Preston Manning in 2013 (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Preston Manning is the bad penny of Canadian politics. So no one should be surprised he’s turned up again!

Good rarely results from Mr. Manning’s interventions in politics, which never seem to end, so don’t expect positive results from his appointment by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to what might accurately be called the Firewall Commission but will be officially known as the “Fair Deal Panel.”

Former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney in 2016 (Photo: Mike Feraco/NATO Association of Canada, Creative Commons).

The nine-member panel is charged with finding ways to overcome Alberta’s perpetual case of péquiste envy, thereby allowing this province to negotiate side deals with the rest of Canada like Quebec does while at the same time asserting its imaginary right to run Confederation the way it wants notwithstanding the contrary wishes of voters in other provinces.

This psychological condition appears to be recurring, although not chronic. That is, it only flares up when Liberals are in power in Ottawa.

“Fair Deal” Panel member Donna Kennedy-Glans (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

It’s particularly bad right now, though, because Prairie Conservatives are still having a tantrum over losing a federal election they’d expected to win. They are seeing their ambition to amend the Constitution to entrench property rights and make Canada more like the United States under Donald Trump turn to ashes in their mouths.

It is exacerbated further by the inability of Alberta voters to figure out the success of their Quebec counterparts has something to do with Quebeckers’ ability to sniff the political winds and always elect some MPs from the party that’s going to form the government.

The trouble is, as with Mr. Manning’s successful attack on Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney’s proposed constitutional reforms in 1992, a lot of damage can be done to the country by his meddling.

So Mr. Kenney’s announcement at the Manning Conference (but of course) in Red Deer yesterday portends bad things for the whole country, instead of just Calgary, where in recent years the 77-year-old former Reform Party leader has been concentrating his diminishing influence on removing progressive Mayor Naheed Nenshi from power, so far without much success.

“Fair Deal” Panel member Drew Barnes (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

It’s hard to guess exactly what the purpose of this exercise is, since its premise that Alberta is the redheaded stepchild of Confederation, mistreated by all, is demonstrably false.

Its goal may be keeping Mr. Kenney in the public eye as Canada’s real opposition leader to further his prime ministerial ambitions. That assumes such ambitions can somehow co-exist with behaviour that would seem to automatically rule him out as PM with voters in most parts of Canada.

Or perhaps it’s intended to provide a distraction from United Conservative Party budget-cutting measures that are proving surprisingly unpopular. As with much of what Mr. Kenney does, this policy does seem to be designed to create scapegoats the UCP can identify as the source of Alberta’s self-inflicted economic troubles.

Firewall Letter signatory Rainer Knopff (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The main point, though, seems to be to resuscitate the dumb ideas from the 2001 Firewall Manifesto signed by the still unfulfilled Stephen Harper, his future political advisor Tom Flanagan, Alberta’s future finance minister Ted Morton, political scientist Rainer Knopff and a couple of lesser lights associated with the University-of-Calgary-based Conservative brain trust.

As followers of Alberta politics know, these neoliberal tales from the political crypt are hauled out every few years by admirers of Mr. Harper’s harshly ideological early years, before he became prime minister and was forced to learn to practice realpolitik.

If you were wondering why Mr. Harper didn’t push these ideas during the decade he and Mr. Kenney were powerbrokers in Ottawa, you must not have been paying attention to the cyclical nature of the worst Western Conservative ideas, which as noted above only seem to recur when Liberals are in power.

In power, political reality required the federal Conservatives to act like a normal political party, a lesson both its current leader and Mr. Kenney seem to have forgotten.

So among the big ideas to be pushed by the panel are many plagiarized from the Firewall Letter premier Ralph Klein sensibly tossed into the recycling bin, never imagining it would keep getting recycled. These include:

  • Setting up a separate Alberta pension plan to replace the Canada Pension Plan, now with the addition of a new twist, looting Alberta pensioners’ retirement security to prop up the dying fossil fuel industry
  • Opting out of the province’s tax-collection agreement with Ottawa, presumably just to show that we can, a move that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars
  • Firing the RCMP and setting up a provincial police force perhaps less inclined to investigate UCP leadership vote-rigging scandals
  • Demanding Alberta participation in the negotiation of treaties and other areas of exclusive federal jurisdiction
  • Forcing local boards and agencies not to make deals with Ottawa without Conservative political oversight
  • Opting out of pharmacare and like programs, because, you know, free markets …
Firewall Letter signatory Ted Morton (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Readers will get the general picture.

As author Dave Cournoyer pointed out, Mr. Klein did set up his own panel on Alberta’s role in Confederation, and it debunked many of the Firewall suggestions now resurfacing with Mr. Kenney’s encouragement.

So it’s hard to imagine how anything good can come from a panel seemingly designed to raise expectations, and then inevitably fail, thus setting the stage for mischief at least, and possibly sedition.

In addition to Mr. Manning, panel members include former civil servant Oryssia Lennie, now an apparatchik of the neoliberal Canada West Foundation; Fraser Institute fellow Moin Yaha; former Alberta Regional Assembly of First Nations Chief Jason Goodstriker; Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes, who should now get over his snit about being left out of Mr. Kenney’s cabinet; and Donna Kennedy-Glans, a former minor Progressive Conservative minister and author of several blog posts with a nasty separatist tone asking questions like, “has Trudeau committed treason?” That one left many Albertans wondering … “Has DKG gone off her head?”

Two other low-profile UCP MLAs also grace the panel. You can read the rambling press release for the complete member list and additional insights into what Mr. Kenney may be thinking.

There is good news for Quebeckers, British Columbians and denizens of the National Capital Region, at least. Alberta will open offices in Quebec, B.C. and Ottawa so that citizens in those places will have an address at which to gather to let Alberta officials know what they think of Mr. Kenney’s policies on reproductive rights, LGBTQ issues, collective bargaining and, of course, global warming inaction.

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  1. Considering that Kenney was the one who put the knife in Manning’s back, in support of Stockwell Day, during the 2000 leadership election of the Canadian Alliance Party, this can only be considered another round of inglorious payback to Manning c/o Jason Kenney. Manning had little good to say about Kenny in his memoirs, so it can be said that the feeling of dislike (but not necessarily distrust) is mutual.

    But one must give Manning some credit for doing the right thing – sometimes. Consulting for the Parkland Institute, Manning did seriously look into various carbon offset initiatives, including a universal carbon-tax. Though he was not certain if it could be implemented effectively without political gerrymandering rendering it ineffective, at least Manning didn’t reject it because, you know, we are living in the “End Times”.

    Apart from Manning, the panel is a stunning retread of various Alberta CONs, assorted pinheads, certifiable crazies, and proven liars. This rogues gallery proves once again that Kenny can really pick them.

  2. Not really a surprise. Manning has never seen a parade forming without immediately elbowing his way to the front of the crowd and pretending to lead it. He’s been irrelevant for so many years it must be physically painful for him to watch other people getting media coverage every day. The man has no principles, only a voracious appetite for attention. Pitiful.

  3. I found an error in the text :
    “….United Conservative Party budget-cutting measures that are proving surprisingly unpopular”.

    should read :
    “….United Conservative Party budget-cutting measures that are unpopular”. as I can detect no “surprise”. Well, okay, if you’re referring exclusively to UCP voters.

  4. The scariest part is raising pensions to prop up fossil fuels; elderly Albertans have made their money back from contributions so they’ll vote for it. He leads a cargo cult focused around oil & gas. They’ll do everything but return to the tax levels that provided services for all Albertans.

  5. I’ve lived in Alberta for 45 years and witnessed several iterations of this nonsense. I like David’s term “pequiste envy.” Separatism is demographic and geographic nonsense. BC (i.e. the coastal ports we crave) is more likely to join a green Cascadia than a landlocked Redneckistan. The Pacific Northwest “nation” of Cascadia even has a national anthem:

    I suppose it’s natural to blame the “other” for your woes. As Jim Prentice said, look in the mirror.

  6. Like a really good pickpocket you need a distraction when taking the victims wallet. When will Albertans wake up and realize Kenney isn’t delivering the jobs promised and only enriching those he is indebted to. This dependency of Kenney’s forms a nice list of those benefiting from his policies. Lobbying and political donation truly are the best investment out there today.
    One of the reasons given for moving the teachers pension was economies of scale, how will pulling out of the CPP accomplish this? It would appear to achieve the opposite. As has been proven through Enron and others it is never a good idea to invest pension money in company stock.

  7. Mr. Manning does not seem to have the political midas touch anymore, if he ever did. In some ways he is the opposite of Kenney, more cerebral and does not just pander to emotions like a demagogue. I think he is still respected in Conservative circles, probably more so than Kenney.

    I wonder why Kenney is bringing Manning in at this point and think it might be to both distance himself a bit (Federal political ambitions still) because he realizes the flames being fanned could come back to singe him. This travelling road show has the potential to turn into a festivus like airing of historical grievances that may expose the kookiness behind it to Canadians and Albertans. Don’t be surprised if metric and French on corn flakes boxes comes up at some point. Perhaps the hope is Manning can control things to keep this from becoming embarassing.

