Noted at Manning Conference: The government on vacation

Conservatives are nervous, but they are not organizing to take Harper down

Manning Conference

Noted at the Manning Networking Conference. (Blair Gable)

It is indeed tempting to see the Manning Networking Conference, an annual mostly conservative group hug whose 2014 edition wrapped up yesterday, as the expression of some fringe opposition to Harperism. Preston Manning himself is too gentle to make such a case himself, but clearly he wants to open up a little room for debate on the right end of Canadian politics.

The theme of this year’s meeting was “Next Steps,” and at times it felt like a beauty contest for potential post-Harper Conservative Party leadership candidates. Jim Prentice was here, and Brad Wall, and Jason Kenney and James Moore speaking simultaneously in different rooms. And there were tantalizing bursts of heterodoxy. Mike Chong showed up to peddle his Reform Act, but Jay Hill, pressed into service to rebut him on behalf of Conservative party orthodoxy as a former chief whip, expressed his own wish that the level of partisanship in the Commons could be reduced through more modest rule changes. Prentice asked Conservatives to be nice to environmentalists and First Nations organizations. Manning was skeptical about Pierre Poilievre’s Fair Elections Act. A pollster said the Trudeau pot ads aren’t working. Brad Wall suggested there’s room for more big thinking in Ottawa, and told me he wishes Stephen Harper would get back to China sooner rather than later. Even staunch loyalists felt free to sing the Conservative song their own way instead of the PMO’s. James Moore argued his is “the party of nation-building;” decried most provinces’ willingness to let Canadian history remain an optional subject in high school; and talked up a program called Ready, Willing and Able that helps working-age Canadians with developmental disabilities find good work.

It was all so bracing! Everyone got to say what they wanted. Reporters roamed freely in and out of any session they liked. Nobody gave anyone any lip, Liberals and New Democrats at the event were not bugged and did not bother handing out snarky-snark paraphernalia, and there was even potable water and food in the media filing room. Basically it was the attitudinal mirror image of the Conservatives’ last official party convention in Calgary in November.

But you didn’t have to scratch the veneer of anti-Harperism, or even cheerful non-Harperism, hard at all before it came peeling right off. I couldn’t find anyone, even from the more centrist reaches of the party, even speaking on guarantees of anonymity, who felt Harper should be put out to pasture promptly so one of this weekend’s guest speakers could replace him. Wall told me he doesn’t want the job and couldn’t fulfill one of its main requirements — speaking serviceable French — even if he was interested. While Prentice spoke, people came streaming out of the conference hall cradling their heads and remarking on how, well, boring he was. And representatives of down-the-line Harperite orthodoxy, like Pierre Poilievre, showed up with a smile, shook a lot of hands and listened to the discussions, and left without (as far as I could discern) taking down names for later extermination at the hands of the 25-year-olds in short pants. (Fun fact: the average age of PMO staffers today is about what it’s been at every point in my 20 years in Ottawa, and none of them wears short pants to work.)

Conservatives are nervous, and they spent spectacularly too much time talking about how Justin Trudeau doesn’t scare them, ha-ha, who, that punk kid?, not on your life, ha-ha. But they are not organizing to take Harper down. On Monday, all of them will be back on their jobs, doing what the prime minister wants in the way the prime minister wants it done. The Manning Conference, as expressed by its Ottawa participants at any rate, was not the expression of a durable faction. It was a chance to take a break from scowling, finger-pointing and message discipline, the better to do more of all that stuff once work resumes.

Here’s the extent of the movement’s general willingness to stick with the horse it’s been riding for 12 years: Manning always likes to talk about better environmental protection and a conservatism that embraces conservationism. But for the last two years, the biggest crowds and the heartiest applause have been for guest speakers — Mark Steyn this year and Ron Paul last — who think the global-warming movement is a fraud designed to justify higher taxes and a more intrusive state. If Stephen Harper ever deigned to show up at one of these conferences, and (pushing hypotheticals still further) if he were to sit onstage in the main hall and take questions for an hour, he needn’t fear what this crowd would throw at him.




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Noted at Manning Conference: The government on vacation

  1. That’s the inertial effect of 12 years of “discipline” from the control centre for you. The only contenders for replacing the PM are weaker clones who, over time, have acted as the PMO’s talking heads. They are, in a way, contractually tied to the central themes and so cannot meander far from it without appearing hypocritical.

    Hopefully, the person who ultimately deposes Harper will not be from the inner circle. But the likelihood of that is low. Harper will wish to ensure his legacy by personally endorsing his successor.

    Only when parties are reduced to stubs is there true dislocation of the natural succession (see Campbell and Martin).

    • The Liberals looked to the ultimate insider to be the leader last time around in Michael Ignatieff. How’d that work out for them? Answer: so badly that they had to go crawling to the son of a former Prime Minister to attempt to re-build the party.

      • Ben Mulroney 2019!

      • I do not think you know what the term ‘insider’ means.

    • LOL I’m guessing that’s not standard issue

    • This is the best that Trudeau’s war room can come up with? Heh, this should be fun. It doesn’t even look real. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that everything from Trudeau’s camp is a bad joke.

