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

Neoliberals, like rust, never sleep. So we shouldn’t be surprised Preston Manning already seems to be looking ahead to a post-election go at the new Liberal government, same as the old Liberal government. 

Of course, nobody knows for sure what’s going to happen on tomorrow. Maybe all those People’s Party of Canada trolls will get cold feet and flood back to the lovin’ arms of Erin O’Toole. Maybe we’ll all wake up on Tuesday morning to the progressive reality of prime minister Jagmeet Singh.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: Justin Trudeau/Flickr).

But the punditocracy is already starting to act as if Justin Trudeau and his Liberals will squeak back into power, and it sounds to me as if Mr. Manning, godfather of the Canadian right, is leaning the same way too.

Leastways, he’s already starting to lay out his arguments about how conservatives should deal with another Liberal government, quite possibly once again propped up by a substantial NDP contingent in Parliament, as soon as the National Post and Globe and Mail are done telling us that Canadians voted for Liberals again because they’re really Conservatives at heart. 

According to that old chestnut, which invariably appears in the editorial pages of Canadian newspapers the day after a Liberal or NDP election victory, just elected Liberal (or NDP) governments must, simply must, immediately abandon the platforms they ran on and start delivering Conservative policies. 

Well, it’s not quite time for a big Preston Manning thumb-sucker in the Globe making that point. But in the meantime, the back-room architect of the amalgamation of Alberta’s Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties (how’d that work out, Preston?), is already trying out his post-federal-election arguments before a sympathetic audience. 

On Friday, C2C Journal, a publication associated with the now renamed Manning Centre, published a plea by the former Reform Party leader for Canadians to adopt “a more balanced approach to federal-provincial relations and national unity.” (Sea to Sea, get it? The online publication seems to have gotten its start as an organ of the Manning Centre. Now that Mr. Manning has retired, his brainchild has become the Canada Strong & Free Network.) 

This sounds anodyne enough for Canadians, but Mr. Manning has something in mind that is not necessarily all that good for Canada. 

First, he argues, we need “balance on the environment-economy front.” That is, he means, if we have to suffer through an environmental assessment every time someone wants to build a bitumen pipeline to the B.C. Coast, then surely we should have to conduct an economic review every time we want to implement a regime of environmental protection. 

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole (Photo: Erin O’Toole/Flickr).

Never mind that governments, newspapers and the organs of cultural power have always done this and always will. Governments are in the business of economic policy. Any environmental, cultural or regulatory idea is always examined exhaustively in light of its potential economic impact, pro or con. 

To suggest governments would ever do otherwise is ludicrous. 

But of course an old used-ideology salesman who dreamed of saddling Canada’s Parliamentary democracy with a sclerotic institution modelled on the U.S. Senate, intended to bring any progressive policy no matter who voters elect to a shuddering halt, would love the idea of formalizing an economic review of any regulatory policy intended to protect the environment, human dignity, or anything else that might stand in the way of unbridled capitalism. 

This is not balance, of course. It is an effort to tilt a field already massively biased in favour of the capitalist economic side of the equation even further against the environment. 

This, if I may be so bold, is the perfect expression of what Mr. Manning, back in 2013, was touting as “green conservatism.” 

Mr. Manning also calls for the same sort of “balance” on health care. There have been, he writes, “hundreds of thousands of cases where jobs, incomes and businesses have been killed by the health protection measures adopted, with no official attempt to measure or report these economic impacts so that a balance could be struck between health protection and the protection of the economy.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

This sounds like a reference to the response to COVID-19 in places outside Mr. Manning’s native Alberta. Given the success of the approach here in Alberta of what he seems to be advocating, he might want to tone this down for a few months. 

He also claims there are a similar number of cases where the Charter rights of Canadians “have been violated via health protection measures.” Notwithstanding the hysteria of the anti-vaxxers, spurred on by intentional Qonfusion from south of the Medicine Line, this is simply nonsense. 

As Mr. Manning soon reveals, his argument is really just a sly justification for the same old “freedom” argument for American-style, two-tier health care. He offers up the false promise that we can have all the benefits of a “mixed” health care system, one that provides universal (minimal) care through more privatization, union busting and co-pays. 

