All posts tagged Naheed Nenshi

Could Ric McIver still win the Alberta Tory leadership race? Actually, yes, he could!

Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets. All the money’s on Jim Prentice – but is it the smart money? Below: Ric McIver, Jim Prentice, Jim Dinning and Gary Mar.

CALGARY

Could Ric McIver actually win the Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership race?

Or, to put that another way, could Jim Prentice lose?

Maybe that seems like a theme for a political science fiction story to you. After all, Mr. Prentice – the former banker, corporate lobbyist and federal cabinet minister – is the choice of the PC establishment.

What’s more, he’s now backed by 49 of 59 PC Members of the Legislative Assembly. All the political oddsmakers say he’s a sure bet to win. He acts like a guy who’s on a holiday cruise to victory.

But if he astonished everyone by losing, he wouldn’t be the first front-runner preferred by the mighty PC establishment to drop the ball on voting night, would he?

As a matter of fact, he’d be the third in less than a decade! The fourth in a row if you want to count Ralph Klein’s victory over Nancy Betkowski in 1992, although that one seemed like more of a real contest at the time.

Alert readers will recall that in 2006 Jim Dinning’s ascension to the throne of Peter Lougheed appeared to be all but a certainty. The smart money was all on his candidacy. The PC establishment wanted the former Alberta provincial treasurer in the job – 38 caucus members supported him, compared with 13 for the next most popular candidate. The polls showed him leading by a mile. And all the hot Alberta political strategists were supposedly in his corner.

For his part, Mr. Dinning acted like a man on his way to an easy victory, and an easy general election after that.

Turned out Mr. Dinning was running a terrific general election campaign, visiting every riding in the province, reaching out to all kinds of Albertans. Alas for him, though, a leadership campaign is not a general election. The number of memberships you sell counts more than the number of ridings you visit.

Perhaps Mr. Dinning paid insufficient attention to the riding associations with the votes. Perhaps he didn’t concentrate on what die-hard Tories wanted, or where their loyalties actually lay. Whatever it was, when the dust had settled, a guy named Ed Stelmach was the premier. As we all asked at the time: Ed Who?

Then in 2011, after Mr. Stelmach said to heck with the abuse that automatically goes with the job of being premier, and after a short interregnum during which the party took a look at candidates like Ted Morton and Doug Horner, the smart money settled on Gary Mar.

Mr. Mar was a former minister under Mr. Klein, and tout le monde political Alberta reached the conclusion all at once that he was the front-runner, favoured by the Tory establishment and backed by some of the same hot political strategists who had worked for Mr. Dinning.

I don’t think that Mr. Mar’s ascension to the throne was ever seen as quite the sure thing Mr. Dinning’s appeared to be. Just the same, he had the most backing in caucus – 27 members compared with 14 for Mr. Horner and 11 for Dr. Morton. The smart money settled on him early and stayed there until the night in October on which the party selected … Alison Redford.

If you like, you can blame teachers and other public employees who bought party memberships to support Ms. Redford – whom they’d mistakenly decided was some kind of progressive. But, in their defence, buying memberships is what the PC Party asked them to do. What? It wasn’t supposed to make any difference?

As for the party establishment, Ms. Redford was backed by only one caucus member other than herself, and none of the party’s big movers and shakers.

Now, here it is 2014, Ms. Redford has been fired by her own caucus, Dave Hancock is premier pro tem, and Mr. Prentice is assumed by all the same people to be the front-runner with such a massive lead that no one could possibly catch him.

Mr. McIver, who seemed like he might have had a slight chance at the start, apparently shot himself in both feet by joining something called the March for Jesus last month. Remember that? When it turned out the organizers behind the march had some astonishingly homophobic views, the punditocracy reached the conclusion he was done like dinner. After all, the whole thing smacked of the Lake of Fire debacle, the discovery in 2012 of the undiplomatic blog post by an evangelical Wildrose candidate that appears to have sunk the Wildrose Party in the 2012 general election.

But are you sure? Don’t forget that Mr. McIver, the MLA for Calgary-Hayes, was well known in Calgary before his career in provincial politics as an alderman universally known as Dr. No – for his habit of saying no to spending proposals backed by other city councillors. I’m just saying, but it seldom hurts to have a nickname in politics.

In 2010, Mr. McIver ran for mayor of Calgary – and was favoured to win, so he knows what that’s like – and did well, even if he lost to a more liberal guy named Naheed Nenshi. The next year, he ran for the Legislature and got elected.

People all over Alberta – and especially in Calgary and the south – know who he is and what he stands for. A lot of them like that Dr. No stuff, and a fair number may even not have cared about – or noticed – the story about the March for Jesus.

Name recognition alone might not be enough to float his boat, but in the meantime, Mr. Prentice is campaigning a lot like … Jim Dinning.

He’s running a good general election campaign designed to persuade Alberta voters that he’s not scary and, even after the flip-flops and entitled behaviour of Alison Redford, he can be trusted.

That may work with the masses in Edmonton, where a lot of voters at the moment plan to vote NDP, and in Calgary, which seems to be leaning the Wildrose way nowadays. But how will it play in Ponoka? More importantly, how will it play inside the PC Party – where most activists are still plenty to the right of the general populace?

I don’t know about you, but at this point in the contest, it feels to me like Mr. Prentice’s support is a mile wide and an inch deep – and that he may have forgotten that in a party leadership race, memberships sold count for more than where they were sold.

Meanwhile, Albertans know who Ric McIver is, and a fair number of them may very well like what they see. Mr. McIver is capable of selling thousands of memberships in his south Calgary powerbase, not to mention to supporters of the March for Jesus.

Jim Prentice, the same people may ask … who’s he?

And you’ve got to admit, the whole PC leadership campaign sure hasn’t caught on fire – just yet, anyway. Blogger Dave Cournoyer called it the world’s most boring political leadership race, and I’d say he just about nailed it.

So could Ric McIver actually win?

It’s unlikely, I suppose. The Tory establishment isn’t going to make it easy for him. For one thing, there’s no way it wants to lose for a third time in a row … or a fourth if you count Mr. Klein, although that one worked out better for them.

And maybe I’m just a political blogger pipe dreaming about a race that’s actually interesting.

But the answer is yes, Mr. McIver could still win – notwithstanding the self-inflicted holes in both of his feet.

Could he go on to beat the Wildrose Party? That’s a story for another day.

And could Thomas Lukaszuk, the MLA for Edmonton-Castle Downs and once Ms. Redford’s Deputy Premier and the owner of the best hair in Alberta politics, also pull off another “miracle on the prairies” and eke out a victory?

The answer to that one is easier: No.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Ric McIver needs to explain his longstanding connections to the ‘Progressive Group for Independent Business’ and its beliefs

Found on the Internet, apropos of nothing in particular, Ric McIver and friend. Below: Craig B. Chandler of the Progressive Group for Independent Business.