      • The “REAL” button was “Id rather drink with rob (ford).. than smoke with Justin”… I know much classier!

  2. The cons and their followers are people who still think climate change is a season.

    • It is a new religion.

  3. I doubt if anyone on board the Titanic thought there was a pressing need for a new skipper until they actually hit the iceberg either.

    I was a bit surprised to see Saunders come right out and label Steyn a enormously ignorant racist with a huge N. American following…refreshing to see a top of the drawer Canadian journo not pull his punches.

  4. Fear.
    It works.

    • For a while.

    • Afraid so.

  5. “While Prentice spoke, people came streaming out of the conference hall cradling their heads and remarking on how, well, boring he was.”

    “But for the last two years, the biggest crowds and the heartiest applause have been for guest speakers — Mark Steyn this year and Ron Paul last — who think the global-warming movement is a fraud”

    That says it all, doesn’t it.

    The next Con leadership race will be an interesting one now that Prentice is running. In 2004, the Reform candidate was crowned virtually unopposed. Not it looks like there are no serious Cons to oppose Prentice. (Will the Western cranks take their ball and go home if Prentice wins? I.e., Wildrose will follow Social Credit and Reform by going federal?)

    • I for one would welcome Prentice. Conservatism should not be the ugliness that is is now.

      • Apparently a lack of ugliness is ‘boring’.

  6. I`m not sure why you guys even bother reading Wells. He quite clearly said that he could find no one at the conference who was interested in replacing Harper.
    Then all you talk about is replacing him.
    Maybe it`s wishful thinking on your part, maybe you can`t read, but if you want to speculate I`ll give you something more realistic to speculate about:

    In 2023, there will be a Federal Election, probably in the Fall. Harper will be 64 at the time. Try to speculate if he will decide to go for a sixth term or retire.
    You may also speculate if there will be pressure to nominate Pierre Trudeau`s grandson, who will be half way through high school at that time, as the exciting new leader of the LPC.

    • I am not sure you know what “realistic” means.

      I know I keep saying this, but I wish I had wealthy CPC friends who enjoyed placing wagers on their absurd predictions. If anybody knows this guy in real life, ask him to wager $500 on whether Stephen Harper will be elected prime minister in 2023 (hell put another $500 on 2019). It’ll take a while to pay out, but its bankable cash.

      • That`s a great idea.
        Listen, just send the $500 cash over to MacLeans, Wells can hold it.

        • Sadly i don’t believe you are good for it. if macleans publishes otherwise, i will match your amount. $$$ for me! (breath…not holding)

          Sadly, we all know your $ is nowhere near where your mouth is.

          • You`re right. I don`t want your money.
            So stop with the whole Harper wants to quit thing and I`ll bet you a day`s wage that I`m right and you`re wrong.

            Odds are My prediction that he may contemplate retirement in 2023 is just as accurate as you guys having him leave next week.

          • Do you even know what date it is today?

  7. Why can’t we get past this ridiculous notion that the PM needs to be able to speak French? Do we really need to cater so much to the 8% of the populace that are unilingual Francophones that we are going to routinely disqualify people such as Brad Wall from seeking federal leadership?
    The irony of this Quebec-centrist thought is that there wasn’t a single member of the Ottawa press corps who felt it worthy of comment that Stephane Dione was supposedly bilingual but wholly incapable of communicating inn the language spoken by over 80% of the nation. In fact, so ingrained is Quebec-centricity in the Librano Party that it never occurred to them that Dione was incoherent in English. It was simply accepted with a shrug that we Anglo’s would strive to understand.
    There’s a big difference between being unable to communicate with 8% of the electorate, many of whom are both avowed separatists and non-taxpayers, and and not being able to communicate with the 80% of the people who are largely federalist and are actually paying more than their share of the taxes.

    • Nothing is stopping Brad Wall from running, just as nobody is stopped from saying “if he’s so flipping fantastic why can’t he learn our other official language?”

    • Brad can run and the CPC can select his as their leader. Nothing forces Canadians to vote for them.

    • I had no problem understanding Dion, and I doubt his spoken English was the reason he failed to make inroads with voters. His share of the vote was higher than that earned by Ignatieff who, I shouldn’t need to point out, was not too shabby in the English department.

    • Nobody who says “Librano” unironically gets to complain about anyone’s communication skills.

    • I stayed at the Communicating Inn once. It was very noisy there.

  8. Does it not seem strange that the main conservative would not show up for the meeting of the conservative movement?
    I guess the neo-conservative credentials of the PM conflict too much with real conservatism. This is a conference about ideas and the PM is fresh out.

    • Unlike Justin Trudeau, Stephen Harper has an actual job to do, which is kind of important. Unlike Justin Trudeau, Harper can’t take a couple months off to go fundraising for his party.

      • That’s right, he bribes crooked Senators/former journos to do it for him.

  9. So I guess the question to ask is not whether change is good, but whether not changing will be bad for the Harper government.

  10. (Fun fact: the average age of PMO staffers today is about what it’s been at every point in my 20 years in Ottawa, and none of them wears short pants to work.)

    Briefed in the washroom?

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