He goes on to call for more balance in federal-provincial relations – which sounds suspiciously like code for letting conservative provinces dismantle national approaches to health care and other programs in provincial or joint jurisdiction. Ditto, he wants balance for regions – presumably a plea to treat the petroleum-development hobbyhorses of Canada’s Prairie provinces with as much gravity as Quebec’s existential concerns about its language and culture.

If the latter point seems to echo Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s nonsense about how Alberta is somehow a distinct society, there’s probably a good reason for that. Arguably, Mr. Kenney owes his job to Mr. Manning’s machinations. (And if he doesn’t hold it for much longer, the call that tells him the gig is up will probably come from Mr. Manning too.) 

Finally, Mr. Manning closes with a call for “unity politics” to replace “identity politics” – which he defines as such qualities as “ethnicity, gender, age or sexual orientation.”

This one is pulled straight out of the Trump Republican handbook. An appeal for fairness by any group of humans who are not white males of European descent, fully committed to market-fundamentalist capitalism, is belittled as “identity politics.” The interests of what in simpler times used to be accurately known as the ruling class is the sole principle around which we all must rally. 

In truth, there is no better practitioner of identity politics than the conservative right, the better to activate its lumpen voting base and slough off all arguments for a better world as insinuations of bigotry and impracticality. 

“The replacement of Identity Politics with Unity Politics is a prerequisite to achieving the national consensus on key issues required to facilitate implementation of any of the major policy positions put forward by federal leaders and parties in their election speeches and platforms,” Mr. Manning wheezes to a close. 

He concludes: “A key question to be answered in analyzing which federal leader, party and candidate to support in the upcoming federal election is, who offers the most balanced approach. 

In other words, vote for the guy most likely to put the rights of capital above everything else.

NOTE: Give C2C Journal its due. It is sincere about its propertyrights advocacy. It is not the only rightwing organization that has used one of the author’s photographs without permission, but it is the only that paid up when sent an invoice. 

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21 Comments

  1. As much as Presto Manning’s call for national unity and a REEEEFOOOOOOOORRRRRRMMMM! of the federation sounds like a benign effort to bring forth a happier, more united Canada, the reality is (and always has been) a Canada where Alberta calls the tune and Calgary is the power broker.

    It wasn’t so much a case of “The West Wants In” as much as it was a case of Ontario and Quebec can GTFO. The RPC vision of Canada was an exclusionary one, where only certain values, certain beliefs, and (yes) certain people were accepted as being Canadian. One need only take a look at the likes of Ted Morton, Tom Flanagan, Stockwell Day, Peter Brimelow, and Stephen Harpo to know what kind of Canada was in mind. It would be a Canada defined by the world of “The Patriot Game”, Ayn Rand, psychopathic free-market grifters, and the loony fringe of populism. Followers admired and honored the civilization and godliness of places like Apartheid South Africa, white-ruled Rhodesia, and Viktor Orbán’s Hungary. It all sounds like Margret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”, except that it’s very real and much, much worse.

    I recall Stephen Lewis, on live TV, denounced the declarations of other panelists that Presto was a Trojan Horse version of George Wallace. Lewis said he knows Manning, spent many hours of conversion with him and, while his (Manning’s) views are disagreeable, he is not a George Wallace. I’m not sure if Lewis was erring on the side of the ‘better angels’ or pranking the TV audience with his claim, but it gave Manning a credibility he didn’t deserve. I googled Manning’s name and was surprised to see he has made frequent appearances on TVO’s The Agenda, presenting himself as the voice of reason during these troubled times. Talk about bad casting.

  2. Yes, Mr. Manning can probably see the writing on the wall at this point, although O’Toole has to keep up appearances of being cheerfully optimistic for a while longer. Despite Manning’s best efforts, most of what he has been peddling for decades really never caught on outside of the Prairies and parts of BC. I suppose Harper’s victories might have been the high water mark for success of Manning’s agenda Federally, but oddly despite similar ideological views, I am under the distinct impression they were not personally actually that close. I think Harper was more practical about a number of things Manning was more rigid about and vice versa.

