

    May 15th, 2015

    Hmmm. How about “Nowhere Man”.

    The absolute denial and historical revisionism within Mr. Manning’s “output” is astonishing.

    Canadian conservatives: decide if you will continue to sell your butts to the rightweb.org and Neo-Republican gangsters OR come up with your own policies. We can see that harshness is not selling up here. Continue your denial, fine.

    Businessmen: Your job is to obey the laws of the country you operate in and earn money for your shareholders. The plan to enslave countries with penalties for non compliance with your agenda appears to be stalling out, even in the ol’ USA, with many grass roots conservatives and progressives not onboard for “Fast Track” authority for the President.

    Regular citizens: Please use your critical thinking skills to decide whether you want oligarchy or democracy. Hint: who do you love?

    Preston: You’ve had a …… run. Why not trust younger people who think they are conservatives to figure some of this out without continuously trying to rig the game and telling them what to do? Seriously.

    Let it Go.

    Have some pie, and relax.

  6. Topiary

    May 15th, 2015

    I’m never quite certain why it is that Preston Manning continues to flaunt the same old rhetoric. It’s almost like he conflates religion with economics and expects that if he babbles long enough that the rest of us will come to understand his prophetic ‘utopian’ vision. A vision that only he is enlightened enough to see and understand. Sheeesh … I wish Allan Blakeney was still alive.

    • Expat Albertan

      May 16th, 2015

      More true that you think. For neo-liberals, the economy has become like a god; something that has to be appeased with gifts and sacrifices (belt tightening, balanced budgets) or it will get angry and send plagues and locusts (we’ll lose or jobs, investment capital will leave, that sort of thing). Of course, this is the problem with this type of reification – you can’t see that the day to day workings of people has a effect greater than the sum of its parts so you give it divine qualities. Problem is, the high priests like Manning make the false conclusion that the economy god can never, ever be questioned because of it’s divine status.

  7. Richard

    May 15th, 2015

    I don’t want to give the game away, but is Preston Manning actually a mole we’ve planted amidst the conservatives? He has an outstanding track record of helping more liberal/progressive parties keep more conservative ones out of power:

    1. According to the Wikipedia article on Harry Strom, Preston Manning was one of the leading figures in pushing a reluctant Strom to be the successor to Manning’s father as Premier of Alberta and head of the Social Credit party.. Strom’s lack of charisma and political sense has been blamed for the collapse of the SC government, and its replacement by Peter Lougheed’s relatively more progressive PCs.

    2. Manning co-founded the Reform Party in 1987, splitting the federal conservative vote throughout the nineties such that neither the PCs nor Reform could even form the opposition in 1993.

    3. Manning encouraged and blessed the Wildrose floor crossings of last December; the fact that this left Alberta with (seemingly) no significant opposition party now seems to have been one of the major sources of public disgust at PC corruption – producing an NDP government.

    So that’s two apparently-solid dynasties (SC and PC) he has had a direct hand in ending while ostensibly trying to advance their interests, and one decade locked out of power at a federal level. C’mon, Preston – you can admit it. You’re really working for us, and that far-right act is just a mask, isn’t it?

    • Expat Albertan

      May 15th, 2015

      I love it! Kim Philby would be proud!

  8. Elizabeth Johannson

    May 15th, 2015

    If Conservatives follow Manning’s advice then the NDP is sure to stay in power.

    Those voters who flipped from the Wildrose to the NDP in the last few days of the campaign (which put the NDP into majority instead of minority) were the populist voters. Those “rather-NDP-like” United Farmers of Alberta that David makes reference to were populists too. If the right-wing continues in its libertarian ideology it will never win back the populists. They liked what they saw from Notley in the debate and will likely stick with her if she continues to advocate policies that support communities and citizens rather than corporate interests.

  9. Adam

    May 16th, 2015

    I happened to be reading LG Thomas’s The Liberal Party of Alberta (University of Toronto Press, 1959) just now. Even though I recognize that the book is clearly now not cutting-edge scholarship, it is also obvious from it that the claim by Manning that the Liberals were defeated because of a too close association with Laurier is simply nonsense, and not only for the reason that David states above.

    The Alberta Liberals were very closely associated with Laurier at the beginning, when they had a nearly unstoppable patronage/gerrymandering machine, much like the PCs until recently. In 1917, however, both Sifton and his successor as Premier Stewart joined the Unionist cause, and broke with such Laurier Liberal MPs as Oliver and Cross (one Laurier Liberal did win in Alberta, but all the other Laurier Liberals were defeated federally). Thomas does suggest that the chaos of the post-war collapse of the Unionist government may have played a role in the Alberta Liberal collapse, as did bad harvests and the general rise of the United Farmers movement. As he writes on page 193-194: “The political confusion [of the post-war years] was by no means peculiar to Alberta. The federal government, nominally still a Union government, was becoming more and more Conservative, as Eastern Liberals returned to their old allegiances and western liberals found a congenial home in the Progressive movement. In other provinces the political picture was similar and in the sister province of Saskatchewan a Liberal government was waging a parallel struggle to contain the farmers’ movement, although the results in the provincial elections that took place in both provinces in 1921 were to be very different.”