Up to now, Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Ric McIver has quite successfully flown under the radar about his ideological beliefs.

Indeed, very little has been written about what makes Mr. McIver tick – and almost nothing at all about what he believes, and therefore what he would do in office.

His official biography is uninformative, as is his Wikipedia entry. Neither provides any hint about his economic or philosophical views beyond his party affiliation – and since the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta remains a pretty big tent, even if it’s driven by its right wing, that could be pretty much anything.

His campaign website used to say nothing because he wasn’t officially a candidate. Now that he is, about all it says is “website development is under way. We will have lots of news and information to add to the website in the coming days and weeks, so please check back here often.” It’s said that for a few days now. In the meantime, it says, they’d love to have you sign up for email. Oh, and there’s a slogan: “Common sense. New thinking.”

There are only few tantalizing hints out there about there about Mr. McIver’s ideological beliefs.

It’s said here this suits Mr. McIver, 55, because he’s much farther to the right than most Albertans would be comfortable with. Yes, he’s got a vague reputation as a hard-nosed conservative, no Red Tory, but that’s just code for “businesslike” in most circles in Alberta nowadays.

Ditto for his reputation when he was a Calgary alderman as the “Dr. No” of city council, in other words, the guy who could be depended upon to argue against expensive projects other councillors enthusiastically supported. Municipal politicians who have worked with him as infrastructure minister describe him as no-nonsense and decisive, but no visionary.

There seem to be only two news stories that contain basic biographical information like where he was born (Woodstock, Ontario), what he studied after high school (he didn’t go to university but attended the traditional School of Hard Knocks) and where he worked and what he worked at before entering politics (as a meat cutter and salesman for Schneider’s Meats, Armstrong Cheese, Scott National and Fleetwood Sausage, and eventually himself).

The first appeared in Calgary’s FFWD arts magazine a few days before the 2010 civic election in which he ran for mayor, was widely seen as the front-runner and lost to the much more liberal Naheed Nenshi. It was after that that Mr. McIver turned his sights on provincial politics, running for Alison Redford’s PC Party in the 2012 general election in the Calgary riding of Calgary-Hays. The second, a worshipful hagiography, appeared in the Calgary Sun last week.

But you can’t start Googling Mr. McIver without coming across traces of his loony-right connections, in particular with Craig B. Chandler’s so-called Progressive Group for Independent Business.

He also, interestingly, received substantial donations during his run for mayor of Calgary from developer Cal Wenzel and Mr. Wenzel’s company, Shane Homes, as well as a contribution from another member of the developer’s family. It has been plausibly suggested that Mr. McIver’s loss to Mayor Nenshi played a role in Mr. Wenzel’s decision to donate $100,000 to the Manning Centre to train and assist candidates more likely to “roll our way,” and to persuade 10 more developers to make similar donations.

But it is Mr. McIver’s connection with Mr. Chandler and the PGIB that is troubling.

Mr. Chandler, the founder and current executive-director of the PGIB, is so far to the right that the Wildrose Party recently told him to get lost. That likely had more to do with Mr. Chandler’s views on gay rights (he’s vociferously against them) and the party’s sensitivities about that issue than where he places himself in the economic spectrum.

In 2007, he won the Progressive Conservative nomination in Calgary Egmont, but that was overturned by the party’s executive, with Premier Ed Stelmach explaining Mr. Chandler’s candidacy was “not in the best interests of the party.” As far as I know, Mr. Chandler is still seeking the PC nomination in the Calgary Shaw riding for the upcoming election.

Notwithstanding Mr. McIver’s stealthy flight on this issue, there seem to be just too many references to his connections with the PGIB to have all been flushed down the Memory Hole.

So what’s the deal? On its website, the PGIB lists getting Mr. McIver elected as an alderman “in a PGIB managed campaign” as one of its big successes – Mr. Nenshi once sniffed that Mr. McIver was the only person the PGIB ever got elected.

On the same page, PGIB bragged that it was the “first group in Canada to put right-to-work in the forefront in politics.” It is unknown what Mr. McIver’s views about this kind of crude anti-union legislation might be, beyond his connection with the PGIB. Presumably, that is because he has never said.

He was also given an award by the PGIB for his work on Calgary City Council, although the group’s website does not say when.

Mr. McIver also appears to have worked for the PGIB for a spell, and was its “municipal chairman” before he was elected alderman. He was a member of the PGIB’s executive before 2001. (It’s not clear from the news story that mentions this if these were the same position, or different jobs.) He told FFWD in 2009 that he’d “separated” from the group, whatever that means. (The PGIB’s website, however, still quotes him saying, “I am a proud member of the PGIB.”)

What did he do there? Asked the same question by FFWD in 2009, Mr. McIver responded: “You know what? It’s so long ago I just don’t remember.”

That answer may have been acceptable in 2009, when he was just thinking about running for mayor of Calgary. It’s not good enough in 2014 when he’s running for the top political job in the province of Alberta.

He needs to go back and check his files to see what he was doing if he can’t recall.

The problem is, PGIB is not just a fairly radical organization based on the right-wing economic positions it takes, it is also inevitably strongly tied to its founder’s extreme social conservative views, which would place it far out on the right-wing fringe anywhere in North America, especially on the topic of LGBTIQ rights.

Among the policies currently listed on the PGIB’s website now are the following:

  • Elimination of government-funded multiculturalism
  • Elimination of Human Rights Commissions and Tribunals 
  • Elimination of “forced bilingualism”
  • Elimination of employment equity laws and programs 
  • Requirement for a referendum before taxes can be raised
  • “Workfare” programs to replace social assistance
  • Adopting anti-union “right-to-work” legislation
  • Privatization of the Workers Compensation Board
  • Limitations on First Nations’ sovereignty
  • No improvements in Canada Pension Plan
  • Wide-open U.S.-style firearms ownership
  • Opposition to the Kyoto Accord
  • Privatization of city utilities
  • Elimination of regional boards

The items emphasized in italics are known to be used frequently as code for opposition to LGBTIQ rights.

As a result of his connection with this organization, whether or not he is still a member, Mr. McIver has a number of questions he needs to answer forthrightly and clearly. Among them:

  • What did he do when he worked for the PGIB?
  • Is he still a member of the PGIB?
  • Does he support the PGIB’s policies? If not all, which ones?
  • In particular, because of his history with the PGIB and Mr. Chandler, where does he stand on LGBTIQ rights?
  • Does he support right-to-work legislation?
  • Would he privatize the Workers Compensation Board?

We await Mr. McIver’s answers, if any, with great interest.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Master of survey spinning takes potshot at poll showing Jim Prentice far ahead in Progressive Conservative leadership race

Stephen Carter, back in the day, looking very pleased with himself. Below: Former Carter clients Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Alison Redford. Below them: Pollster Janet Brown.

What would happen if a new poll put Thomas Lukaszuk in third place in the Tory leadership race?