    One of those things, Manning often has tried to promote without much success is an idea of Conservatism with a green tinge. Harper never really seemed to go for it and didn’t try too hard to hide his disdain for anything environmental. Perhaps O’Toole’s convoluted, “It’s not a carbon tax – the more you burn, the more you earn, rewards plan carbon tax rebates” might have more appeal to someone like Manning.

    One gets the sense Manning is also more comfortable with Kenney’s more prominent social conservatism and his more obvious grievance based approach to politics. Harper could be a bit more subtle at times about these things, or at least realized these things would not sell as well outside of the Prairies. Maybe Manning also actually bought Kenney’s populist shtick. If Manning did, I would have to question his judgment more than I already do. Yes, populists can become successful in politics, but they don’t usually start by being career politicians. They generally move towards the centre of power, they don’t start there. In fairness, being born into a prominent political family might also give someone like Manning a blind spot about what populism really is.

    So, we live in an interesting era, where the comfortable try to portray themselves as afflicted. I suspect the “balance” Manning wants to get back to is a time when the comfortable were more comfortable and not in any way threatened. As for making the economic case for pipelines, Manning must surely know private companies make those assessments rigorously before proceeding with any proposed project. It is the social and environmental impacts external to them that they might not consider as much, so his argument for economic review makes no sense.

    Lastly, perhaps Manning’s most lasting legacy to Canada may be setting back Senate reform in Canada for several decades because of his rigid approach to it based on a US model that doesn’t actually work well there anymore and doesn’t fit a country with only 10 provinces of much more disparate size than 50 states. However, perhaps there is also an inherent conflict here with the idea of wanting to give more powers to the provinces in the name of balance. If we actually had a more effective Senate, it might eliminate some of the argument for that, so perhaps there is some self sabotage or at least working at cross purposes here.

    In any event, I suspect Manning is battle hardened from enough years of experience so as to not underestimate the political opposition to some of his ideas, unlike some of his successors Federally and Provincially. It takes more than a pretend populist or a charming new leader to convince a skeptical public.

  3. Really good article. Particularly liked the note on the end.

    I think Preston Manning is a little like Trump and BoJo in that is kind of hard not to laugh at them, but if you do, you might not give them enough credit for the harm they are able to cause.

    RefooOooooOOoooOOrm!

    Don’t laugh, he’s serious.

  4. I would trust Preston Manning about as far as I can throw him. Peter Lougheed knew that you can’t trust Reformers. He was right. The Reform Party reminded Peter Lougheed of the Social Credit Party that he defeated in 1971. In the 1960s, Preston Manning was trying to get Peter Lougheed and the resurrected Alberta PCs to join the Social Credit Party. Peter Lougheed was wise enough to reject that. Before the 2015 provincial election in Alberta, Preston Manning was trying to get the Wildrose to merge with the Alberta PCs. This is why we saw Danielle Smith, and a bunch of Wildrose MLAs cross the floor to become part of Jim Prentice and the Alberta PCs. This flopped. The UCP was also created with the help of Preston Manning. It is a fractured party, and it is ready to disintegrate, and meet its demise. The head honcho of the UCP will then ride off into the sunset with a very generous political career pension, and Alberta will have a lot of damage to deal with.

    1. ANONYMOUS A good friend of mine was a social credit MLA and admitted that it was impossible being in opposition to Lougheed when they agreed with everything he did. He pointed out that it was why the social credit party disappeared.

      Everything these Reformers bring to the table, like Klein did, is a financial disaster, yet we still have ignorant seniors believing every lie they feed them. It’s no secret that former MLAs and doctors have been telling us for years that privatization of health care will financially destroy seniors and their families faster than anything else and these Reformers are hellbent on doing it.

      No one knows better than our family. When we needed a bed in a nursing home for a family senior, she had become very violent towards her own family with dementia. In the public sector there was a waiting lists of over 1,800 people so we were forced to take a private one at a cost of $10,600. Per month. Yes $10,600. Per month.

