Alberta Politics

Preston Manning’s libertarian manifesto for City government.

"Hello M’aam, I am your Manning Centre candidate in this year's civic election."
“Hello Ma’am, I am your Manning Centre candidate in this year’s civic election.”

Not satisfied with their conquests of the provincial and federal levels of government, the right-wing activists behind the Manning Centre for Building Democracy are expanding their political agenda to city-level politics. Preston Manning‘s followers plan to treat this year’s elections in Calgary as a petri-dish for their yet-to-be-completed libertarian manifesto for municipal government.

The outline of the libertarian think-tank’s manifesto for civic government was laid out at last weekend’s Manning Networking Conference in Ottawa.

Cleverly branded as the “organic cities project,” Mr. Manning’s followers expressed their frustrations with urban planning and what they described as lengthy community consultation processes. Increasing private sector planning of city development and decreasing the role of accountable public planning processes is at the heart of the Manning argument.

Outlined at the conference was a vague manifesto to reduce the scope of political decision making and move municipal governments away from Mr. Manning’s followers claim are inappropriate activities, which were suggested could be municipally-owned golf courses and recreational facilities.

With exaggerated claims of interference in the lives of citizens, Mr. Manning’s followers are setting their eyes on cleaving the limited powers already laid out in the Municipal Government Act (though the Act was never referenced in the talk).

The Manning Centre’s real target is uber-popular Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who has taken a proactive stance on urban development, alarming the cabal of developers who have greatly benefited from near unlimited urban sprawl along the city’s edges.

Perhaps it was not coincidence that a sponsor of the Manning Networking Conference was the Canadian Real Estate Association, which represents the group of individuals who have greatly benefited from this urban sprawl.

Conservative Party of Calgary?

Earlier this year, the Manning Centre opened a facility in downtown Calgary to provide training and support to like-minded libertarians running in the October 2013 municipal elections. This could be the first step that leads to the creation of Conservative political parties on the city level in Canada. While political parties are normal in some large cities, like Vancouver and Montreal, most Canadian municipalities are free of slates and official partisanship.

Municipal political parties, like the Urban Reform Group Edmonton, were common in Edmonton until the 1980s when their popularity declined and they disappeared from the ballot.

Despite arguments at the Manning Centre conference that municipal governments are filled with left-leaning politicians, municipal councils are home to many conservatives, and many more non-partisan citizens. Progressive-minded candidates have had success being elected to municipal councils in Alberta, but their views are by no means the only views present at that level of government.

Consensus and coalitions exist on the municipal level that transcend traditional hard-line partisan loyalties. Unfortunately, ideologically-based slates and municipal political parties could be an inevitable result of the Manning Centre’s meddling.

Perhaps a sign of the times to come, it was announced this week that a slate of conservatives candidates in the City of Red Deer will run in the October elections under the “Red Deer First” banner. Sources in Red Deer tell this blogger that many of the key figures behind this group have ties to the provincial right-wing Wildrose Party.

13 replies on “Preston Manning’s libertarian manifesto for City government.”

Wait a minute? They’re claiming that to to decrease political interference in the cities we need to have party politics on councils and reduced consultation with communities? I’ve always seen the absence of parties in civic politics as a great strength. Councillors look to their constituents rather than party affiliations.

Wow, the cognitive dissonance is strong with Manning.

I for one have never seen much of a role for parties in municipal politics. Certainly there is somewhat of a left-right dichotomy in civic government, which I characterize as being divided around the issue of the role of municipal government. Should it only be about sidewalks, sewers, street paving, cops & fire fighting? Or should it also be about quality of life, libraries, affordable housing, walkable neighbourhoods, and quality public transit? Answers to those questions largely govern the tax rates in a city or town, given that the sole source of tax revenue in a municipality is the property tax.

But I have seen that in a city or town, politicians can take very different stances on assorted issues, such that it is often hard to pin down any particular city councillor as left or right.

Is there anything online with more details about how recreation centres and golf courses aren’t appropriate concerns for municipal government? I work for Community and Recreation Facilities at the City of Edmonton so I have an interest… 🙂

“Urban Development Institute Canadian Home Builders Association Preston Manning Centre Wildrose Canadian Real Estate Association Manifesto”

Because what civic politics needed most was a dose of charged hyper-partisan party politics driven by the Lake of Fire Party and lobbyists who already have ridiculous access to civic politicians and administration.

Some commenters above are really into name calling which is not helpful. I like Manning and I like Nenshi. Both are smart guys and give great speeches. Nenshi is not the real target. Their target is excessive scaling back suburb growth.