Oh, wait! The former labour minister is in third place. But then, there are only three candidates.

According to a public opinion poll published yesterday by the Calgary Herald, frontrunner Jim Prentice is running so far ahead it’s all likely to be meaningless anyway, notwithstanding the apparent flaws of the survey.

The Herald reported that the poll by the Alberta-based pollster ThinkHQ Public Affairs shows Mr. Prentice – a banker, lobbyist and former federal Conservative cabinet minister – has almost half the voters likely to cast a ballot all tied up, 49 per cent of them.

That leaves candidate Ric McIver, the former infrastructure minister, in a distant second place, with a paltry 18 per cent. According to the survey, Mr. Lukaszuk, the former labour minister, is basically irrelevant at 4 per cent.

Back in the day in Alberta, it was said that third place was the place to be if you wanted to vault into the lead – especially if political strategist Stephen Carter had anything to do with your campaign.

But, uh, they didn’t mean quite as far in third place as Mr. Lukaszuk seems to be. And, anyway, the Tories have changed the rules since then to ensure a candidate as catastrophic as Alison Redford can never again jump to the front in a final runoff vote just because she managed to enlist a the services of a smart strategist.

Speaking of Mr. Carter, a couple of whose prominent candidates happened to benefit just that way from the publication of a well-timed poll showing them unexpectedly in contention, he had some sharpish things to say yesterday about the Think HQ poll and other surveys that use the same methodology.

Indeed, in a blog posted on the Calgary Herald’s website, Mr. Carter argued they’re about as accurate as a 14-day weather forecast.

Among the serious flaws he identified in the ThinkHQ effort were a potential for selection bias in the online panel (just who were these 1,470 people? he rightly asked), the misleading publication of a margin of error implying more statistical validity than the poll can actually claim, and the lack of information about how many of the poll respondents were in fact PC Party members.

Fair enough, much the same has been said here in similar circumstances. But since the past prominent candidates noted above happened to be Ms. Redford, late of the Alberta Premier’s Office, and Naheed Nenshi, who continues to occupy the office of the mayor of Calgary, it would surely be fair to call Mr. Carter’s complaints at the least mildly ironic, if not hilarious.

Mr. Carter managed Ms. Redford’s leadership campaign in 2011. He was a strategist in Mayor Nenshi’s 2010 campaign, in which the frontrunner who lost, by the way, was the same Mr. McIver who is now campaigning for Ms. Redford’s old job.

Days before the second Alberta Progressive Conservative Party leadership vote in early October 2011, Ms. Redford’s campaign effectively used an unexpected Calgary Herald-Environics poll of Tory Party members that showed her in second place behind frontrunner Gary Mar. This created a new reality that motivated her supporters and gave her sufficient momentum to push her narrowly over the top.

Mr. Carter, it is important to note, has long insisted he had nothing to do with that mid-September poll, which was controversial because it was based on a list of 22,000 card-carrying PC Party members passed on to Environics by a Calgary Herald columnist, whose mysterious possession of the list has never been explained.

Using it for an opinion poll may have violated Alberta’s privacy legislation, and a furious PC Party President Bill Smith immediately issued a stinging rebuke on the party’s website of whoever allowed the “unauthorized and inappropriate use” of the party membership list. He vowed to get to the bottom of the mystery.

For some reason, though, the party lost interest in pulling on that particular thread the instant Ms. Redford became the leader. “It’s the miracle on the prairies,” Mr. Smith later said of Ms. Redford’s victory.  “Nobody would have picked her.” After that, he quietly moved on.

Back in the fall 2010, Mr. Nenshi’s campaign gained sudden momentum and credibility from an unexpected Calgary Herald poll that put the mayoral candidate in third place. This gave Mr. Carter, who was a strategist for Mr. Nenshi, the opportunity, as one observer put it, “to beat reporters over the head to ensure they positioned Mr. Nenshi as the third-place candidate and always got a quote from him.”

For his part, Mr. Carter Tweeted yesterday that “in my career I’ve only released one poll for a candidate. It was @nenshi. And it was right.” It was likely correct, at any rate, in saying Mr. Nenshi was at that moment in third place, whence he quickly moved to first.

Nowadays, Mr. Carter works for the Hill & Knowlton PR firm as “national director of campaign strategy.” That said, other than commentating he doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the current Alberta Tory leadership campaign – which saw the three challengers debating one another in Edmonton at a dull-sounding event yesterday evening billed the official start of the campaign.

Notwithstanding the imperfect methodology of the ThinkHQ poll identified by Mr. Carter, it was probably a pretty accurate reflection of the state of the great minds of the Tory Party when it was taken two weeks ago, not to mention what’s left of the party’s long-suffering rank and file.

And if those are the only people who come out to vote this year, as pollster Janet Brown pointed out in another Herald blog in the same series, “then a Jim Prentice victory is pretty much a certainty.”

Ms. Brown went on: “If a sizable number of people who don’t want the ‘Tory Establishment’ to get their way show up to vote, then Ric McIver or Thomas Lukaszuk stands a chance of winning.”

The trouble is, for that to happen, someone would have to care, which Albertans may not if they’ve all made up their minds to vote for someone else come the general election.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Missing: Any discussion of what drove the Hancock Government’s Bill 10 attack on legally enforceable contracts

A system of contracts that can be enforced and adjudicated by an independent and disinterested court like this one is one of the key features of civilized society. This is a picture of the court used by a significant number Canadian law firms to illustrate their web pages. Actually, it’s the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Manhattan. But, unlike all those coruscating Canadian legalists, I took this picture myself. Below: Premier pro tem Dave Hancock talking to the media about an entirely different controversial issue; historian Alvin Finkel.

Amid all the brouhaha in recent weeks over Bill 9, the Alberta Progressive Conservative government’s public service pension legislation, very little attention was paid to its private sector companion piece, Bill 10, the Employment Pension (Private Sector) Plans Amendment Act, 2014.

Yet, in some ways, Bill 10 is an even more troubling law, which on its face appears to undermine one of the foundations of modern commerce and orderly society: the legally enforceable contract.

It’s likely for the moment both contentious bills will fall off the radar, as the government of Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock clearly intended when it solved the crisis it had caused for itself by referring both bills on May 5 to an all-party committee for further study over the dog days of summer.

Whether the proposed laws return to bedevil Albertans again or become mere footnotes to legislative history really depends on whom the Progressive Conservatives pick as their leader in September, and as has been said here before, the chances are quite good both bills will be allowed to die.

Nevertheless, we should pay attention to what was conceived by the Redford Government and brought forth by Mr. Hancock, because there is no way the neoliberal elites in Canada and Alberta are about to give up on their assault on the retirement security rights of Canadians, and hence these ideas are bound to return like a proverbial bad penny.

Regardless of where we place ourselves in the political spectrum, we can all agree that a system of contracts that can be enforced and adjudicated by an independent and disinterested tribunal is one of the key features of civilized society.

