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Canadiana, Federal Politics

Manning Centre releases 2011 State of Canada’s Conservative Movement

Manning Centre President and CEO, Preston Manning - Image Courtesy of the National Post

The Manning Centre, founded by former Opposition and Reform Party Leader Preston Manning, released its second annual State of Canada’s Conservative Movement report. The study is comprised of three parts, examining the attitudes of Canadians across the political spectrum on various topics like welfare and immigration; comparing the electoral map in Ontario from the 2008 federal election to the 2010 federal election, with a special section on Rob Ford’s mayoral conservative sweep; and it ends with an examination of the state of conservative infrastructure across the country.

To their credit, the Manning Centre is careful to delineate between small-c and big-C conservative, and aims the report towards a discussion of the sate of conservatism in Canada, as opposed to Conservatism. But the distinction is important: while conservative in nature, Manning himself was never a Conservative in our current sense. (Always flirting with big-C Conservatism, Manning first ran for Parliament as a member of the conservative-populist Social Credit Party in the 1965 federal election, but was defeated. And in the early days of the Reform Party in the late 1980s, Manning choose a young Stephen Harper as his chief policy adviser. Manning would retire from active politics in 2002 before the Reform Party would morph into the Canadian Alliance and merge with the Progressive Conservatives to become the powerhouse Conservative Party we know today.)

History lesson aside, overall, the report’s findings are not especially groundbreaking. Manning begins by touting recent conservative accomplishments, noting that

the past year has been an exciting year for conservatives with the election of a conservative administration in New Brunswick, the success of the Rob Ford mayoralty campaign in Toronto, and, of course, the election of a majority Conservative government in Ottawa on May 2nd 2011.

But the effort, as always, is “not to rest on our laurels” as Manning notes, but to build on the success of recent elections. Yet ultimately, the report does not indicate that much is amiss or off-kilter within the conservative movement these days. Some findings include such nuggets as conservatives are not as well-represented as Manning thinks they ought to be at the local level of government; full engagement with social media is something still lacking in the “Big Tent”; the movement is not doing enough to engage young people in the political tradition, and so on.

In my opinion, the most interesting initiative on the docket for the Manning Centre has to do with the latter of these findings. Building on their tradition of outreach, the Manning Centre is seeking to correct the lack of political experience in their youngest followers. According to the report, the Centre “has been working with Carleton University to establish and promote a cross-partisan program in political management. The Clay H. Riddell Masters in Political Management has now been successfully organized and accredited,” and “the first intake of students will begin the program in September 2011.”

John Lorinc wrote a brief piece on the latest MA program on offer at Carleton in a piece for The Walrus entitled ‘Aid for Aides.’ Lorinc writes that “if Carleton University has its way, the aide’s lowly status will soon rise.” Noting the inspiration for the program came from a similar one on offer at George Washington University, Lorinc goes on to write that

Calgary businessman Clayton H. Riddell has committed $15 million to the program, which aspires to train some two dozen prospective staffers…The degree won’t prepare them for every situation, allows Chris Dornan, director of Carleton’s Arthur Kroeger College of Public Affairs, but he says it “can give them fundamental skills so they have a sense of what to do on the first day.”

But aside from the interesting MA program at Carleton University, the report is rather uninspiring, the results almost foregone knowledge. No one can be surprised to learn that “there is a strong view that there is a role for institutions and organizations other than governments to play a signifcant role in tackling major economic, social, and environmental challenges.” Or be surprised by the results of a survey which found big-C Conservatives arguing more forcefully for the necessity of patriotism and a strong military; or that 31% of polled Conservatives believe “poor people have no one to blame but themselves,” which makes my head ache only slightly these days so used to this garbage am I.

I read this report, and I largely see contradictions between a party of law and order, big business, small government, and lack lustre environmental consciousness and the stated values of the Manning Centre: namely, that we must display “the wisdom of living within our means financially and ecologically,” and “care for those who cannot care for themselves.” But between Rob Ford wanting to slash social services aimed at helping the poor to the continued exploitation of Alberta’s ‘ethical’ oilsands, one of these positions must simply not be true.

And for those of us on the left, the fact that the conservative movement hasn’t figured out Twitter and StumbleUpon makes it into the state of the movement report belies just what a sweet time it must be to be conservative in Canada.

Geez.

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