1) Calgary is land rich. It’s on the prairies. It’s crazy not to take advantage of that.

2) Calgary needs smart growth and follow processes or fix them, not cut them out recklessly. For example the place that could use high density is more likely in Forest Lawn and less so in Inglewood and Hillhurst. The city should be more cautious in these existing communities that already work well.

3) Any they need to upgrade infrastructure in those communities if they expect them to handle more people. The city is giving them a free ride by letting them overbuild on already crowded infrastructure.

4) Alberta needs better condo laws otherwise they are just replacing one type of sprawl with another problem.

5) Given the corruption that was in Montreal’s city government they should also focus on openness.

6) The Calgary transit system needs to have zones too to be fair and to pay for the stations further out.

7) All developers, suburbs or existing community developers need to forced to have a good plans for long term future community needs.

Hey Lilian L:

>excessive scaling back suburb growth ???

Did you see the joint Nenshi + CHBA press release from March 6? “Both parties acknowledge that The City of Calgary (“The City”) is not imposing a suburban development freeze and that The City has sufficient serviced land supply to meet forecasted population growth in the short term. There are currently 2,210 hectares (22 km2) of vacant serviced land, as defined in The City’s draft Suburban Growth Report 2013-2017, with an additional 420 hectares of serviced vacant land to be added by the end of 2014. Furthermore, five additional Area Structure Plans, either approved or proposed to be approved in 2013 and 2014, will add an additional 2,870 (28 km2) hectares of planned land supply.”

source –

In short, even the Canadian Home Builders Association now admits that the so-called war on the suburbs exists only in the minds of a few uppidy developers.

Calgary has the footprint New York City but with one tenth the population and that’s not changing. We will continue living unsustainably until the laws of nature crush our precious economic delusions.

I hope that slates don’t become a trend in Alberta’s municipal elections, regardless which side of the political spectrum they represent.

I’ve always liked the fact that municipal politics, with the exception a few cities, tends to be non-partisan. Municipal councils tend to be small enough that, if city hall was populated by a bunch of ideologues, I’m not sure anything would ever get done (unless an entire slate was elected, I suppose).

I’m also a bit surprised that the Manning Centre feels that the left dominates municipal politics. I’ve only lived in Edmonton, so my experience is limited, but I think that a sizable number of our municipal politicians—perhaps even the majority of them—are small-c conservatives.

@ Laura Frey,

you would prefer that those were private for profit entities that restricted access to citizens of a lower economic strata ?

The vast public recreational opportunities (as well as our excellent library system) are two of the few things the city does worth bragging about…

I’m not a muckraking journalist–but if I were, I’d be investigating the widely-circulating rumors that the Manning Centre is receiving large amounts of money from developers and/or the home builders association in Calgary to finance candidates (slate or not) friendly to their interests. As I understand the situation, the Manning Centre is under no obligation to reveal its sources of funding, so information about any such activity, if indeed it is happening, is not readily available to the public.

Meanwhile, the conversation does boil down pretty quickly to a question about the “appropriate” role of municipal government. “Fiscal responsibility” has become (right-wing) code or shorthand for (drastically?) reducing the role of government. I’m all for “fiscal prudence” in the general sense. Nobody supports profligate or wasteful spending. But as far as I’m concerned, being fiscally prudent does NOT equate to reducing the role of government. It simply means spending WISELY. As far as I’m concerned, planning and managing growth; investing in libraries, the cultural sector, and quality of life; and thinking about long-term sustainability (including financial sustainability) are entirely appropriate things for governments at all levels to do. Obviously, this is fundamentally different from the “libertarian” position, or the Manning Centre’s stated position of “applying free market principles to municipal government” (from their website).

Finally, I would go beyond calling the labeling of their “organic cities project” as merely “clever”. I would call it disingenuous. There’s absolutely nothing “organic” about their position (just enter “organic cities” into a Google search and see what comes up). In fact, I would argue quite the opposite. “Organic” implies thinking (holistically) about the city as an organism or ecosystem. Focusing exclusively on “free market principles” does nothing of the sort. What IS clever about it is the fashion in which it co-opts and hijacks language in the service of ideology–something at which the political right has excelled in recent years in both the U.S. and Canada.

CrescentHeightsGuy, Calgary is not NYC. Why would anyone ever compare the those two cities? NYC has been around since the 1600s. It has a huge population base. It is in a harbour. And it is NYC. You are comparing very different cities. It’s like comparing Moose Jaw to Vancouver. NYC is a nice place to visit but I prefer where I live and I have lived in several major cities. If I wanted to live in NYC I would move there.

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