    Mr. Klein to his credit knew the firewall ideas were kooky, but at the time relations with the Federal Liberals were fairly good so there was no political benefit to advocating for them. There is a lot of frustration in Alberta now as three pipeline projects (two to the US and one to BC) face long delays due to various court challenges. None of this is really the fault of Trudeau or the “East”, but they are the default scapegoats for some Albertans. Standing up against the Federal Liberals may impress Federal Conservatives now in the market for a new leader. However, after the Scheer debacle, some might have reservations about choosing another western social conservative as the additional seats they need to win to overtake the Federal Liberals are not in Alberta or Saskatchewan, but in the east. I suppose even if all this closet separatism stuff hurts Kenney’s bigger political asperations, at least it will take attention away from his bad news budget and the weak economy for a while giving Kenney more time to pray for another boom.

  8. Sedition? Preston Manning and the rest of this grubby crew are moving pretty close to outright treason. Time for the Canadian state to remind them that if they do, they will be treated appropriately. Put them on notice that what will happen if they continue down this road is not compromise on their terms to make Alberta less free, less Canadian, but substantial jail terms. Maybe they can go live in Belgium with Carles Puigdemont, someone whose example they should contemplate, while their extradition cases drag through the European courts. Due process, ya know. Can’t argue with that. Time to reopen some of those Alberta bush camps for these traitors, hire some local folks to make sure they stay there.

    1. Rocky , You would prefer to let JT spend us into oblivion – push for abortion thru 9 months and quite possibly
      u and i will be affected by his push for euthanasia . Remember he buttressd the CBC with yours and my tax dollars to the tune of $600 mill just prior to the election. CBC objective? Manning was the first to challenge the canadian political swamp. ” oh you have another government funded idea? How much will it cost ? And where will you get the money ?”
      The TRudeau family has put this country on monetary notice Rocky. You and I will be lucky to have a pension in 5 yrs the way JT is spending us into oblivion.

  9. If any of this shit happens, I’m moving out of Alberta. I was born and raised here, would be hard to make a life elsewhere, but I’m not staying here for this shit.

  10. This is another clown show that is meant to distract us from the real attacks of austerity that the government wants to implement. While we do have to watch for the craziness of the separatist movement, we need to not focus all of our energy on it. This cuts pose a lot of problems to our province and we to fight them. The narrative that they are spinning is that public service workers are responsible for this mess. They have made people like me the enemy and I am tired of it. Let us focus on this rather that the abstaction.

  11. The Alberta persecution complex and inferiority complex just never seems to go away. As noted, “So among the big ideas to be pushed by the panel are many plagiarized from the Firewall Letter premier Ralph Klein sensibly tossed into the recycling bin, never imagining it would keep getting recycled.” And again here, “The ideas examined by the Fair Deal Panel are not entirely new, both Tombe and Bratt pointed out. In fact, many of them were outlined in a 2001 letter to then-premier Ralph Klein, dubbed famously the “firewall letter.”–

    So, as the original movie was left on the cutting room floor in the past, the current remake must serve to mainly placate the loyal but fractious flock (give the dogs a distracting bone to chew on, as it were, while; the Government can congratulate itself and appear to look busy doing ‘stuff’).

    In any case, are the ‘Fair Deal Panel’ members being compensated? If they are, what is the total compensation package per individual?

  12. How much will this Fair Deal panel cost Albertans? It certainly will not provide a fair deal to Albertans. I doubt these Cons are working for free or paying their own expenses. This is just another way of paying off supporters of Kenney- likely at a rate of many hundreds of dollars per hour per individual. Conservatives are pros at supporting their buds with tax dollars. They like to conserve dollars for their friends use rather than spending it on the people.

    Wasteful Kenney only knows how to waste tax dollars and assets of the people. Remember he did not speak out against Peter Mackay pissing away tax dollars on helicopter rides in the Harper Government. He did not blink an eye when the Harper gang sold off Canadian assets like buildings and corporate shares- at poor prices. Giving our tax pennies to people like Manning is a bad penny spent. Manning should be ashamed of himself for playing such wasteful politics as outlined in David’s above smart article.

    If we lived in a real democracy, where people have the legalized right to vote on bills along with citizen initiated legislation, we would have a lot less to worry about when it comes to wasteful politicians like Kenney.

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