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Mysterious career changes announced in Alberta and British Columbia

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Manning Centre founder and former Reform party leader Preston Manning. Image: David J. Climenhaga

On Wednesday, former prime minister Stephen Harper abruptly quit the Conservative Party of Canada's fund-raising board, supposedly to give himself time to prevent Jean Charest from becoming leader of Canada's Conservatives or prime minister of Canada.

Yesterday, we learned that Preston Manning would quit his eponymous market-fundamentalist call centre in Calgary, and what's more, the folks now at the helm of the Manning Centre are in a big fat hurry to change its name.

Coincidence? Or what?

Coincidences happen, of course. But in politics, they are always suspect.

Harper and Manning do not have an entirely comfortable history together. Harper quit the Reform party in a huff under Manning's leadership in 1997 and purged the successor Canadian Alliance Party of staffers loyal to Manning after returning to politics and becoming leader in 2002.

But having worked together to destroy the old federal Progressive Conservative party and turn it into the Conservative-Reform-Alliance replicant, the pair resembles incompatible Siamese twins: not necessarily buddies, but joined at the hip just the same.

So does this indicate tectonic change in the ranks of the federal Conservative party, embittered by its loss in the election it expected to win and troubled by the inevitable risks of a new leadership campaign when they expected to be ordering new curtains for 24 Sussex Drive, whenever it's made habitable?

One of those risks from Harper's perspective is surely a moderate and electable old-style Red Tory like Charest emerging as Conservative leader after all the work he and Manning did to destroy the old PCs.

What could be the only thing from Harper's perspective worse than a Trudeau as prime minister? Quite possibly a Tory like Charest as Conservative leader!

After all, in addition to being the former leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, Charest is moderate, urbane, comfortably bilingual and as a former (Liberal!) Quebec premier fully aware of that unique province's place in Confederation. In other words, the antithesis of the modern Western-dominated Canadian Conservative party.

Harper might well be worried the election of an old-style Tory might tear the current party apart -- and even more worried it might not!

As for Manning, at 77 you might think it's time for him to retire anyway.

Not to worry, Manning will be writing a book and going on a seven-city tour to flog it, assured someone at the nowadays somewhat-diminished Manning Centre in an email to supporters.

Quickly pivoting to the real news, the email continued: "Preston is not all that is going into retirement. The Manning name will be coming off the Centre and its networking conferences."

Perhaps the author was recently appointed Manning Centre president and CEO Troy Lanigan, a hardy perennial of the right-wing propaganda infrastructure late of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and sundry other such outfits. His name was on the bottom of the email along with some others.

Whoever it was, the author of the note asked supporters for a little help answering four questions, which I'm happy to share with readers of this blog, although I cannot, alas, provide a link to the online survey:

  • What new (future) name should the Manning Centre adopt?

  • Are there any names or themes that the Manning Centre should avoid?

  • What new (future) name should the Manning Networking Conferences be called?

  • Are their any (future) networking activities or related ideas a re-branding organization should consider?

While the Manning Centre is probably not all that interested in the responses of readers of this blog, we at AlbertaPolitics.ca most certainly are. Use the comments section below.

Whether or not anything more profound is going on, all this leaves at least one immediate question unanswered: Did Manning want his name removed from the outfit he founded, or is it the Manning Centre staff or its donors who are driving the re-branding?

File all this under Unsolved Political Mysteries.

Meanwhile, over on the Left Coast …

Meanwhile, out on Canada's West Coast, a similar political mystery is emerging:

B.C. Green party Leader Andrew Weaver has revealed he has pulled the plug on his own three-member caucus and will sit as an independent in the B.C. legislature in Victoria.

Weaver has been facing health challenges in his family, so his earlier announcement he was stepping down as party leader was less of a surprise. Still, this makes him seem like a one-man parade who can't lead and won't follow.

What the decision means for the willingness of the tiny Green caucus, which holds the balance of power in the B.C. legislature, to continue to prop up the surprisingly stable government of NDP Premier John Horgan remains to be seen.

This is interesting in light of yesterday's unanimous decision by the Supreme Court of Canada to reject B.C.'s appeal of a lower court decision that quashed its effort to regulate what can flow through the Trans Mountain pipeline.

While on its face this is a victory both for Alberta's United Conservative Party government and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals, which while far from allies, have both been working hard to see the project completed, it may also create opportunities for B.C.'s Greens -- thereby creating an incentive for them to pull the props out from under the NDP and try to incite an election.

Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer, naturally, took the opportunity to crow about the ruling, claiming tendentiously "the Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the rule of law and put an end to the British Columbia government's campaign of obstruction against Alberta energy."

What was upheld, of course, was the federal government's argument Ottawa clearly has the authority to approve and regulate any pipeline that crosses provincial borders, which was pretty close to a legal slam-dunk, whatever you happen to think of the Trans Mountain expansion project.

It will be interesting to see if Schweitzer is as enthusiastic when the Supreme Court also dismisses for similar reasons the arguments against the federal carbon tax being made by Alberta and other Conservative-run provinces, as also seems quite likely.

Of course, Schweitzer's claim that completing the TMX project will ensure a fair price for Alberta bitumen and put thousands of people to work will be decided by the market, and not the courts. So the rule of law will have nothing at all to do with it.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: David J Climenhaga

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