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Preston Manning's well-funded ideological hobbyhorse takes aim at civic progressives

Calgary City Hall

Is the so-called Manning Centre for Building Democracy preparing to target Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and other progressive city councillors for a corporate-backed reprise of the far right's domination of federal and provincial politics in recent decades across Canada?

So it would seem.

Indeed, it would be fair to say the benevolent sounding Trojan Horse founded by Preston Manning, the former Reform Party leader and unflinching market ideologue, has its sights set on finding ways for the ideological right to take over municipal councils all across Canada. Calgary is just to be the first conquest in its ideological blitzkrieg.

The Manning Centre bills itself as an effort to "build Canada's conservative movement," which is fair enough as long as we understand that there's very little that's conservative in the true sense of the word with the destructive neoliberal strain of market fundamentalism advocated by Manning and his well-funded hobbyhorse.

In addition to the boilerplate commitment to "free markets, freedom of choice, and limited government" characteristic of these kinds of organizations, if you take the time to examine and decode the Manning Centre's general goals you will find plenty that's interesting. What, for example, does "living within our means … ecologically" mean? What does the Manning Centre really have in mind when it speaks of encouraging "strong families" or "respecting Canada's cultural, religious, and democratic traditions"?

It's not hard to guess, as long as we remember to wear our neocon decoder rings!

According to the National Post, the Manning Centre recently set up "training hub for the next cadre of small-c conservatives who seek to become campaign managers, co-ordinators, communications staff, policy makers and candidates" at a heritage building in downtown Calgary. The facility comes complete with a wall portrait of Louis Riel -- more appropriate than you might first think if you consider neoconservative icon and firewall fantasist Stephen Harper's past Alberta independentiste leanings.

It's also interesting to take a look at the cast of characters planning to turn up at the next Manning Centre event: Sun News Network commentator Ezra Levant, health care privatization advocate Dr. Brian Day, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers President David Collyer, Immigration Minister and anti-choice activist Jason Kenney, former Liberal and neoliberal Australian prime minister John Howard and Treasury Board President and epic-spending constituency MP Tony Clement, just to name a few.

In addition, representatives of far-right AstroTurf groups and think tanks abound, including the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, the Montreal Economic Institute, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

But if you want to find out how the Manning Centre plans to translate all this bloviation into specific action, you'll need to dig a little deeper -- perhaps into some apparently unlinked corners of the ideological hothouse's website.

Which brings us back to the centre’s plans for Calgary, and eventually other Canadian municipalities.

Consider the Manning Centre's "Municipal Governance Project," which, we are told, is dedicated to "improving local government through free markets" and "applying free-market principles to local government."

What will this project actually do? Why, it will "develop market-oriented policies that can be applied at the municipal level -- starting in Calgary, then throughout Canada." (Emphasis added.)

It will also "provide research and education resources to market-oriented participants in municipal political processes." Bet on it that those education resources will include the names and phone numbers of generous donors to municipal candidates far enough to the right to be approved by the Manning Centre.

Indeed, the Manning Centre is "inviting like-minded people from the entire cross-section of Calgary society to contribute to the discussion and the pursuit of the above objectives."

So Nenshi and other progressive local politicians in Calgary should beware: the Manning Centre and its insiders have turned their baleful eyes on you, and they'll be hoping to bring the same failed policies to your municipal government that have done so much damage at senior levels of government across Canada.

A key moment in this march of conquest, of course, was the hostile reverse takeover of the honourable old Progressive Conservative Party of Canada by Manning's radical Reform Party in 2003.

The good news is that nowhere will these neocons be easier to identify and challenge than at the municipal level.

Forewarned is forearmed!

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

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