    In any case, to sum up why Manning is either stupid or dishonest, or both:

    A) In fact, far from being buried by too close association with Laurier, the Alberta Liberals were destroyed after the provincial party machinery broke decisively with Laurier.

    B) Even if, through some elaborate historical theorization, we claim that the seeds of 1921 were planted in the early years, it still took from 1905 to 1921 for the poison to take effect. By this logic, if Notley associates with Mulcair, the NDP should govern Alberta until 2031. That is okay with me!

    C) the rise of the Progressive movement occurred through the Prairies. It isn’t some special Albertan thing like the Calgary Stampede that we need the Manning institute to explain. Notably, in the Manitoba election of 1920, the Liberals won re-election but as a minority government, with a significant number of farmer, labour, and socialist reps in opposition. Two years later, after the collapse of the Manitoba Liberals, the United Farmers of Manitoba won the election in Manitoba outright. Saskatchewan’s Liberal party, which had also had a very close association with Laurier in 1905 in much the same way as the Alberta Liberals, managed to survive,

    I might almost suggest that Manning was making up clever sounding historical claims without knowing what he was talking about, except that really wouldn’t be polite, so I had better not!.

    • Val Jobson

      May 16th, 2015

      Thanks for that interesting information. We can’t put up anyone mythologizing our history for political reasons. Down with Disneyfication!

  10. jerrymacgp

    May 16th, 2015

    I’ve seen a lot of commentary from the usual right-wing suspects urging the NDP to go slow, to soft-pedal its policies, and to rethink such ideas as rebalancing the province’s revenue stream. What gets my goat about all this, is that those same usual suspects are the first to jump all over a politician or government that breaks its campaign promises after taking office. I guess that only applies to those promises they happen to agree with…

    As far as I’m concerned, the Notley Crüe should go full-speed ahead in implementing the platform, right from Day One of taking the reins of power. The first year or two of their mandate will be the one when they will have the most free hand…they should take advantage of it.

    • Athabascan

      May 16th, 2015

      I agree entirely.

      Full throttle, pedal to the metal, and so on…

      In cases like this we should not squander the opportunity, that might not come again. Hit’m fast, hit’m hard, hit’m often. The quicker it’s done the quicker the dust will settle and the more content Albertans will be when it’s time to vote again in four years. You only have 4 years!

      The right had their chance and the sat in the driver’s seat for 44 years. That’s enough and now it’s Rachel’s turn. Anyone gets in the way run them over.

  11. PJP

    May 16th, 2015

    While I strongly disagree with Mannings political ideology, we should temper both our hate for it AND our enthusiasm for the apparent strength of the NDP. Both seem born of populism- the idea that the people are at odds with the elite.

    Populism has long been associated with the right (‘Reforrrrrrrrm!’), where it’s expression of anger against the back-room power brokers been clearly demonstrated. Thus Mr. Jeam’s chanting on taxes resonates with the WR followers who were sick of the PC’s and Diamond Jim’s elitist arrogance.
    But, Ms. Notley’s success also has the smell of populism, albeit from the left. And the problems with populism is that, like the drunken relative at the family picnic, while ‘truth’ may be spoken, it is not always said in the kindest nor cleanest way. And, there is no arguing with the drunk when she/he has a full head of steam going.
    Which brings me back to my first point. While I too enjoy the opportunity to gloat, it is entirely possible, that the left leaning electorate ( ‘the people’) that voted NDP, will feel as morally righteous, and thus as inflexible to its opponents did, just as foolish as the ‘nutters’ on the right have been typecast to be. If all honest opposition to the NDP is cast as ‘anti-people’, if all business perspectives are described as evil, if we ride a pendulum across the political spectrum to a place as polarized and blind as Mr. Manning’s perspective,
    we will have not really have arrived at the progressive solution we seek.

    • sjmoore

      May 16th, 2015

      Well said!

      However, if the NDP experience in Ontario is anything to go by (Bob Rae, et al) appeasement and even-handedness may simply not work in the face of corporate opposition to the Government. In Rae’s case he found the province in recession and the coffers empty and was faced with active antagonism towards his party from both Bay St. and the Mulroney regime in Ottawa. Regardless of the fact that the policies he enacted would have been applauded as the epitome of sound management had the party had a different face, and that he was able to negotiate significant concessions from the Public Sector unions, his government was ridiculed by prominent Conservatives and Liberals who’s respective governments were responsible for most of Ontario’s problems in the first place. The business establishment simply refused to cooperate.