So while Bill 9, the Public Sector Pension Plans Amendment Act, 2014, added up to a combination of terrible policy and egregiously broken promises, it did so by attacking consensus agreements that were for the most part never properly enshrined in contracts.

That is to say, the public-sector bill’s intended wholesale attack on the modest defined benefit pension plans of 300,000 Alberta civil servants and other government employees, mostly women, was aimed at retirement security arrangements that were never negotiated into those workers’ unions’ collective agreements.

Alberta governments of the day obviously thought it made sense to provide public employees with secure if modest retirement savings plans, and their employees foolishly trusted them to keep that promise without placing that arrangement inside an enforceable employment contract.

This gave the extremist Redford Government a lot of leeway to arbitrarily gut public employees’ retirement savings to achieve its ideological goals and, for all intents and purposes, to cut its employees’ pay.

Bill 9 was bad policy, as Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi pointed out in his letter to Finance Minister Doug Horner, because it would have deprived other public employers like Alberta’s cities of their sole remaining recruitment advantage over the better-paid private sector in Alberta’s tight labour market. In addition, of course, it was a broken promise because it would have smashed the retirement security commitment already made to tens of thousands of front-line health care workers, civil servants, education employees and municipal workers.

Bill 10 was arguably a much more radical piece of legislation than its companion public sector law because it was designed to give private-sector employers the ability to arbitrarily break pension agreements with employees and retirees, including collectively bargained contractual plans.

Indeed, how is letting employers break contractual deals with the stroke of a pen any different from, say, passing a law that gives bankers the right not to pay the interest they promised to investors simply because they feel like it, without a compelling reason such as bankruptcy?

As Athabasca University historian Alvin Finkel wrote in a thoughtful response to an earlier post on this blog about Bill 9, Bill 10 would even have allowed employers arbitrarily to retroactively convert pension entitlements to people who have already paid for them.

“This means that people in plans that are not administered by the government may experience the same rollbacks that the government wishes to impose on workers inside plans managed by the government,” wrote Dr. Finkel in a comment that is worth quoting at length.

“Until about two decades ago, virtually all pensions in Canada were defined benefit pensions that gave employers and pension managers the responsibility to insure that plans were managed in ways that would insure that promised benefits would be paid,” he said.

“The notion that employers should have the opportunity to take their workers’ pension contributions and play the stock markets with them, simply cutting the pension payouts if such investments go south, is immoral,” Dr. Finkel wrote. “It originated with General Pinochet, the butcher of Chile, who was able to use his dictatorship to destroy existing worker pensions in favour of these con-artist pensions.”

Dr. Finkel noted that the murderous Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet got the idea from market fundamentalist economist Milton Friedman, who in the days before the rule of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and U.S. President Ronald Reagan “was regarded as a wingnut whom only military dictators could listen to seriously.”

“Wealthy corporations and their public relations armies then fanned out everywhere to con people into thinking that the successful defined benefit pensions of the post-war period were no longer feasible and workers should have to pay more into plans only to get less,” Dr. Finkel argued, concluding, “Scandinavia’s experience demonstrates that this is a lie.”

Why did the unprogressive Alberta Progressive Conservatives veer into the realm of private contracts in what was always principally a mean-spirited and largely pointless attack on its public employees and their unions – especially the union for jail guards whose illegal strike last June had embarrassed a then-powerful cabinet minister?

Possibly, as Dr. Finkel suggested, because it hoped to rally to its side those voters who resent anyone with a defined-benefit pension. Presumably Bill 10 also gave Mr. Horner a little flimsy intellectual cover for the idea that what he was doing to public employees was sound policy. And no doubt some private-sector employers are rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of being able to arbitrarily break contracts with their employees.

This went too far for the Opposition Wildrose Party, despite its right wing views. Wildrose Finance Critic Rob Anderson argued last month that “contracts and agreements must be respected” and “that includes the pension arrangements promised to current public sector workers and pensioners who chose their careers in the public sector based, at least in part, on the promise of the current public pension arrangement.”

So while the Wildrose Party would presumably strip future public sector workers of fair retirement arrangements in exchange for “con-artist” pensions designed to benefit the so-called wealth management industry, at least they seem prepared to support the sanctity of contracts.

Departing NDP Leader Brian Mason urged the government to refer the bill to a standing committee and hold public hearings, which he suggested would be “the best face-saving direction that the government can take in order to back away from this.” The government took his advice and, while it is trying to avoid the appearance of flip-floppery, probably did so for the reason he suggested.

So far, though, it seems to have occurred to no one that the damage Bill 10 would to the role played in an orderly society by the requirement parties to an agreement must honour their contracts – but then, that should hardly surprise us from a 43-year-old government so long in the tooth it has concluded the rules are only for the rest of us.

This oversight has likely happened partly because unions, as effective advocates for their members, naturally focused on fighting an attack on their membership.

But Bill 10 deserves attention too, at least if you care about the ability of ordinary citizens to enforce contracts with powerful business elites, not to mention to retire in reasonable security.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Pension ‘reform’ effort likely dead as PC government and all opposition parties refer Bills 9 and 10 to committee

Members of the Hancock PC Government pause to consider their current level in the public’s esteem, and what else they can do after today’s developments to make their way back to the surface. Actual Alberta politicians may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: Finance Minister Doug Horner.

Former Alberta premier Alison Redford’s ill-conceived anti-union project is in shambles tonight, with an agreement to send two bills attacking public sector pensions to a legislative committee where they can die with dignity.

With the car in the ditch, wheels spinning and headlights pointed skyward, the Progressive Conservative government of Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock agreed this afternoon to send the two controversial pension bills to the committee, which is supposed to report back in the fall.

If sanity prevails within the PC caucus and the party remains mired at current levels of unpopularity, it seems likely this will lead to the eventual demise of both Bill 9, the Public Sector Pension Plans Amendment Act, 2014, and Bill 10, the Employment Pension (Private Sector) Plans Amendment Act, 2014.

The agreement by Mr. Hancock’s PC government and all three Opposition parties also suggests the repudiation by Mr. Hancock personally of the radical program attacking public service unions and employees that emerged unexpectedly in the second year of the leadership of fired premier Redford, who finally reappeared in the Legislature today.

This is not to say the Tory caucus does not remain deeply divided over the issue, with cabinet members like Finance Minister Doug Horner and Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk likely content with the idea of a major fight over pensions while other caucus members deeply fear the potential fallout.

Tory heir apparent Jim Prentice, meanwhile, is said to want nothing to do with someone else’s bonehead fight. But who knows? Mere Alberta voters are seldom consulted in such matters.

Some knowledgeable observers suggest the development means the PCs will move quickly to end the agony of the current Legislative sitting.

As for the Opposition, despite major differences of philosophy and policy, the Wildrose Party, the New Democrats and the Alberta Liberals all opposed the bills and promised to repeal them if elected.