      Of course when I tell that to these ignorant seniors they refuse to believe it. The basic cost was $7,000. Per month plus
      $3,600. Per month for a full time care giver that she needed. She lived for five additional years that way. I have heard of one other case where it was $14,000. Per month.

  5. Dave, this is an excellent primer for tomorrow’s election. Your point about the MSM’s right-wing prescription for left-of-centre governments is well taken. I’ve noticed south of the border a lot of Never Trumpers like Bill Kristol and John Kasich insisting that the democrats should become Bush republicans while up here John Ibbitson seems to think we need to elect PPC members in order to avoid violence from their base. The crux of his argument seems to be that while most of us don’t want to return to the middle ages, some of us do. Mr. Ibbitson’s compassion for those who would close our borders to immigrants while opening our arms (and respiratory systems) to viruses seems not only misplaced but characteristically restricted to the right-wing fringes. Why not extend it to those who want to tax the rich and nationalize corporations?

  6. “It (C2C Journal) is not the only right-wing organization that has used one of the author’s photographs without permission…” As Oscar Wilde once said, “There is only one thing worse that being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” Or in your case, Mr. Blogger, pictured.
    Congratulations for giving those unity politics boys jock itch.

  7. ‘Mr. Manning also calls for the same sort of “balance” on health care. There have been, he writes, “hundreds of thousands of cases where jobs, incomes and businesses have been killed by the health protection measures adopted, with no official attempt to measure or report these economic impacts so that a balance could be struck between health protection and the protection of the economy.”’

    I think we’re seeing the results of Mr. Manning’s ideas right now in Alberta, as the reefer trucks pull up to load their cargo of overflow deceased persons from hospital morgues. When will these cons learn? There is no economy without people.

    The rock under which Manning and his ideas live should be one stone that is left unturned permanently. Lives matter. People matter. Any current or former leader unwilling to acknowledge this fact is not living in reality. So far 27,384 Canadians have died from Covid. Things are about to get a lot worse here in Alberta. Go away, ghouls. These are human beings, not human capital.

  8. These defeated Reformers just won’t go away and can’t keep their mouths shut. Paul Hinman is asking for donations to help him separate Alberta from the rest of Canada. How many seniors will be willing to give up their Old Age Security payments , Canada Pension Plan Payments, and Health Care Benefits to help him brag about separating Alberta from the rest of Canada. It is nothing more than a dirty trick to force stupid Albertans into a lot more Reform Party privatization. Then we have Danielle Smith trying to convince more stupid Albertans to believe the lies she feeds them.

    I haven’t forgotten what the MLAs from the Lougheed era taught me about damn Reformers, pretending they are conservatives . You can’t trust them and Harper and Kenney have certainly proven that.

  9. Some the conservative seniors in my circle of friends see this election as a seniors against the young people. While these ignorant seniors will vote for O’Toole the young will support Trudeau for helping them survive this pandemic. I wonder who will win? It should be interesting.

  10. We stopped listening to, or bothering with what Preston Manning had to say years ago.

    Last time I heard, he tried to stick his oar into the Calgary municipal elections. With zero success. Probably because most people are not interested in what a ‘has been’ politician has to say. Especially an unsuccessful one.

    I suspect he considers himself some sort of senior politician like Chretien, Martin, Mulroney, Clark, etc. If so…he is fooling himself.

  11. Just a couple of minor observations:

    “…as soon as the National Post and Globe and Mail are done telling us that Canadians voted for Liberals again because they’re really Conservatives at heart”.
    Perhaps T.C. Douglas’ Mouseland tale had influence beyond the supporters of the CCF/NDP.

    “…just elected Liberal (or NDP) governments must, simply must, immediately abandon the platforms they ran on and start delivering Conservative policies”.
    I suppose that’s slightly better than Derek Fildebrandt calling out the Notley government for actually implementing the policies that they campaigned on.
    https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/alberta/ndp-duped-alberta-voters-wildrose-finance-critic-says/article26764276/

  12. I don’t think it’s so much that Manning offers these contingencies because he thinks the CPC will not form government and he can save it from going into steeper decline. In my view, the Canadian parties of the right are already in free fall anyway. Rather, Manning seems to want another chance to wet a line and jig with tired old bait in the inevitable chop that follows a storm. With the typical and tiresome equivocation of the right where identity is really just one toke over the line, he could snag a socialist salmon and still say: “I got one!”

