Preston Manning

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Despite being asked none too diplomatically last February by Wildrose Opposition Leader Brian Jean to take his unite-the-right efforts and get lost, Preston Manning has now appeared right in the middle of a campaign to form a united right-wing party to defeat Alberta’s NDP government.

Things didn’t work out all that well back in December 2014 when Manning tried to push the Opposition Wildrose Legislative caucus and the then-still-governing Progressive Conservative dynasty into a shotgun marriage, Jean reminded Manning in February.

“It needs to be bottoms up and there is no room for outside folks to commandeer this or steer it or direct it,” Jean told the Calgary Herald, pointedly giving Manning’s UTR 2.0 scheme short shrift.

Just the same, a new unite-the-right group calling itself “Alberta Can’t Wait” plans to hold a meeting Saturday in Red Deer to, as it says on its website, “work towards creating a ‘united alternative’ to the NDP.” It’s not that the former Reform Party Leader has his pawprints all over ACW, as he did with the pre-Christmas deal worked out behind closed doors in Edmonton’s MacDonald Hotel back in 2014. This time, Manning’s name appears openly, literally right in the middle of a list of 55 “Ambassadors” for the group’s “united alternative” effort.

And this, it’s said here, is a small but significant difference in the modus operandi of the man sometimes called the Godfather of the Canadian Right, who has now publicly placed his undeniable imprimatur on this particular effort to unite Alberta’s right, which is only one of several.

It seems unlikely this will bring much joy to the people behind some of the other unite-the-right campaigns, especially Barry McNamar and Dave Rutherford, who are respectively the president and public face of the most prominent such group, the would-be “Super PAC” styled the Alberta Prosperity Fund. Leastways, it seems likely the placement elsewhere of Manning’s stamp of approval will not have a positive impact on the fundraising potential of Alberta Prosperity Fund and Advocacy Ltd.

Nor does it seem probable this will very much please Jean, no doubt in part because he must view it as a threat to his own leadership of Alberta’s conservatives, but more importantly because the list of “Ambassadors” that includes Manning appears to be heavily laden with Tories and only lightly salted with Wildrosers.

In addition to Manning, the Alberta Can’t Wait Ambassadors list runs to well-heeled cattle barons, oil drillers and frackers, PR men and lobbyists — enough of them to fill a deck of cards with three jokers left over. There is a smattering of successful politicians, including a former senator, an MP and a couple of former provincial cabinet ministers. One of those, oilman Rick Orman, ran twice for the PC Party leadership. There are also fundraiser types, Calgary Stampede insiders, and hangers-on to a couple of fringe conservative causes.

In this regard, it the Ambassadors look a bit like a list of potential donors to the Manning Foundation, the registered charity that funds activities of Manning’s eponymous Calgary-based “Manning Centre for Building Democracy.”

But what a significant percentage of them most obviously have in common is ties to the PC Party, including several who were Tory candidates for nomination or other posts, or served as party officials.

Another name on the Ambassadors list is that of a “research fellow” for the Manning Centre, which unlike the foundation of the same name is not legally constrained from taking direct political action if it chooses. This is a nice distinction that would be lost on most taxpaying Canadians. As such, perhaps it would be a useful topic for one of Manning’s frequent treatises in The Globe and Mail on the need for improved ethics in Canadian politics.

Still, beyond the involvement of Manning and the aforementioned “research fellow” on the Ambassadors list, it is important to note there is nothing on the Alberta Can’t Wait website suggesting there is a formal relationship between the new UTR group and the Manning Centre, which officially describes its work as encouraging “a limited role for government in our lives.”

Indeed, if a group supported at least in part by tax-free donations to a closely related charitable foundation were to play an active role setting up a new political party to directly challenge the NDP in Alberta, it would surely be worth a passing look by the Canada Revenue Agency, now that it is presumably no longer acting as one of the enforcement arms of the Conservative Party of Canada.

Manning’s decision to throw his still-not-inconsiderable political clout behind this particular effort to unite Alberta’s right by appearing on its list of public supporters suggests he may have some concerns with other efforts to do the same thing, such as the so-called Prosperity Fund headed by McNamar, a former Wildrose Party fundraiser.

A legal dispute between McNamar and his former employer has been reported in detail on the Progress Alberta blog. Indeed, based on the legal wrangling over whether or not the Wildrose Party has paid McNamar everything he is owed, Progress Alberta has filed a complaint with Elections Alberta demanding it investigate what third party received the “inappropriately directed” Wildrose donations referenced in the party’s court filing.

Or perhaps Manning is troubled by the seeming domination early this month of the Prosperity Fund’s Edmonton meeting by numerous speakers who questioned the wisdom of forming a new political entity on the right when they’ve already got … the Wildrose Party, in the Legislature ready to contest the next general election.

Whatever it all means, simply by allowing his name to appear in this context, Manning is now openly in the thick of things, and he’s one of the few with a track record for succeeding at this kind of effort, even if it doesn’t always work out exactly as intended.

It sure sounds, though, as if in order to unite the right, he’ll have to unite the fight to unite the right. That may turn out to be a tall order.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog,

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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...