Preston Manning

Preaching from the highest pulpit in the land, the opinion pages of the mighty Globe and Mail, Preston “Parson” Manning delivered a stern homily yesterday about how Rachel Notley must organize her cabinet to ensure the speediest possible return to conservative rule out here in unexpectedly social democratic Wild Rose Country.

The charismatic and intelligent Notley, in case you missed it, was asked by Alberta voters on May 5, along with 52 of her New Democratic Party colleagues, to form the government of this province.

Not that you’d know all about this from Manning’s sermon notes. Leastways, he didn’t deign to mention Notley by name, presumably because he didn’t want to unintentionally sprinkle the sleepy pages of the dull old Globe with the political-mood-altering substance folks out here in Alberta have come to know as “Rachel dust.”

Well, who can blame him? Manning is the Godfather of Canada’s neoliberal right. His eponymous political boiler room in Calgary is bankrolled by well-heeled corporate donors to move Canadian politics farther and farther to the right.

As always, when Manning wants to make a point that will really stick with his congregation, he summons up the memory of Dear Old Dad — the first graduate of the Prophetic Bible Institute of Calgary, E.C. Manning himself, penultimate Social Credit premier of Alberta, or the first Conservative one, whichever way you want to look at it, because both propositions would be true.

The elder Manning’s advice to the unnamed New Democrat premier, channelled by the younger Manning: Be careful not to draw on the advice and experience of committed and experienced New Democrats when you create your cabinet.

That, explained Preston Manning, this time quoting himself, “would be akin to inviting the organizers of the Toronto International Film Festival to organize the Calgary Stampede — not a good idea.”

Actually, if you ask me, Manning’s idea isn’t a bad one at all. The Stoopede, as we knew it in my days as a reporter at the Calgary Herald, is pretentious, dull and consistently cruel to helpless animals. If the organizers of TIFF couldn’t make it considerably more entertaining, and notably less cruel, I’d be astonished. But that’s just me. Probably spur-wearing Wild West purists would lean toward Manning’s point of view on this, as is their right even in the kind of corporate-dominated partial democracy he and his financiers approve of.

Regardless, the person Manning really thinks Notley ought to listen to is … Mr. Manning (either one).

And what he is really trying to do, the clever old boots, is subtly set the narrative and tar Alberta’s popular new NDP government by association with the federal NDP led by Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair in Ottawa, which he seems to think will drag Notley’s party down a notch or two.

I’m not so sure. After all, recent polling, also not mentioned by Manning in his exhortation, suggests the federal NDP is making a comeback with voters. Just the same, he argues the unnamed-by-him Alberta Premier Designate risks the same fate as the Alberta Liberals when they were kicked out of office in 1921 for being, or so he claims, too closely tied with Wilfrid Laurier’s Liberal Government in Ottawa.

Could be, I guess. It’s been 94 years and I don’t recall the details very clearly any more, although I do remember something about Laurier presiding over the creation of the province of Alberta, so it couldn’t have been all that bad.

Whatever. Manning also omitted to mention that the unfortunate Alberta Liberals of 1921, who may actually have had quite a lot in common with the unfortunate Alberta Conservatives of 2015, were kicked out of office by the then-rather-NDP-like United Farmers of Alberta led from outside the Legislature by the idealistic Henry Wise Wood.

Which segues nicely into the next Big Message Manning uses the Globe’s pulpit to preach, the claim the “dark cloud” that descended on Alberta’s conservatives on May 6 ‘has ‘cleared the air’ on the centre-right side of the political spectrum.”

He goes on to assert that the Alberta Progressive Conservatives last led by Jim Prentice had departed so far from conservative principles they had practically turned into New Democrats themselves.

There are a couple of things hilariously wrong with this presumably intentional misreading of recent Alberta history.

First and most obviously, it ignores the pivotal role Manning himself played in creating the disgust that brought down the Prentice government. Just six months ago he was telling Wildrose MLAs then led by Danielle Smith the PCs had become exactly what Alberta needed and therefore they must betray their democratic role, cross the floor of the House and join Prentice’s caucus. Ordinary Albertans were revolted when most of them did.

Does Manning really think our memories are that short?

It is true that there was plenty of strategic voting in the May 5 election — by rural progressives and moderate urban conservatives alike, all disgusted by the arrogance and entitlement of the Prentice PC Party. But Manning needs to take responsibility for his role in that, specifically his active encouragement of the profoundly undemocratic Wildrose defection debacle.

Second, it is categorically untrue, as Manning suggests, that there is now only one generally accepted model for the conservative movement or the PC Party in Alberta — his.

As we saw just the day before yesterday, there is another, quite different approach — that advocated by former premier Ed Stelmach, who urges moving the party’s policies back toward the political centre from the dangerous right-wing territory staked out by Manning and his fellow neoliberal ideologues.

So it is quite wrong to suggest all Alberta conservatives are now in agreement on policy, or that all that is required to restore conservative rule in Edmonton is to “unite the right.”

What Manning really has in mind is uniting the right behind his radical market fundamentalist project — which in fact is part of the reason the PC Party in Alberta got into trouble in the first place.

Manning is arguing for Margaret Thatcher’s long-discredited slogan, There Is No Alternative to the corporatized market fundamentalist dystopia he and his cronies have in mind for Alberta and Canada.

Well, Notley has just proved that’s not true!

Manning ends his sermon with an exhortation to the business community to rise to the challenge of leading the economy when “such leadership is unlikely to be provided by the provincial government.” Says who? Manning’s blood must run cold at the thought — quite likely, actually — that resource prices may soon improve and the economy perk up significantly on Notley’s watch.

This would provide the NDP with the opportunity to do what 68 years of incompetent Social Credit and Conservative governments, including the elder Manning’s, failed to do since oil was struck at Leduc in 1947: diversify Alberta’s economy enough to weather the peaks and valleys of petroleum price volatility.

I take this to be a coded call by Manning for big business to undermine the government at every turn, even at the risk of harming the economy. If so, there would be nothing unique about it in Canadian political history. The business responses to the NDP governments of Dave Barrett and Bob Rae in B.C. and Ontario, which bordered on open sabotage, spring to mind.

But perhaps I’m now the one letting a tendentious interpretation of history get the better of me. I certainly hope so.

Regardless, Notley would do best to listen to the counsel of the people who truly support her program, and to be mindful of the aspirations Alberta’s increasingly moderate and progressive electorate had when it voted for her, not to the likes of Preston Manning. I’m confident she will.

A good place to begin would be for her to ensure passage of her promised legislation banning political donations by corporations and unions.

One idea she could profitably take from Manning, however, would be to urge the Calgary Stampede Board to hire some talented Alberta artists and filmmakers to bring that moribund and cruel spectacle into the 21st Century!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog,

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...