Today’s not-entirely unexpected development must be partly credited to the intensive lobbying effort by members of several public sector unions who have been visiting the constituency offices of Tory MLAs throughout the province. They have been explaining bluntly what would happen to the votes that saved the PC Party in 2012 if the government continued to push forward with Mr. Horner’s planned pension changes.

Just as important, though, have been the reservations expressed by municipal governments and other groups that normally see eye to eye with the provincial PCs regardless of who leads the dynastic governing party.

On Friday, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi sent Mr. Hancock a scathing letter urging him to reconsider the pension plan changes proposed in Bill 9 on the grounds it would “gravely impact the City of Calgary” and “have a crippling effect on our labour force, our operations and our finances.”

If Mr. Nenshi seemed too small-l liberal for Tory tastes, today an April 24 letter from Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties President Bob Barss surfaced, expressing some of the same sentiments.

The AAMDC letter may not have been as sharp-toned as Mr. Nenshi’s epistle, but it must have concerned the caucus that the organization was asking the government “to defer any final decision on the reforms proposed in Bill 9 until … public sector pension plans have completed their actuarial studies based on the proposed changes.” After all, the AAMDC is practically a PC Party farm team.

There is rumoured also to have been a similar letter from the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, but if so, no one has leaked it yet.

There is no guarantee, of course, that this apparent course change will restore the progressive coalition that swung to the PCs in the final hours of the 2012 election campaign. After their experience with Ms. Redford, many public employees who have historically backed the PCs are thoroughly disillusioned with the party.

Still, today’s developments improve Mr. Hancock’s and his successor’s chances of wooing back some progressives still fearful of the Wildrose Party and concerned NDP or Liberal candidates have no chance in many local races.

The deal saw the Opposition parties agree to end their filibuster of Bill 9 after this evening while the government agreed to refer both bills to the Standing Committee on Alberta’s Economic Future for public hearings. The committee is supposed to report back to the Legislature’s fall sitting.

But who knows? By then an early election may have been called, notwithstanding Ms. Redford’s increasingly foolish-looking fixed election periods law.

NDP Leader Brian Mason today called the agreement “a real victory for the hundreds of thousands of Albertans whose pension was seriously threatened by this legislation – the next step will now be to make sure that, if the legislation does come back, it protects, strengthens and broadens retirement security for Albertans.”

But he really nailed it on Sunday when he told an Edmonton newspaper that agreeing to his motion to send the bill to committee was “the best face-saving direction that the government can take in order to back away from this.”

That appears to be what happened today.

The rest of Ms. Redford’s anti-union program is now in ruins.

Bill 46, the law imposing a contract on AUPE is moot, thanks to a court injunction granted to the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees that prevented the government from enacting the law, followed by a collective agreement between the government and AUPE that rendered the law meaningless.

All that remains tonight of Ms. Redford’s radical anti-union agenda is Bill 45, which imposed heavy penalties on unions that strike illegally and includes patently unconstitutional bans on advocacy of such job actions. It will be dealt with by the courts, presumably, in the fullness of time.

Tomorrow, barring an outbreak of even more news, we’ll take a look at some of the problems with Bill 10. This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Calgary mayor hands Alberta PCs a ‘Get Out of Jail Card’ on public service pensions

Alberta Premier pro tem Dave Hancock, who does not appear exactly as illustrated, of course, pictured on a Get Out of Jail Free card given him today by Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi. Below: Mr. Nenshi and the real Mr. Hancock.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi handed Alberta Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock a Get Out of Jail Free card today.

It may not seem that way at first blush, but when Mr. Nenshi wrote Premier Hancock assailing Finance Minister Doug Horner’s Alison-Redford-era legislation allowing the province to gut Alberta public sector pensions, he did the government a huge favour.

Bill 9, as the Public Sector Pensions Plans Amendment Act is known at this stage of its legislative life, is probably the most serious political problem facing the Progressive Conservative government at this rather fraught moment in its history.

One way or another it impacts the retirement security of approximately 300,000 Albertans who are either public employees or public sector retirees, as well as their spouses and families. In some cases, especially younger workers and women, the potential impact is quite severe – a bad enough deal to make significant numbers ponder leaving the public service over the next couple of years if the legislation becomes law.

Talk about a difficult legacy for Mr. Hancock, who was always rumoured to have opposed his predecessor’s various attacks on the public sector. As a result, something like 600,000 Albertans have been politically awakened by the former Redford Government’s bonehead play on pensions. And they are not happy with the Tories!

Indeed, and herein lies the government’s problem, they are unhappy enough to abandon the coalition that saved Ms. Redford’s government in April 2012, which in many Alberta ridings would be enough to end the careers of the previously unassailable Tory MLAs.

So when Mr. Nenshi’s letter, bearing Friday’s date, turned up in Mr. Hancock’s mailbox and begged him to hang fire on implementing the law because of the problems it will cause municipalities like Calgary, it handed the premier a wonderful opportunity to wiggle out of the most serious problem faced by the government he was chosen to preserve until a permanent saviour can be found.

No matter that the letter appears to have been leaked by Alberta Liberal MLA Kent Hehr. The prevailing wisdom is that while the government long ago realized Bill 9 and its companion private-sector law, Bill 10, were impetuous, foolish and based on a grave political miscalculation, it was reluctant to back off for fear of appearing to cave in to public sector unions.

Mr. Nenshi’s complaint that the law would “gravely impact the City of Calgary,” and moreover “have a crippling effect on our labour force, our operations and our finances,” gives the government a presumably welcome fig leaf to let the bills die on the order paper and make the problem go away before a new permanent leader is chosen.

Thanks to Mr. Nenshi, Mr. Hancock and company can say they’re dropping the bill because of the concerns of municipal politicians – and it’s not just Calgary politicians, by the way, who are very unhappy about it – never mind what those unions have to say.

Indeed, there’s even a school of thought out there that Mr. Hancock or someone in the government asked Mr. Nenshi to send the letter to get them off the hook, and regardless of that, this development is certainly not going to displease undeclared leadership candidate Jim Prentice, who is widely perceived as the party’s political redeemer.

Just days ago, of course, both Mr. Hancock and Mr. Horner, who also may or may not be a leadership candidate, were manfully defending the government’s program of pension changes. But that was then.

Anyway, the Opposition parties are unlikely to give the government too a hard time for dropping the bill since all three of them, including the Wildrose Party, are opposed to the plan and have indicated they will scrap it if they get the chance.

So it hardly matters under the circumstances that Mr. Nenshi’s criticisms echo many of the points made by the unions. To wit, among other things:

  • Calgary was not adequately consulted
  • The bill “will increase the number of employees who opt for early retirement or leave for more lucrative positions in the private sector”
  • The largest public sector pension plan “already has a plan to address its unfunded liabilities”
  • Eliminating the plan’s guaranteed cost of living adjustment “will adversely impact recruitment and retention”
  • The proposed changes would also “increase administrative costs”
  • It could “have an adverse effect on labour relations”

“Enacting Bill 9 in its present form will adversely affect the administration, finances and the labour force of The City as well as the ability of The City to provide effective services to all its citizens,” Mayor Nenshi’s letter concluded. “The reform will create a dangerous incentive for our workforce to either take early retirement before 2016 or enter into the private sector.”

