Monday, September 19, 2005

A Tory Training School?

Well, here's something guaranteed to make Robert "Blahg!" McClelland spit out his morning coffee: Preston Manning's creating a school to train more "right-whingers."

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

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

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

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

Now, once Bob finishes mopping up his vomited coffee, he'd probably sputter something to the effect that there's no need to breed more "right-whingers," the Liberal Party is right-wing enough already, and the NDP is a perfectly acceptable alternative. ("Straw man"? Sure, but Bob's predictable enough to make a respectable straw man.) "What about the Fraser Institute? Or the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation?" he'd probably grumble. "That's more than enough for those right-whingers! We need more progressives out there, stuff like the Caledon Institute!"

Manning's idea, though, is a lot more pro-active. Neither Fraser nor CTF have a training element in their functions. And in order to train someone, you need to learn to communicate with them first.

Communication has always been the Conservative Party's weak point. They've never been able to really get their ideas to capture the public agenda, much of it due to a Canadian media that either gets bored easily or is trained to think along liberal lines. A centre that can teach activists, in a conservative-friendly environment, to communicate effectively can only be a boon to the conservative movement in Canada.

One thing Manning's proposed school won't do, however, is win the next election:

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

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

"We're on a 20-year horizon here," she said.

One of Manning's virtues (which his detractors like to grumble about) is his tendency to go for the long game. If he gets the Centre off the ground, it probably won't be in time to help Stephen Harper (though it certainly won't hurt him), but it could certainly result in a Conservative dynasty (and better governance) in the middle of the century.

What Manning's attempting to do, ironically enough, is what Democrats in the U.S. are only now trying to do: emulate a Republican model of formal and informal political infrastructure that's resulted in Republican dominance in federal politics over the past 25 years. According to conventional wisdom, that model was born in the 1960s when Barry Goldwater was defeated in presidential politics, and includes think-tanks (the American Enterprise Institute), media journals (the National Review) and a mass media presence (AM talk radio, Fox News).

Establishing that kind of infrastructure (all right, a VRWC) doesn't happen overnight --you'll get birth pangs like Air America along the way. But it does mean that a deeper channel will exist to move the mainstream towards Canadian conservatism.

Stephen Taylor's been attending the founding conference. I look forward to seeing his blog posts on it -- while "Bahb" may need to get another mop ...