    There are lots of fancy charter boats out there, more now than when fishing really was good, decades ago. Used to be if you caught five big lingcod but no salmon, you considered yourself skunked. Nowadays any outdoorsman and fishing magazine features trophy shots of big lings hanging on the scales, the big white yacht just behind. Preston’s jigging for a trophy to satisfy his desire for legacy. Hopefully it’s a sign of pending retirement from the derby and he can mount it on his mantle—or anywhere else he wants, so long’s its mercifully discrete.

    As to identity politics, note Manning used to rail against the “Eastern Elites” and “Ottawa” and federal institutions like the Senate which, he says, done Alberta —or “The West”—wrong. Indeed, he was instrumental in tearing apart the ProgCon governing party of his own conservative ilk before moving in on that other, more frequently governing party with laudable equanimity: the West simply “wants in.” But that equivocation thing—like down south where now successively tightening polarization practically starts a second Civil War—seeks a casus belli from a single percentage-point of democratic margin (how else could ScheerCon math conclude that the CPC “won” in 2019 because it got a percent more popular vote that JT—when either only got about a third of the vote? Fantasizing majoritarian lust, maybe?) Manning’s cutting the same old bafflegab on the balances. But the legend survives that a gigantic, blue lunker of a cabazon hundreds of years old lurks in benthic murk: “you fish your side of the boat, I’ll fish mine…”

    Win or lose tomorrow, the CPC is in trouble—just like the recently victorious UCP. We get to watch them thrash in the bottom of the boat. Manning would buy one at the dock.

  13. Following the above Twitter postings were very interesting and induced a lot of popcorn-munching …

    Kenney’s internal polling is 9%. I wonder who these people are and do they live in Alberta?

    Kenney threatened to call a snap election TWICE to the caucus. Then he boasted that they cannot win without him.

    Two MLAs sought to restore the meeting to stability and hoped to report to Kenney concerning the situation at the riding associations. Kenney refused to listen and shooed them away.

    Sounds like we are approaching a grave psychological meltdown for Kenney.

  14. Over the past 22 years two of my friends have been retired medical doctors who had worked in a two tiered health care system in the UK and loved it. It put a lot of money in their pockets however they both agreed it would never work in Alberta and their reasons made perfect since.

    First of all we don’t have nearly enough doctors and nurses to make it work.
    Secondly our populations aren’t concentrated like they are in Europe.
    The third reason was the one that would cost some Albertans their lives and upset them the most.
    There is no way doctors and nurses will continue to work in rural Alberta if they can make a lot more money working in private for profit clinics and hospitals in the cities and we are having enough trouble keeping them there as it is.
    I have discussed this with several doctors and nurses over the years , including members of my own family, and they fully agree.

    This lame-brain idea of privatization of health care while these Reformers continue to help their rich friends screw us out of our oil and tax wealth is just plain stupid. Money that can be used to run and fund our health care system properly like Lougheed did.
    We know what a farce Klein was in selling off our Holy Cross and Grace hospital, where my mother and sister had volunteered for 33 years, in Calgary and the mess it created.

  15. “… balance could be struck between health protection and the protection of the economy…” There is no such balance to be struck. Dead people don’t participate in the economy. There is no protection of the economy without protecting the public health.

    Nova Scotia is a prime example of a Canadian jurisdiction that hit it right by striving for very nearly COVID-zero, and their economy has been running on most of its cylinders — although tourism is still struggling a bit, due to external factors like other provinces & countries that haven’t done as well — while we here in Alberta have been watching our COVID numbers ramp up relentlessly. Their 7-day COVID-19 rate? 20 per 100,000 population. Ours? 261 per 100,000. Deaths? 10 per 100,000 there, 57 per 100,000 here.

    https://health-infobase.canada.ca/covid-19/epidemiological-summary-covid-19-cases.html?stat=rate&measure=deaths&map=pt#a2

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