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Is Chuck Strahl's dual role on the Manning Centre and SIRC appropriate?

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Chuck Strahl

Should Chuck Strahl be able to serve simultaneously on the board of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, a partisan political organization tied to the ruling Conservative Party of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other provincial conservative parties, and on the apolitical Security Intelligence Review Committee?

The SIRC is supposed to be, in the words of its website, "an independent, external review body which reports to the Parliament of Canada on the operations of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service."

"Parliament has given CSIS extraordinary powers to intrude on the privacy of individuals," the website explains. "SIRC ensures that these powers are used legally and appropriately, in order to protect Canadians' rights and freedoms."

Strahl is a former Reform Party, Canadian Alliance and Conservative Member of Parliament from the British Columbia Interior who served as Deputy Speaker and held several cabinet portfolios during his political career. He retired from politics after the 2011 election and was appointed to a five-year term on the SIRC in June 2012. His biography on the committee's site is open about his dual role, stating clearly that in 2011 he was appointed as a director of the Calgary-based Manning Centre.

As readers of this blog know, according to an email the group sent to its supporters, Strahl has now been appointed chair of the board of the Manning Centre, the organization founded and led by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning that works openly to keep the Harper Government in power and is now trying to extend the reach of neoliberal politicians into Canadian municipal governments.

Well, it's still a relatively a free country, so the Manning Centre can call itself whatever it likes and work for the political outcomes it supports, but the question of whether the chair of this partisan organization's board should serve in a sensitive and apolitical Parliamentary security review position is another matter entirely.

A claim by B.C. Premier Christy Clark last Wednesday that Strahl has been campaigning for her Liberal Party in the current election in that province has proved highly controversial and prompted swift backtracking by Clark.

The B.C. Conservative Party issued a press release Thursday stating Strahl was barred from campaigning in the election because of his membership on SIRC and demanding Clark apologize for saying he was doing so.

The Globe and Mail reported Clark quickly "clarified her statements," explaining, "he has been active for the last two years and when he took on his non-partisan role just very recently, he stepped back from that."

No doubt spokespeople for the Manning Centre will try to claim that organization is non-partisan too, but, really, how can they?

"The Manning Centre is dedicated to building Canada's conservative movement," the group's website states. At the federal level, there is only one Conservative party. As the statements, speeches and participants at last March's Manning Centre "Big Ideas" conference in Ottawa made perfectly clear, time and again, the "conservative movement" means Harper's Conservative Party and, here in Alberta, the Wildrose Party of Danielle Smith. "Us" and "the Conservatives" meant the same thing for most participants in the conference.

For example, Manning staked out a partisan position in Alberta politics in one of his principal speeches, stating, "in Alberta an aging Progressive Conservative administration has lost its way ethically and fiscally and needs to be overhauled or replaced."

Strahl, naturally given his position, attended the conference.

As for the Manning Centre's foray into municipal politics, its so-called "Municipal Governance Project" is also a directly partisan activity whether or not the group is actually backing a slate or trying to unseat Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi. It is most certainly backing individual candidates, one or more of whom, presumably, may challenge Nenshi directly.

If it is inappropriate for Chuck Strahl to serve SIRC and work for the B.C. Liberals' at the same time, surely it is equally inappropriate for him to have a similar dual role with the Manning Centre and SIRC.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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