He haunts us Albertans still. Preston Manning, that is, the ghost of right wing parties past, like Social Credit, the Reform Party, the Canadian Alliance and … you get the picture.
Oh, Manning's still in the land of the living, but nonetheless he moves wraithlike in the shadows, manifesting the occasional ripple on the water, a breeze in the curtains on a still day, sudden chills in what should be warm corners of the house.
You hardly ever hear from the fellow officially, but for the occasional fund-raising email from his eponymous Manning Centre for whatever it is that it does, or the odd news story about the embarrassing guests who show up at his annual Ottawa clambake for members of the Ayn Rand Film Society and its ilk.
But give the old fellow his due, at 74 his projects still get results. One of them will almost certainly come to fruition tonight with the election of Jason Kenney as titular leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and avatar of the Alberta right. The only questions are really how overwhelming Kenney's victory will be today, and whether he can duplicate it in a timely fashion with the Wildrose Party.
The son of Alberta's last successful Social Credit premier, Ernest Manning, has been working on a unite-the-right project like Kenney's anticipated PC coronation for quite some time now, at least since December 2014 when he was the man behind the scenes who orchestrated the long walk across the floor of the Alberta Legislature by then Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith and her eight faithful MLAs.
That did not go over well, but that was then, when Progress Conservative Jim Prentice was the premier of Alberta, and this is now, when New Democrat Rachel Notley is.
Like rust, Manning apparently never sleeps, so it seems. Vermilion MLA Richard Starke, the last, best, most forlorn hope of the old PC Party will not be much more than a speed bump on Kenney's road to the first step in his double reverse hostile takeover of the PCs and the Wildrose.
Manning was back in the news yesterday, according to a CBC report, wooing Greg Clark, leader of the hitherto pointless Alberta Party. Presumably Manning had hopes of sealing off that avenue of potential mischief for Red Tories like Thomas Lukaszuk, folks Kenney will soon be driving from the Progressive Conservative Party's ranks. The party, in turn, will thereafter quickly be denuded of the "progressive" portion of its moniker.
Clark told the CBC that Manning recently called him with a message that he was careful to emphasize wasn't made on behalf of Kenney … "per se."
However, Clark told the CBC, cutting nicely to the chase, "when someone says, 'I can't promise you anything, but you’re the sort of person who would be well positioned to be in cabinet,' well, that’s how that happens, apparently."
Manning could not be reached for comment by the national broadcaster, although a Manning Centre flunky pointed out that his boss doesn't have the ability to make cabinet appointments -- which sounds to me like a backhanded way to count your chickens before they've hatched.
Of course, there would have been no need to deal with the loose-lipped Clark at all had only Alberta Can't Wait, a group with which Manning is associated, been able to pull off its reported coup attempt against the Alberta Party last summer.
Manning remains on the list of Alberta Can't Wait’s "ambassadors," as reported in this space this time last year -- even if the lad from the Manning Centre has it right and he is not yet quite Kenney's ambassador plenipotentiary.
So while the CBC story is technically correct that the Manning Centre is not endorsing Kenney's candidacy, it would certainly be a reach to suggest the same thing is true of the man after whom the centre is named.
Well, think what you may of all this, but Manning has put the floor-crossing imbroglio far behind him, and he has every reason to feel pleased with himself today.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
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