He’s not opposed to pension reform, he noted, but “Bill 9 needs considerable work.”

In addition to giving Mr. Hancock the opportunity to fix a serious problem bequeathed to him by fired premier Redford, Mr. Nenshi’s letter seems to have considerably enhanced his image and popularity outside Calgary – especially, not surprisingly, among the “progressive coalition” that backed Ms. Redford in 2012.

That will probably not mean much in the short term while we wait to see if the government will grasp the lifeline thrown to it by Calgary’s mayor, but, this being Alberta, it could have some interesting implications a little farther down the line.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Municipal Affairs Minister Ken Hughes quits Alberta cabinet – presumably to run for PC leadership

Half-confirmed Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Ken Hughes, on the night in 2011 Alison Redford won the party’s leadership. Well, that was then and this is now, as the appalled looking unidentified passerby seemed to have sensed. Below: Doug Horner. Anyone else?

Alberta’s Municipal Affairs Minister quit his cabinet post yesterday, by the sound of it because he intends to run for the leadership of the provincial Progressive Conservative Party.

If that’s the reason for Ken Hughes unexpectedly showing up in one of the back rows of the Legislature’s latest seating chart – he didn’t give a lot of notice that he’d asked to be moved there – it will surely come as a huge relief to the PC Party executive.

Mr. Hughes, who was also former premier Alison Redford’s Energy Minister for a spell after he got elected to the Legislature in 2012, may not be the most scintillating or charismatic guy you’ll ever meet, but at least he seems capable of doing the premier’s job in a pedestrian sort of way.

So if that’s what this is actually about, after a week of old party warhorses publicly saying “hell no, I won’t go,” it can no longer be said that no one who can actually do the job is interested in it.

It’s said here it was a little odd Mr. Hughes didn’t just say he’s running, instead promising to make another announcement about something soon and referring everyone to an evocatively named website that tells about how he “has demonstrated personal strength of character,” “has a frugal approach to money,” and “has an ability to dream big and then deliver.” (Examples please!)

Presumably in an effort to establish some outsider cred, the site also says the former Southern Alberta Member of Parliament is “someone who has not spent most of their last 15 years in and around politics,” which if you ask me is a bit of a stretch, if not an outright howler.

It’s true that as the Chair of the Board of Alberta Health Services from 2008 to 2011, Mr. Hughes wasn’t actually an elected politician. But since premier Ed Stelmach did away with regional health authorities in 2008, it’s hard to imagine a more political job in this province – or a job that anyone could land without being politically connected.

Well, that was back in the days when Alberta Health Services still had an independent governing board, before Redford Government Health Minister Fred Horne went and fired them all for paying insufficient attention to his orders. It’s safe to say that if Mr. Hughes hadn’t resigned that position in 2011 to run for Ms. Redford’s party, AHS would still be governed by its board.

More likely, though, this was just a way to squeeze two news hits out of an essentially dull story weirdly scheduled on a day when the national media had bigger fish to fry. To wit: the widely predicted defeat of the Parti Quebecois government in Quebec.

Either that or Mr. Hughes hasn’t quite raised the $50,000 he’s going to need to get his name on the ballot and has a few more calls to make.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, as is well known, several other cabinet ministers have been dropping hints about being interested in the leadership race without actually doing anything that Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock has decreed would require them to give up their cabinet posts.

This list includes Finance Minister Doug Horner, Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk, Justice Minister Jonathan Denis and Energy Minister Diana McQueen.

Of this group, Mr. Hughes and Mr. Horner are probably the most likely candidates, based on their experience and diplomatic skills. Although, for his part, Mr. Horner is also still doing the dance of a thousand fans – hinting at plenty but not actually revealing very much.

Regardless of whom is chosen, it still seems quite possible it will turn out to be a fairly short-term gig, although with the hope of a more permanent position afterward as leader of the opposition. So perhaps we shouldn’t rule out Mr. Lukaszuk, who seems to have no friends in his own party but does have the sort of aggressive personality usually associated with the opposition benches.

There’s a school of thought – nicely articulated by Old Warhorse Jim Dinning in his recent I’m-not-a-candidate announcement – that the only way the party can survive is by choosing a real outsider. So far, though, while several names have been mentioned, none has actually put up his or her hand and volunteered.

Rumoured outsiders have included former Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel, who at nearly 69 seems a little long in the tooth to start a new career; banker and former Conservative Parliamentarian Jim Prentice, who those in the know say is more interested in a timely return to the greener pastures of the Ottawa Valley; and current Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, whose putative candidacy, presumably, is merely somebody’s fevered pipedream.

Regardless, if more candidates don’t come forward soon, the party may have to adopt a “negative option leadership candidacy” policy or resign itself to an extremely boring runoff between Mr. Hughes and Mr. Horner, with a bow-tied Mr. Lukaszuk taking annoying potshots from the peanut galleries.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Good advice for Alberta New Democrats from Quebec: this time, make it easy for voters to support you

Ray Guardia, one of the key architects of the federal NDP’s 2011 breakthrough in Quebec, at yesterday’s closing session of the Broadbent Institute’s 2014 Progress Summit in Ottawa. Below: Environmental activist Tzeporah Berman.

OTTAWA

Here’s a tip for Alberta New Democrats from one of the principal architects of Jack Layton’s historic 2011 Quebec campaign: don’t tell voters they’re stupid because they’ve been voting Tory for 43 years.

Ray Guardia was too diplomatic, of course, to put it quite like that in a panel discussion yesterday on winning progressive campaigns during the final session of the Broadbent Institute’s 2014 Progress Summit in the nation’s capital.

Anyway, he wasn’t addressing the new political landscape now developing in Alberta when he made the comment during a much wider discussion moderated by Broadbent senior advisor and TV commentator Kathleen Monk at the Canadian centre-left’s first response to the loony right Manning Institute’s annual Ottawa bunfest.

But readers of this blog have to know that Alberta New Democrats have sounded very much like that through the 43 years the Progressive Conservatives have dominated Alberta. Or, if you want to get even more depressed about it, the 77 years Alberta social democrats have spent in the political wilderness since the day in 1935 the Social Credit League led by William Aberhart was elected.

And – hey people! – do you think there might be a connection?

Mr. Guardia, who ran the federal NDP’s campaign that resulted in the NDP’s massive 2011 breakthrough in Quebec, spun it positively: you have to make it easy for voters who have backed another party for a long time to switch to your side.

He pointed out that the federal New Democrats under Mr. Layton, who died of cancer the same year he led the national party to the Opposition benches in Parliament, tried other strategies that flopped in Quebec in 2006 and 2008.

