Tom Flanagan

Who could have predicted that yesterday would be the pope’s last day on the job?

I speak, of course, of Professor Tom Flanagan, spiritual leader of the neoconservative movement in Canada.

Well, Flanagan is the neocon pope no more, having uttered the astonishing opinion at a seminar the previous evening in the deep-south Alberta city of Lethbridge that child pornography is, if not exactly OK, more of a freedom of expression issue than an exploitation of children issue.

Not only that, but in response to a questioner at the University of Lethbridge seminar, Flanagan informed his audience he’d once been on the mailing list of the North American Man-Boy Love Association for two years. One can only hope this was in error, as he seemed to be implying.

I was driving the car when I heard that one, and that was the moment I spat Tim Horton’s coffee all over the dashboard and the windshield. It’s going to be a dickens of a job to clean up the mess this weekend!

Now, it’s been understood for a while that Flanagan — hitherto best known for his role as self-proclaimed godfather to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s political career, signatory to the Alberta separatist Firewall Manifesto, chief strategist of Alberta’s far-right Wildrose Party and advocate of the assassination of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange — has a small problem with knowing when not to use his outside voice.

But one would have thought that he would have realized by now in the age of the tiny phone-mounted digital camera that any voice one chooses to use — even a whisper — is in effect your outside voice. 

Such recent examples as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney telling well-heeled donors that 47 per cent of Americans were lazy parasites and Pastor Allan Hunsperger of Dr. Flanagan’s own Wildrose campaign last spring advising gays in a blog they’d better repent or their fate would be an eternal hot bath in a lake of fire should have been fresh in his mind.

Perhaps the U of L’s classroom ambience made the American-born neocon icon forget he was not back in the loving embrace of the University of Calgary, where his odious economic views have been treated as infallible and inspired by generations of students and administrators since the late 1960s? 

Alas for Flanagan, he is also known for controversial and unsympathetic views about First Nations rights, which inspired Idle No More activists to attend his lecture. One of them, a young man from the nearby Blood Tribe named Levi Little Moustache, brought a digital camera and asked an unsympathetic question — although he, like many others in the room and out of it, gasped with shock when Flanagan uttered his career-ending opinion.

Within hours Flanagan discovered that even for a pal of the prime minister and comfortable senior Conservative party ideologue known as the Karl Rove of Canadian politics, there are limits to what may be said aloud without consequences — especially when it’s posted on Youtube.

In the hours after the video of Flanagan’s remarks went viral, spokesthingies for conservative groups and political parties, previously obsequious media organizations and once-sympathetic employers were practically knocking over the furniture in their haste to be the first to tack their former neoconservative idol to the wall.

The University of Calgary announced Flanagan has already promised to retire, and he wouldn’t ever be coming back, thank you very much. The CBC immediately canned him as a commentator. The prime minister’s spokeperson and Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith both forcefully denied him. The Wildrose Party vowed he’d never come near one of its campaigns again. Even the Manning Centre chopped him as a featured speaker at its upcoming national conservative scheming session in Ottawa next week.

Flanagan, sounding stunned at the rapid reversal of his fortunes, issued a meek apology, but it was too late. His career was already covered in ignominy.

Only his old “Calgary School” buddy Barry Cooper stood by him, explaining to the Calgary Herald that Flanagan’s swift fall from grace was actually because Canadians are stupid — although not, Cooper hastened to add, such paragons of Canadian virtue as the Wildrose Party and the Manning Centre.

It is said here this is a defining moment in Canada’s conservative movement, if only because one of its most influential figures will no longer be around — at least where anyone can see or hear him. (Count on it that Flanagan’s strategic advice, which has been proved to be effective, will continue to be sought.)

As the late Richard Nixon said of himself, we won’t have Flanagan to kick around any more – “thank you, gentlemen, and good day.” And I, for one, will miss kicking the always-deserving Flanagan.

Indeed, it has not been a good couple of years for the six signatories of the independantiste Firewall Manifesto — former Alberta finance minister Ted Morton has been kicked out of office by angry voters, Ken Boessenkool has been removed as B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s chief of staff after a murky incident in a bar involving a woman and too much alcohol, and now Flanagan has been consigned to utter darkness for his views on child porn. Harper, of course, continues for the moment as prime minister.

Neoconservative admirers of Flanagan such as his former colleague Cooper can take comfort in the knowledge that the professor, a lifelong advocate of brutal market fundamentalist nostrums and an opponent of fair treatment of public employees, will have a very nice University of Calgary pension to fall back on.

Meanwhile, in Rome, the other pope, the one who leads the planet’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, also departed from office yesterday. A successor for Pope Benedict XVI is expected to be elected within a few weeks. 

It is not known when adherents of the Canadian neocon faith will elect their new spiritual leader — although it’s likely Preston Manning will be available for the job after the conservative conclave in Ottawa next week. 

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...