      The world is an even tougher place now, and Alberta has nothing like the diversified economy of Ontario in the 90’s. Maybe Notley should just go for it – but for that she’ll need revenue, which means borrowing and raising taxes in a province with an inbred aversion to taxation hit hard by recession.

      As an Ontarian, I find it difficult to see what she can actually do to improve things in the short run. If oil is down, oil is down. It’s not like growth in the rest of the economy is likely to replace the lost revenue. Thanks to accidents of history and geography Alberta’s become a bit of a one-trick pony. They should have implemented a sales tax, corporate tax, and a progressive income tax years ago, like the rest of the world. By failing to do so during boom times they saddled the pony with carrying the whole show and subsidized the flow of wealth out of the province – much as Harper has done by lowering corporate taxes federally and pressuring the provinces to follow suit.

      Oil royalty rates in North America have also fallen since the 1980’s peak of almost 40%, exacerbating the problem. Alberta’s rate hovered around 10% in 2009. I don’t know what it is today.

      (Please educate me if I am mistaken on this. Seriously. Ball-parking a whole economy is a bit of a guessing game.)

      A lot will depend on the federal election in October – and the November election in the US.

      Interesting days ahead!

  12. CuJoYYC

    May 16th, 2015

    ‘Parson’ Manning indeed. I’ve been referring him that way for decades. Alas, I always credit Allan Fotheringham as that was his moniker for ‘Presto’ Manning.

  13. Northern Loon

    May 16th, 2015

    I read David’s blog and the subsequent comments and note the preponderance of ‘left’ vs ‘right’ populist rhetoric – particularly by Mr Manning. I believe that ‘left or right’ ideology had little to do with the success of Notley’s NDP candidates. I opine that Albertan’s chose to vote NDP simply because they offered the most coherent choice of good government as expressed by all the main parties.

    The NDP tapped into a frustrated electorate who were tired of the constant exhortations of the PC’s and WRP that government is somehow evil and wasteful and business is always,without question good. The PC and WRP were therefor (and rightfully seen) as being government for business rather than people. In the PC and WRP world the electorate were mere pawns or servants to be used for the betterment of the real political masters – business.

    The pollsters often provide breakdowns as to age, gender, education, income etc. I found it fascinating that the expressed support for the NDP was (in the polls I read) highest in almost every demographic, with the NDP being tied with the PC’s only in the highest age range, but highest in every other category. This resulted in the NDP having the highest support even among the high wage earners who know they will be taxed more by voting NDP. I draw an assumption from this high income group that they know they will be paying more in taxes, but would rather ensure that our social/health/education need this extra support and this this financial support also come from businesses.

    The Notley message that we need to work together, that everybody who can, needs to pay a little bit more, that big business can afford to pay a little more and that Alberta’s resources are finite and the province needs to ensure that future generations need to have access to this wealth or that we cannot squander our children’s inheritance rang true with voters.

    So there was not a dramatic shift to the left, nor a backlash vote against a tired regime. but instead a vote for a party and leader who remembered and communicated what governance is really about – the people. Voters also were drawn to ‘Rachel’, due to her constant cheery demeanor and masterful use of speaking platforms including the lone debate where she gained confidence every time she was attacked by the other leaders.

    I suspect that this government will have many challenges over the next four years and say that I am willing to give them a chance and my support in transforming Alberta politics to being about the people without losing sight that the people also need business to be included as a partner.

    • Topiary

      May 16th, 2015

      Correct… key word being (junior) partner and not Overlord!

  14. May 17th, 2015

    While Notley may have won as the anti-Prentice and the solution to a corrupt regime that was a captive of Big Oil, she ran on a very clear platform and has a mandate to enrich Alberta’s social and environmental programs over the next four years. She also has a mandate to get fair value for Albertans from the energy resources that they own but which they lease to private companies. If she fails in this, she probably won’t be able to find the revenue required to meet her goals of insuring that the province has sufficient revenue to fund properly the programs that most Albertans want to be constant rather than subject to a current price of oil. As the Parkland Institute has argued, a return to the early Lougheed era formula for state revenues from our energy resources would have meant $19 billion in extra revenue for the provincial treasury in 2013-14 alone. But the oil giants will argue that even one penny more in royalties is confiscation and will drive them away, even though they pay similar rates in many other jurisdictions. The truth is that while they might organize a short-term capital strike, as they did for Steady Eddy, to put pressure on the NDP government, they aren’t going anywhere if they still have good, if reduced, profits to look forward to. The new government and the people of Alberta do not need to accept dictation from the Koch Brothers and other investors. As Notley suggested during the elections, those with lots will have to pay “a little bit more.” But how much is “a little bit” will cause much debate. If social needs and the need to put aside money for future generations are put first, the calculation of that “little bit” will become easier.


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