OTTAWA -- You can't take an organization too seriously that hires Ron Paul to deliver the keynote address at its annual Big Conservative Ideas blowout, features speeches on "U.K. independence" and presenters who compare medicare to barbed wire and machine guns, and has breakout rooms where they'll teach you how to sell a kidney.
All these things and more happened at the Manning Centre for (sic) Building Democracy conference last weekend in the nation's capital.
Still, it doesn't pay just to ignore what went on there either -- although the really interesting stuff, it goes without saying, doesn't happen in sessions just anyone with a convention name tag and an unsigned copy of Atlas Shrugged can wander into.
In fairness to Preston Manning, spiritual leader of the Canadian right and nominal leader of the Manning Centre, I don't think the kidney-sale seminar was an official event. Even if it was, I’m sure they wouldn't encourage you to sell more than one, even in a perfect free market.
As for Dr. Brian Day, whom we are reminded daily was president of the Canadian Medical Association in 2007 and 2008, barking about how Canada's public health insurance "is like a Berlin Wall enslaving Canadians," well, a certain amount of hyperbole ought to be expected when market fundamentalists get together.
Even Dr. Paul, the crazy uncle of American politics, makes sense now and then, as when he suggests it might be a good idea for America to stop invading foreign countries and throwing people in jail for smoking pot. (No wonder Prime Minister Stephen Harper, our canny PM, failed to show up at the Manning shindig!)
But then the former Congressman from Texas and three-time presidential candidate drifts off into a long discourse about how the "Austrian economists" can explain everything, we're all doomed if we don't back the currency with gold, and we need to shut down the Bank of Canada right this minute. That's when you realize he's not just a crank, but one that's gone right over the top.
Oh, he's consistent alright, which seems to be Paul's principal claim to fame. What's the answer to the problem of big government? "More liberty." What do you need if the toilet won't flush? More liberty? Unfortunately no, the answer to that one is a plumber.
But the Manning conference attendees seemed to get a charge out of Paul's perorations -- whistling and stomping whenever he paused for breath in his lengthy explanation of why financial apocalypse is nigh. This suggests the typical participant in this event may not have been quite as influential as the mainstream media suggested, or at least quite as in tune with what the Harper government will likely do to try to stay elected.
Regardless, if an observer were willing to read between the lines, there were still things to be learned from the conference.
Take the Manning Centre's previously publicized plans to elect more conservatives to Calgary City Hall in particular and municipal halls across Canada in general.
On the surface, the Manning Centre is merely offering a political dating service to match up would-be conservative candidates with people who have money to donate or political skills to impart.
Perhaps, like me, you wondered why they'd bother, seeing as most city councillors outside two or three major cities are pretty well all small-c conservatives anyway.
The answer, found between the lines in an official session called "Conservatives and the City," is that Manning and his fellow fundamentalist marketeers plan to give them something more to do when they get there than just pass tougher cat bylaws and force senior citizens to shovel their walks.
Panelists David Seymour, the Manning Centre's "Senior Fellow, Municipal Governance," and Ray Pennings, yet another Senior Fellow at yet another right-wing think tank you’ve never heard of, dropped a few hints about the need "to reduce the scope of political decision making" and privatize municipal planning.
So the question for the Manningites isn't whether or not there should be municipal planning, but whether it ought to be done by public employees or private contractors.
Privatization of planning, it is said here, is an idea that will seem insane to most voters. This may explain its absence as an issue the right talks much about in public, outside events like last weekend’s conference. But, pretty obviously, it's on more than the back burner for the Canadian right.
From these tantalizing hints, we can guess the outlines of the program for the Manning Centre's civic candidates, once they're elected:
-Hand civic functions to private contractors, from whom they cannot be taken back
-Privatize municipal planning to put decisions about the future of our communities in the hands of the corporate sector
-Cut off funds to community groups that do not support the Manning Centre's market fundamentalist agenda
-Limit the powers of civic politicians to make meaningful decisions that do not tilt the field in favour of corporations
-Reduce the overall scope of local democracy
So wait for it! A Manning Centre Manchurian Municipal Candidate is coming to a local election near you! He or she should also be able to advise you on how to sell your kidney.
This post is also found on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.
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