In 2006, Quebec New Democrats argued they were better social democrats than the Bloc Quebecois, a coalition with social democrat and nationalist elements. This was true, but it didn’t excite Quebec voters who liked many things about the BQ. In 2008, they painted themselves as the alternative to Harper Hell. Which was true too – but so was the BQ, sort of.

In 2011, Mr. Guardia said, they finally hit on the formula that worked – getting the message to voters that the NDP and the BQ shared many social democratic values, and treating voters’ past decisions with respect.

The strategy recognized Quebec voters had liked the Bloc and its leader for good reasons, and that those things hadn’t really changed – but asked, if they were going to remain part of Canada, why not elect a team that would work to make it a better country?

So the party offered this proposition to Quebec voters: “let us play some offence for you,” he summarized.

“You have to make it easy for voters,” Mr. Guardia explained. “You can’t ask them to say they were wrong.”

So what does Quebec have to do with Alberta, where we all gloomily assume that voters transition from Social Credit to Progressive Conservative to Wildrose to the next conservative thing in intergenerational lockstep?

Well, it doesn’t have to be this way.

We know that Alberta voters, like Canadians everywhere, hold social democratic values even as they vote for conservatives for other reasons. As former NDP leader Ed Broadbent told the summit’s opening session, polling consistently shows that when it comes to their values most Canadians are social democrats.

And we know that at the municipal level, Albertans support determinedly progressive candidates – leastways, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi are powerful arguments for the truth of this proposition, observed high-profile environmental campaigner Tzeporah Berman in the same discussion.

And we know that large numbers of Albertans ran to Alison Redford in 2011 and 2012 because they thought she was a progressive – and abandoned her and her party in droves when it became apparent she was something quite different, leading directly to the political drama now gripping Alberta.

And we know Albertans are ready to think about our environment and our economy. “People are anxious in Alberta for a conversation about the pace and scale of development,” Ms. Berman said. “We’re ready for that conversation to happen.”

Indeed, that’s why the Liberals came so close to knocking off Tory Joan Crockatt in the November 2012 by-election that saw her elected as MP for Calgary Centre – a progressive victory thwarted by a strong vote for the Green Party’s candidate.

And, finally, we can have no doubt that Albertans are desperate for change – so desperate, in fact, that they’re willing to consider holding their noses and voting for the Wildrose Party, which shares neither their values nor their dreams, to make it happen. This reality is what is driving the provincial PC Party’s self-destructive behaviour now.

Yet the fundamental Wildrose beliefs that frightened voters in 2012 have not changed. It’s just that voters’ disappointment and disgust with Ms. Redford and the rest of her party has driven them to considering the Wildrose on the theory a change is as good as a rest. And Wildrose message discipline is vastly improved.

Progressive parties – the NDP in particular, perennially in third or fourth place in the Alberta Legislature – need to give voters a better reason for their support than asking them to admit they were wrong.

It’s time to recognize that Albertans voted Progressive Conservative because that party provided competent leadership, occasionally espoused progressive values and sometimes even delivered on them.

Those days are gone. Thanks to Ms. Redford, the PCs have disappeared down a far-right rabbit hole from which it is highly unlikely they will ever emerge again.

This should give progressive Alberta political parties hope – but they need to consider the possibility that what hasn’t worked for three quarters of a century is unlikely to miraculously start working now.

So maybe it’s time to take a leaf from Quebec’s strategy start thinking about ways to make it easier for Albertans to vote NDP, as unlikely as it might seem right now that they’ll respond.

But who in Alberta would have thought five years ago New Democrats were on the verge of a breakthrough in Quebec?

No, as someone is certain to point out, Alberta is not Quebec. But it may be a lot closer to it than it seems.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Campaign Diary Volume 7: It’s Nomination Day … ‘In for a penny, in for a pound!’

That’s me, David Climenhaga, candidate for St. Albert City Council, handing over my nomination papers yesterday morning to city Chief Legislative Officer Chris Belke. Below: Checking my papers one last time; pausing at the entrance to the East Boardroom of St. Albert Place, where yesterday’s democratic action took place.

“In for a penny, in for a pound” was the phrase in my mind yesterday morning as I filed my nomination at St. Albert Place.

Alas, there were no pipers on scene as there were at Edmonton City Hall, where three pipers were on duty to lend a little Celtic flair to the occasion.

Like any sensible person, I pity the man who hasna’ heard the pipes o’ Bonny Scotland, and the skirl of a distant piper never fails to send a shiver of delight up and down my spine.

Still, I’ll admit that even without bagpipes nearby my heart beat a little faster to be playing a role in our Canadian democracy.

So it’s official – unless I get cold feet by noon today, that is, and given my mood tonight and the green election signs still in the garage, that’s unlikely – my name will be on the St. Albert City Council ballot on Oct. 21.

Now, I should cautiously note that my reference to “in for a penny,” etc., is just a metaphor for, as the Wictionary explains it, “having started something, one must see it through to its end.”

One would hate to hand certain intemperate St. Albert bloggers – who have already found plenty of reasons to dislike anyone who has ever worked for a government, been a member of a union or possessed a library card (and I’ll admit right now that I’ve done all three) – an excuse to accuse that person of wanting to spend pounds, when even pennies are too much!

I mention this only in light of the brouhaha that surrounded the brief and nasty Twitter debate last week between Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and a Sun News Network bloviator who twisted a rather unfortunate analogy sufficiently to claim the Cowtown mayor had meant something quite different from what he said.

So, to repeat, as it says on the card I’ve been handing to homeowners and dropping into mailboxes all over town, “St. Albert needs to preserve the quality public services for which our municipality is known, while continuing to keep municipal costs under control.” I stand by that opinion.

Perhaps, since I’ve done this once before and proved the truth of the adage that close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, a more appropriate sentiment to have put inside quotation marks would have been “once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!”

That’s from a speech, of course, that’s as stirring and quotable in 2013 as it was in 1599, when the Bard put pen to paper. (How did he manage without a MacBook Air, one wonders?)

And couldn’t we fairly say of all 16 candidates for St. Albert City Council, 18 if you count the candidates for mayor:

For there is none of you so mean and base,

That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.

I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips

Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot…

Then again, maybe that’s pouring it on a little thick for nomination day.

Got trouble with ‘overbearing urban planners’? The Manning Centre wants to help!

A civic election all-candidates’ meeting in Calgary. “Why don’t we pass the time with a game of solitaire?” Actual Manning Centre supported candidates may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: Manning Centre namesake Preston Manning; Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi; Calgary developer Cal Wenzel (CTV photo).

If on Oct. 21 the market-fundamentalist slate trained and sponsored by the so-called Manning Centre for Building Democracy should fail to sweep most of the seats on Calgary City Council, the wealthy developers who bankrolled this effort can take comfort in the knowledge they received their money’s worth in other ways.

