Manning proposes a school to train right-wingers

Preston Manning is at it again. Despairing of the Conservatives taking power anytime soon and looking at the ultraright think tanks in the U.S., he's proposing an initiative to train right-wing activists on how to run campaigns and wrest power from the liberals. Given today's polls showing Martin's Libs at 40% (majority territory)it looks like his school has its work cut out for it.
Manning proposes a school of right
Tools to fight liberalism

Tom Blackwell
National Post

Monday, September 19, 2005

CREDIT: Ted Rhodes, CanWest News Service
(PRESTON) MANNING: a Canadian first.

A novel institute that hopes to give Canadian conservatives a much-needed electoral jolt -- with concepts that include a graduate school for right-wing political operatives -- started to take shape over the weekend.

The Manning Centre for Building Democracy will try to break the tightening Liberal grip on federal power by channelling practical advice, training and ideas to politicians, Preston Manning, its founder, said yesterday.

A blue-chip crowd of conservatives at an inaugural, three-day conference bandied about a range of ideas. They include a sort of MBA to train political organizers and scholarships to help conservative youth attend journalism school, then go on to influence media that conservatives perceive to be liberal-dominated.

The centre also plans to encourage more training for activists at all levels of the political process, improve links to academia and bring together conservatives more often to discuss strategy and policies.

Such practical-minded organizations have become relatively common in the U.S., but this would be a first in Canada, said Mr. Manning, the founder of the Reform and Canadian Alliance parties that are now part of the new Conservative Party of Canada.

The centre aims to help better communicate conservative values -- many of which are appealing to Canadians, although they're not winning elections.

"They're not finding expression in policies that people can identify with to the extent that conservatives would like. They're not being communicated and applied in certain situations," he said. "The problem is more translating them into public policy and political results. That's what we'd like to help do."

Mr. Manning has set up the organization at a dire time for the Conservative party itself. After four straight Liberal election victories federally, the newly amalgamated party made some gains earlier this year, thanks mainly to the Gomery commission's revelations about the Quebec sponsorship scandal.

But the Liberals have since rebounded, taking a strong lead in most polls again.

There are some within the Conservative party questioning Stephen Harper's continued leadership.

The conference drew politicians like Mike Harris, the former Ontario premier, and backroom activists like John Laschinger.

The centre would not be another political party, but help build an "infrastructure" for existing Conservative parties federally and provincially, Mr. Manning said.

It is a long-term plan, which may not bring concrete results for years, said Susan Elliott, a veteran Tory organizer and spokeswoman for the centre.

"We're on a 20-year horizon here," she said. "We're not at all talking about the next election, or the one after that."

Much of the conference discussion was about the centre helping provide training for politicians and organizers. That could range from weekend courses for poll captains to a graduate program in political administration at a co-operative university.

Nine such master's programs exist already in the United States, Mr. Manning said.

There was also discussion at the conference about tackling major institutions, such as universities and the media, that seem to have a liberal bent.

Strategies could include funding conservative intellectuals to write journal papers and books, or offering scholarships in fields such as journalism to conservative youth, said Ms. Elliott.

Similar organizations, such as the American Enterprise and Cato institutes, have been powerful forces in U.S. politics, said Nelson Wiseman, a University of Toronto political scientist.

"Think-tanks were pivotal in catapulting the right in America into a position of dominance," he said. "That intellectual energy used to be on the left until about 20 years ago."

But Prof. Wiseman argued that Canadian politics is more left-leaning. When the Conservatives win federal elections here, it is usually not so much a vote in favour of their ideas, but against something else, such as a Liberal government that has been in power too long, he maintains.

Prof. Wiseman said he also worries about the effect of further professionalizing the political process.

"It turns the conduct of elections and political activity into a science and in some respects, that debases it," he said. "It says that what counts here is the packaging, not the content."

© National Post 2005

No comments: