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Wherever there's Alberta unite-the-right chatter, Preston Manning's name keeps popping up

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Preston Manning

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He's really sorry about the last time, but it sure seems as if Preston Manning just can't keep away from that Alberta unite-the-right thing.

Consider these recently noted items in which the former Reform Party leader, now 73, has had a part:

  • His annual market-fundamentalist bunfest in the nation's capital last week was backdrop for a matchmaking effort for Alberta's disunited conservatives, complete with a sleepover at Stornoway
  • Breakfast at the Palliser with a well known Wildrose politician, courtesy the Alberta taxpayer, made headlines -- topic not specified, but we can guess
  • The Alberta Prosperity Fund, the self-described "Super PAC" set up to get around election financing laws and unite the right, turns out to have offices in the building that houses Manning's Calgary headquarters

We'll get to the details in a minute, but first, let's rewind.

Alert readers will recall the effort back in December 2014 to roll the suddenly inconvenient Wildrose Opposition led by Danielle Smith into the Progressive Conservative government led by Jim Prentice, Big Business's guy in Edmonton.

When supporters of both parties actually got wind of the back-room deal that saw nine Opposition MLAs cross the floor to the government in a single day, they were furious. But at first blush on Dec. 17, it seemed like a stroke of political genius. Manning's fingerprints were all over it.

As the National Post, official voice of the Canadian 1%, a figure that also approximates the newspaper's readership share, explained it a few days after the mass defection, Manning was brought in to close the deal with Wildrosers who were wavering. His pep talk in an Edmonton hotel room "was the moment that turned the tide," the Post said.

A day later, he was apologizing and backtracking.

"My failure to strongly recommend (grassroots discussions and a membership vote) to the Wildrose caucus was a mistake on my part," Manning said in a Facebook post on Dec. 22. "It was a disservice to those who sought my counsel and to those who have placed their trust in my commitment to democracy -- a mistake for which I now sincerely apologize to all concerned."

That was then. On Friday, interim federal Opposition Leader Rona Ambrose, an Edmonton-area Conservative MP, used Manning's eponymous Ottawa conference as the opportunity to invite the leaders of Alberta’s disunited right over to her official residence for canapés and unity talk.

Indeed, Ambrose told participants in the annual con-flab she'd asked PC Leader Ric McIver and Wildrose Leader Brian Jean to a sleepover at Stornoway, although according to the Post only McIver accepted.

Well, perhaps Jean -- who has shown some impatience with any unite-the-right idea that can’t be executed on Wildrose terms -- had to rise early with a clear head to deliver his "report from the provincial front lines" to the con-conferees. McIver sounded a little fuzzy in his doubly negative explanation to the conference of why he thinks public employees shouldn’t have the right to strike.

Then there was Manning's friendly breakfast with the Wildrose Party’s Finance Critic at Calgary's chichi Palliser Hotel last fall, which came to light last week thanks to the Legislature's policy of publishing MLA expense claims.

A reporter for Progress Alberta's blog cheekily revealed Derek Fildebrandt had expensed a $2.50 parking chit and left a 6-per-cent gratuity on the bill for the server. The chintzy tip, the tiny parking claim and a mathematical error totting up the bill -- Fildebrandt is the "shadow minister of finance," after all -- were all probably more embarrassing than the fact taxpayers were picking up the tab.

At any rate, Fildebrandt reacted huffily in an interview with the CBC, suggesting the NDP was behind the report, insisting he'd left more cash on the table for the waitron and grumbling darkly about libel and slander. He couldn't recall if he and Manning talked about uniting the right, Fildebrandt added, but conceded they might have.

Then there's the matter of where the Alberta Prosperity Fund, the self-described "Super PAC" set up to encourage right wing Alberta parties to unite and also to allow their supporters to skirt election financing laws, does business.

On it’s Facebook page, the Alberta Prosperity Fund gives as its business address 514 – 11th Avenue S.W. in Calgary. That, as it turns out, is also the address of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, sponsor of the Manning Conference and epicentre of Manning's strivings nowadays.

I know nothing of the ownership and leasing arrangements at this address, and this could be nothing but an evocative coincidence. The Manning Centre's spokesperson did not respond to my query about it.

Still, nothing here makes it sound as if anything much has changed in the way insiders on the right are going about trying to reunite Alberta's right-wing political parties.

It does suggest, however, that Manning and other right-wing leaders take the re-election chances of Alberta's NDP government considerably more seriously than the prevailing narrative in the mainstream media is designed to make you think.

Perhaps you should think about that.

NOTE: A staff member at the Manning Centre responded Monday to the question noted in this post, saying the Alberta Prosperity Fund does not rent from the Manning Centre, but from the building’s owner, Ken Carter. The Manning Centre did not respond to an additional query about whether this is the same Ken Carter who sits on the Centre’s Board. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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