Preston Manning

“Cancer and lightning go where they want. So does political corruption.”JAMES LEE BURKE, Wayfaring Stranger, 2014

In all the brouhaha over former Alberta premier Alison Redford’s appalling misuse of airplanes and architecture, there haven’t been many light-hearted moments.

Thank God, then, for Preston Manning, patriarch of the Canadian right, for finally inserting a little levity into this otherwise sordid and depressing affair.

Yesterday, after chipping away in the Globe and Mail’s op-ed workshop atop Mount Sinai, Mr. Manning sent down to us stone tablets engraved with pithy sayings about the need to restore sound ethical principles to the government of Alberta.

In his lesson to the Children of Alberta, we the Chosen People of Confederation, Manning reminded us that things really started to go awry out here in the land of oil and honey with the election of that Peter Lougheed fellow, founder of the Progressive Conservative Dynasty that haunts us still, after nigh on 44 years.

What Alberta needs now as a result, Manning explained, is “a major housecleaning” — a sentiment, actually, that many of us share — but which in his estimation seems to involve the restoration of the kind of Social Credit leadership we Albertans used to get from the late E.C. Manning.

Of Dear Old Dad, Manning wrote: “What members of the Alberta Legislature — on both sides of the House — need to be reminded of is a basic principle hammered into the heads of his colleagues year after year by Ernest Manning, the province’s longest-serving premier: “Those of us who make the rules, and those of us who administer the rules, had better keep the rules, or we lose our moral authority to govern.”

Why, when the late Senator Manning (whom the son somehow forgot to acknowledge was his father, perhaps because we were all just assumed to know given the family’s well-known proximity to the Deity) was leading us through the wilderness, even Alberta civil servants could be depended upon not to take bribes!

Actually, as a matter of literal fact, you can still depend on front-line employees in Alberta’s civil service not to take bribes, and I would have been offended by Manning’s suggestion were I a member of their ranks.

Indeed, he went on, even a senior fund-raiser for Alberta’s ruling political party (the name of which Manning also forgot to mention, it was Social Credit) could be depended upon to eschew bribe-taking, because “his personal integrity and ethics were rooted in his Christian convictions.”

Likewise, my guess is that most political bagpersons in Alberta can still be trusted not to take bribes, whatever party they’re associated with, notwithstanding their religious convictions.

Nevertheless, Manning’s fond memories of those golden days, when the sun shone on Albertans as they tuned into his late father’s Back-to-the-Bible Hour on the radio, certainly brought a smile of recollection to my wrinkled old face.

Oddly, in his treatise on the benefits of strong ethical leadership, Manning never uttered the name of Stephen Harper, once his colleague and protégé in the Reform Party of Canada and now the country’s “Conservative” prime minister.

Harper, of course, is the puppet master behind such highly ethical activities as the effort to smear Liberal leader Justin Trudeau as a pixie-dust-coated radical Islamist, proroguing Parliament to avoid the untidy distraction of a democratic vote, the suppression of science, and the cynical use the Canada Revenue Agency as a weapon to silence critics of the government.

Speaking of the CRA, Manning also made no mention of the activities of his own charitable Manning Foundation, which funds the activities of his self-named Manning Centre for Building Democracy. These include a developer-financed scheme to knock off annoyingly liberal municipal politicians like Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and an annual networking conference at which Manning’s earnest young stormtroopers recite passages from Ayn Rand to each other and discuss the need for Canadians to be able to sell their kidneys. Upstairs at these affairs, meanwhile, the grownups meet with far-right foreign wingnuts like Nigel Farage of the U.K. Independence Party and Ron Paul, the crazy uncle of the American right, to plot the next steps in the creation of the Grand Unified Market.

Well, by their omissions, ye shall know them.

Notwithstanding her many and obvious ethical lapses, Redford’s key problem as Conservative premier — unique in the recent history of Alberta — was the combination of opposition from a well-funded political party to the right of her Progressive Conservatives, less than enthusiastic support from the mainstream media, and the successful network of a group of market fundamentalist groups like the Manning Foundation and Centre dedicated to pushing political discourse to the right.

If Redford and her party had been willing to step up and properly follow the instructions of the Manning Centre and the Fraser Institute, it is said here, her airplane scheduling practices would never have become an issue, let alone a problem.

So while it is true, as Manning says, that the people at the top set the moral tone for the folks they rule over, he may not define morality in quite the same way as most readers of this blog.

Manning, of course, is campaigning for the Wildrose Party. He has done this for a while — I heard him state that Redford needed to be replaced at his Manning Centre conference in the spring of 2013, long before the worst of her ethical lapses were known.

This is, of course, his democratic right. But to really be ethical about it, you’d think he ought to state clearly what he’s up to when he delivers these little homilies on moral authority.

In the mean time, though, Manning is a welcome addition to Canada’s limited supply of satirical writers. We expect great things from him.

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

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...