Three Days At The Manning Centre Conference and I Forgot to Get The Hat

Marty Gold Manning Conference

WINNIPEG, MB – At the invitation of a longtime supporter of my citizen journalism efforts on Winnipeg radio and Shaw TV, I attended the Manning Centre conference in Ottawa last Thursday-Saturday. The think-tank, founded and led by Preston Manning, hosted over 1100 attendees, with the feature attraction by far being a debate with all 14 candidates for the Conservative Party of Canada leadership.

I met a number of people like myself who are not members of a Conservative (or any party) and one fellow, a Muslim University student in Ottawa, who had a lot of questions for me about the collapse of the Manitoba NDP and the Rebel 5 walkout. I was very surprised at the percentage of attendees under 35, as I had not thought through the importance of the conference and networking opportunities to Parliament Hill staffers. Also surprising was the sizeable Jewish contingent at the event, which recruited me to fulfill the Minyan (required quota of adult Jewish men) for Sabbath services at a nearby storefront synagogue. Mitzvah fulfilled.

The opening reception Thursday night was a friendly and happy gathering, with a surprising lack of selfie-taking (egads, actual introductions and conversations instead!), to the joking dismay of a Twitter executive, as with Facebook, it was a key sponsor of the conference.

A column by Andrew Coyne in the National Post the next morning asserted “A dark road beckons Canada’s Conservatives and the Manning Conference is speeding their way”. He argued there was a disproportionate emphasis, brought about by Trump-ism, on populist topics and scheduled speakers like Doug Ford and Mark Steyn. Frankly his column bewildered me, as the tone among attendees was decidedly civil.

Did he mean extremist attitudes? Well, I personally did not hear any statements like “Build a wall” although traditional Christian political viewpoints were promoted at quite a few vendor booths. Katy O’Malley of the Ottawa Citizen, hardly a right winger, suggested to me the topics were more populist than the attendees themselves were, that the pendulum of subjects swings from year to year anyways, and she noted Coyne himself was a panelist in 2016. She was more interested in talking about why kosher wines taste so sweet with me and we had a good laugh.

The debate format on Friday afternoon split the hopefuls by random draw into 4 groupings and was moderated very impressively by former national broadcaster Tom Clark. I was surprised at the degree of humour he and the candidates were able to interject.

The perceived frontrunners held their ground in the post-debate poll, with Maxime Bernier taking almost 33% and Kevin “Mr. Personality” O’Leary (whose position he would deduct any carbon tax collected from a provinces’ federal transfer payment got a loud rise from the audience) clocking in third at 10%. Many were surprised by the solid performance of former House of Commons speaker Andrew Scheer and he split the middle to draw 19.6% and finish 2nd. The reception rooms for Bernier and O’Leary were packed their ground game was everywhere.

To be sure, some of the topics were hardly to be unexpected, such as Defunding the CBC, where, sad to say, no recognition was gone to the importance of funding independent community TV and radio public affairs programming to augment diversity of voices in the marketplace. Brian Lilley of The Rebel Media made hay with his observations about expanding into a Spotify-type music service and opinion platforms, while cutting back on local reporting. Who knew there had not been a mandate review of CBC since 1991?

Clark also hosted a discussion about Political Communications in the Age of Social Media where the folly of trying to parties trying to muzzle individual candidates from commenting on voters issues was derided.

A pro/con debate on Carbon Tax,which Manning himself as a proponent of the policy watched from the back of the room, created a stir when advocate David McLaughlin suggested in support of the tax, that the Pallister Conservative government was elected in April because of that platform. This was news to Manitobans and non-Manitobans alike in the room, and he heard about it afterwards.

The Censorship on Campuses featured the very eloquent Prof. Jordan Peterson and his explanation about what he has gone through – the attempt to ruin his career at the U of Toronto – struck a chord with the crowd.

The growing dangers of language policing and intolerance of expressing contrary opinions was weaved into the finale of the Conference, a special performance of The Mark Steyn Show Saturday afternoon.

Steyn, who is hilarious and very quick-witted, had guest musical performer Tal Bachman recount an incident of a karaoke night with his girlfriend in Japan, where the assembled bar go-ers aside from them spoke zero English but all knew the words to My Love by Paul McCartney, and everyone sang to about ten times over and over.

Bachman explained when he told of the experience in a later performance on Vancouver Island, it was relayed to the club owner the next day as Bachman having made a derogatory attack on the Japanese kareoke-ists in his tale, for them not being able to speak English. The bewildered Bachman was scolded and barred by the club owner for being a racist.

Steyn then pointed out Bachman’s girlfriend in the front row, who is Japanese.

Marty Gold

Marty Gold is a writer/broadcaster who operates a Public Affairs and Media consulting practice in support of his citizen journalism. “Ottawa/Gatineau is a beautiful place to visit”

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