Leastways, the Calgary-based Manning Centre – set up in the mid-Zeroes by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning to be a key facilitator in the coast-to-coast network of think tanks, Astro-Turf groups, media bloviators, academics, pollsters, campaign operatives and other ideological agents that comprise the Organized Right in Canada – is likely to place undermining democracy in Canadian city halls high on the agenda of its next national conference.

The details in a moment, but first, a little background:

Alert readers will recall how, early in 2013, a video, clandestinely recorded by persons unknown, surfaced showing one of Cowtown’s most prominent developers saying what he really thought about Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and explaining what the development industry proposed to do about him.

The developer in question, Cal Wenzel, was addressing a closed-door industry clambake the previous November on how to confound Mayor Nenshi’s approach to governance by finding ways to bankroll candidates more inclined to “swing our way.”

Since the extremely popular Mayor Nenshi was obviously unlikely to be unseated when Alberta communities hold their municipal elections in October, the unhappy developer confidentially explained, “for whatever and however, we have to ensure that we end up with the eight votes.” He was referring to the eight votes required to swing Calgary City Council the development industry’s way, regardless of what the mayor and voters might think about it.

Mr. Wenzel drew his listeners’ favourable attention to the Manning Centre’s blandly named “Municipal Governance Project,” and noted: In order to bring Preston Manning on board, 11 of us have put $100,000 – $1.1 million … so it’s not like we haven’t put up our money.”

Now, for its part, the Manning Centre insists its Municipal Governance Project is not up to anything nefarious, that it isn’t running a slate of Manchurian Municipal Candidates in Calgary, and it isn’t misusing the charitable donations the Centre relies on for partisan purposes because it publishes “research” on the Internet.

Mr. Manning’s namesake hobbyhorse merely means “to offer customized training courses for those who wish to strengthen their knowledge and skills in communicating market-oriented ideas and principles in the municipal political arena,” it explains soothingly on its website. This will happen first in  Calgary, and later across the land. Those who do not accept the Centre’s extreme market-fundamentalist take on economics and society need not apply.

Indeed, even conservative candidates who are deemed unduly moderate in their views can find themselves being aggressively pushed to the far right by Manning operatives. The experience of one such Calgary councillor prompted Mayor Nenshi to accuse the Centre of playing partisan politics, its claims to the contrary notwithstanding.

Well, never mind, there’s more to the Manning Centre than the candidates it is backing, whether or not they technically amount to a slate.

For one thing, there’s that annual springtime bunfest in nation’s capital, formally known as the Manning Networking Conference, at which Mr. Manning’s starry eyed and frequently impassioned acolytes get to hear from the leading intellectual lights of the Organized Right and mingle with the captains of industry who generously stock their hospitality suites.

Indeed, as this is written the Manning Centre’s capable event organizers are hard at work on the “MNC” agenda for March 2014, and the list of speakers and seminar topics they are considering is informative, not least because it serves as a useful barometer of what the Organized Right is likely to demand next.

This information is not a particularly deep secret – the list was circulated widely to those who attended last year’s conference, not every one of whom shares the Manning Centre’s philosophy.

So what do the Manningites want to talk about next? This is a bit of intelligence from which we can discern what they expect the rest of us to be talking about soon, as their always-effective echo chamber takes up the cry.

At the very top of their list – judged by the number of suggestions put forward to gauge the interest of previous conference participants – are topics related to public education, or, rather, one might say, opposition to public education.

So readers can anticipate, it is said here, increasing interest in this topic among the multitudinous commentators of the right as well as its various political arms. Indeed, this has already started!

Other themes under consideration: the perennial attack on unions, naturally, plus “innovations in the think tank world,” not to mention encouraging inter-generational conflict – a political game that should be known as Blame the Boomers.

The former topic suggests anti-union legislation will remain on the Harper Government’s 2014-15 agenda, both as an effective election wedge issue and a point of ideological principle. The latter is interesting, since we Boomers do deserve a whack or two, although not for “stealing our children’s future,” as the Manningites would have it. The robbery victims mostly are our children, after all. Rather, we should get it for allowing the market-fundamentalist right to get away with its steady erosion of much of what was best about Western society over the past 40 or so years since we came of age.

Would-be future MNC attendees were also asked to rate possible speakers from a long list of the usual suspects in the supposedly liberal dominated media – the likes of Andrew Coyne, Jonathan Kay, Mark Steyn, Paul Wells, John Ivison, and, my personal favourite, Margaret Wente. Readers will get the general idea.

Possible speakers among the political favourites of the Organized Right abound as well, including former would-be Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, Karl Rove, long the dark force behind the right’s electoral shenanigans south of the Medicine Line, and, just in case you weren’t paying attention to the Canadian scene, Alberta Opposition leader Danielle Smith.

But what and who are missing is almost as informative.

The Manning crowd seems to have largely abandoned the propaganda attack on public health care. This is not, one suspects, because they have changed their opinion, but because they have changed their strategy. After all, their noisy ideological attack on public health care has failed utterly to persuade most voters – and so they have switched their efforts to undermine the system to the courts and the organs of international trade relations.

And what about Brent Rathgeber, the Alberta MP who abandoned the Conservative caucus to attack the Harper Government as arbitrary and undemocratic? Since his critique echoes Mr. Manning’s past complaints, one would think Mr. Rathgeber would be a natural invitee – but, alas, no soap. Or at any rate apparently no invitation. One can only wonder why.

Even the right’s beloved Ezra Levant was not mentioned – strengthening my private conviction Mr. Levant has gone missing with his “Freedom Cruise” and that his fevered columns are being written by some other Sun News functionary. I mean, surely even Mr. Levant himself wouldn’t have been so silly as to suggest Justin Trudeau has become a secret convert to radical Islam? And has anybody heard even a single whisper about the MS Zuiderdam’s passage through the cold and stormy ideological waters of the North Pacific since she slipped from her berth in Vancouver in August?

Getting back to the original point of all this, right there on the list for consideration were “the problem with municipal public consultations” and “confronting overbearing urban planners.”

Given the well-known habit of right-wing think tanks and their ilk to respond compliantly to the wishes of their funders, plus the Calgary development industry’s extremely generous contributions revealed by Mr. Wenzel, what do you want to bet that we can count on the next MNC to devote considerable attention to these matters?

And what, do you think, will they find to be the problem with municipal public consultations? That they’re too democratic? A cynic might wonder, but it’s important to remember that the people who finance and staff the Manning Centre, and indeed Mr. Manning himself, don’t necessarily define democracy the same way you and I do.

They are big on “economic democracy” – which might cynically be described as the right to get rich as stink any way you please and not pay taxes while you’re about it. They are not so enthusiastic about your right to decide your fate through the ballot box without interference or deception, especially if your preferred representatives are not of a mind to “swing their way.”

So if some overbearing urban planner gets in your way, abetted by an overly liberal mayor, count on the Manning Centre – which really has very little to do with building democracy – to be there to help you.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.