Preston Manning and his self-titled hothouse for conservative scheming March 7-9 in Ottawa didn’t really help the credibility of Canadian conservatism by scheduling speakers from the fringiest fringes of their movement.

But then, why worry? After all, the mainstream media that attended the conference in large packs treated everything that went on — seminars on how to sell a kidney and all — with the utmost seriousness and respect.

The prophecy of fiscal doom by gold bug and former Texas congressman Ron Paul, the crazy uncle of the American Tea Party, and the anti-Europe tirade by U.K. independantiste Nigel Farage, leader of the fruitcake U.K. Independence Party (“You-kip”) in the European Parliament caused barely a raised eyebrow among the media or a ripple in public.

But while it may be comforting to know that Canada’s conservatives are just as crazy as we thought, the bad news is they’re the ones setting the country’s policy.

Municipal Government

That said, from their neoconservative perspective, they reckon they’re not setting enough of the country’s policy.

As a result, one major theme of this conference was how to extend their influence in Canada’s municipal halls, which to hear the conservatives in conclave tell it have become hotbeds of such ills (in order of illness) as progressive conservatism, progressivism, social democracy, socialism and outright Communism. (Yes, the C-word was heard in this context!)

Accordingly, as is well known, Manning’s Manning Centre has set up what has been called here a “dating service” to get would-be municipal politicians together with funders and campaign tacticians who share their views with the goal of dominating Canada’s municipal governments.

The first and main target, Manning has stated, is Calgary City Hall — where the progressive presence of Mayor Naheed Nenshi in the former Cowtown and current oil capital is obviously a burr under Manning’s saddle.

Naturally, conference presenters exaggerated both the numbers of progressives in elected municipal offices and the supposed dearth of conservatives in such places. But they are right to identify municipalities as places that have been a more promising field for progressives than senior governments, which are dominated by political parties and campaigns are dominated by money.

So, clearly, what the Manning Centre hopes to do is bring the party system to municipal government as well — although they will go to great lengths to deny this, or even whisper the word “slate,” because municipal voters are known to be death on slates.

Just such a non-slate conservative slate was revealed in the Central Alberta city of Red Deer recently, and another non-slate slate of Manning Party trainees was announced in Calgary last week. blogger Dave Cournoyer, who also attended the Manning conference, observed that Manning’s slate plans were “cleverly branded as the ‘organic cities project,'” with “increasing private sector planning of city development and decreasing the role of accountable public planning processes is at the heart of the Manning argument.”

On the list of targets to be privatized by Manning’s new conservative-dominated city councils: community recreation centres.

But the broader goal of this effort, as has been said here, is to put in place a range of policies that will hamstring the effectiveness of future progressive civic politicians and free the hands of corporations, particularly developers, do what they wish regardless of the views of citizens.

Health Care

If polling — including conservative polling — shows Canadians do not trust conservatives on the environment, it reveals they feel the same way about health care.

Worse, from the conservative perspective, health care is creeping back to the top of the Canadian public’s list of concerns as the interventionist policies of the Barack Obama Administration in the United States gradually benefit the entire continental economy and economic management in Canada therefore inevitably slips a little into the background.

Frustrated conservatives have been forced to recognize that public support for public health insurance and the Canada Health Act is very strong, so with good reason their political parties are very cautious about addressing this issue as they would like.

Yet public health care and the cost-effective and fair single-payer system remain major obsessions among their wealthy supporters and funders.

What to do?

At a session called “Breaking Up the Health Care Monopoly” it was soon apparent the right has all but given up on persuading the public of the dubious merits of their arguments for U.S.-style health care, which is inevitably nowadays rebranded as “European style.”

The moderator summed up the goal of the conservative movement as “how to decriminalize private health care in Canada,” and a rant by a clearly agitated Dr. Brian Day, inevitably introduced as the former president of the Canadian Medical Association, compared Canadian medicare to slavery and the Berlin Wall.

Lacking any big ideas palatable to voters, the conservative movement has all but conceded the “marketplace of ideas” on this issue to the Left, and have moved to the courts in hopes of reproducing the Supreme Court’s Quebec-only Chaoulli Decision in other parts of Canada, which would allow the encroachment of private insurance and multi-tier health care.

Cases are expect to go to trial soon in Alberta and British Columbia — the latter involving Day’s Cambie Surgery Centre, which has been extra-billing patients in defiance of the law — in hopes that what cannot be destroyed in the political sphere can be wrecked in the courts.

If they are successful, of course, this will open Canada’s doors to for-profit health care and a full-scale invasion by American health care providers under the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Thus endeth the lesson — leastways the one about the Manning Centre’s March 7-9 “Big Ideas for Conservatives””conference in Ottawa. Back soon to commentating on Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s plans for a summer camping trip and the six-member Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s schemes, I guess. This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

David J. Climenhaga

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 with the Globe...