TORONTO, September 19, 2005 ( – Social conservatives in Canada have long asserted that a major obstacle to the establishment of a real conservative political alternative has been the absence of a structured conservative political and social movement in this country.

This weekend, a meeting of Canadian conservatives, both within and independent of the Conservative Party met in Toronto to address a plan to create a conservative policy institute that would attempt to create that missing infrastructure. Preston Manning, the founder of the Reform and Canadian Alliance parties, announced in an Op Ed piece in Wednesday’s Globe and Mail, an extremely social liberal publication, that he is establishing a non-profit conservative think tank and training centre to be called The Manning Centre for Building Democracy.

Manning writes that his goal is “to provide ‘essential infrastructure’ to support more vigorous and effective conservative participation in the democratic process.” He hopes that his project will provide the seed for “a multitude of think tanks and links with academia to generate ideas and policy analyses; education and training institutions and programs to train political activists…(and) communications vehicles.”

The development of conservative public policy, says Paul Tuns, editor of The Interim newspaper and a long-time political watcher, is essential, but is going to be a difficult and long-term project. Tuns told that it remains to be seen if Manning’s plan will fulfill the requirement. “The trick is going to be to keep it politically independent. Think tanks ought not to be in the business of selling conservatism, but of developing policy, bringing forward the ideas.”

Until now, the development of conservative policies, independent of the Conservative Party, has been left to a small number of columnists, the economic and politically conservative Fraser Institute, and a handful of under funded religious and pro-life organizations like the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and Campaign Life Coalition, Canada. Without a means of creating a professional cadre of conservative political operatives, journalists, lobbyists, campaign managers and thinkers, the Canadian conservative movement has been seriously hampered.

Another concern for pro-life and pro-family Canadians is whether a conservative movement dominated by the Tory Party or a centre organized by Preston Manning is something in which they can place their whole trust. Jim Hughes, National President of Campaign Life Coalition said that without a firm foundation of objective moral standards, development of conservative public policy is going to be very difficult.

Hughes said the problem is a catch 22. “Preston Manning is a populist and has always maintained that a Member of Parliament should vote according to his constituents’ wishes. Well, what if his constituents want him to vote for something objectively immoral? We have said for years that it isn’t good enough to rely upon popular opinion when popular opinion is often heavily influenced by immoral ideas, mostly coming out of the media.”

  Manning stated in response to aÂMay 2000ÂCLC questionnaire on the Alliance Party leadership, “if it can be clearly demonstrated that the consensus of my constituents is contrary to my own views then I feel that I must either vote according to their wishes or resign my seat.” He said MPs have “no right to demand that others accept” their own moral views on such things as abortion or euthanasia, both of which he personally opposes.

  It’s an absolute necessity,” says Hughes “to create a structure so that conservative social ideas can be heard. I think a lot of what Manning says is good but it remains to be seen if he is sticking to his purely populist ideas.”

A big question in this development of Canadian conservatism will therefore be, as always, how will ‘conservatism’ be defined. To date, except for Canada’s life and family defending organizations, natural social conservatism is usually sent to the back of the bus by parties, institutions and even by church leaders when it comes to setting priorities.

Tuns, author of the book, Jean Chretien: Legacy of Scandal, said that the trick is going to be to keep the development of policies distinct from the Conservative party and then to break through the blockade of liberal journalists that dominate the Canadian media. “It’s an uphill climb, no matter how pure the motives,” says Tuns.

The Western Standard, Canada’s only conservative political news magazine, has said that Manning may be headed back to the campaign trail at the provincial level in Alberta.

David Warren, a prominent conservative columnist at the Ottawa Citizen, told that Manning’s plan is one that the Americans started in the 1950’s. The US has since then developed a high profile, well-organized and professional class of lawyers, journalists, activists and politicians working to bring conservative ideas into the public realm. “This project of Manning’s” said Warren, “is something the Americans started in 1954. Starting it now in Canada, at the rate we do things here, it should bear fruit around 2056.”

Paul Tuns agrees, saying Canadian conservatives have long been working piecemeal and have rarely looked beyond the next election. Tuns said, “We need to think not about defeating Paul Martin in the next election, but about defeating Justin Trudeau in 20 years.”

“Manning’s project addresses some of the things we desperately need,” says Tuns. “We need training for people who want to work in politics, strategy and communications. If that is what they mean by a ‘graduate school’ for right wing political operatives, that is just what we need. But I hope it isn’t the kind of political schooling that teaches pragmatism or compromise as a political method. I hope it teaches people to work within the system without being corrupted by it.”

Read Manning’s Op Ed for the Globe and Mail:

See previous Report
  Manning relegates social conservatives to the back of the bus – again