The Manning Centre is stepping back from its conservative advocacy role

by Shawn Logan

The lights are still on at the Calgary-based Manning Centre, though the non-profit’s vice-president concedes the brainchild of federal Reform party founder Preston Manning is stepping back from its advocacy work.

On Monday, for lease signs were spotted outside the three-storey brick headquarters at 514 11th Ave. S.W., prompting a stir among local political watchers, curious about the fate of the group that in the past offered training to conservative-minded city council candidates while monitoring voting records and time spent by city councillors behind closed doors.

Adding to the intrigue was the fact that web sites for both the Manning Centre for Building Democracy and the Manning Foundation for Democratic Education were offline on Monday.

John Whittaker, the Manning Centre’s vice-president, said after its namesake last year stepped away from his direct management role, the organization made the decision to move away from advocacy work to a sharper focus on networking and conferences aimed at small-c conservative thinkers.

“We are doing a reorganization. We’re going to be primarily focusing on conferences going forward,” said Whittaker, who was working out of the organization’s Beltline offices on Monday.

“We had our fingers in a whole lot of pies, but unfortunately we’re not going to be doing any of that anymore.

“We’ve determined our biggest value to the conservative movement is through networking and talking about best practices.”

The Manning Centre was founded in 2005, followed two years later by the Manning Foundation, which aimed to fund education focused on values of democracy.

Whittaker said as part of its streamlining efforts, the organization has reduced its permanent staff by half to three but is working with others on a contract basis. As for the for lease signs, Whittaker said the ground floor of the building was rarely used by the Manning Centre and is now up for lease by the landlord, while the second floor of the building will remain the group’s headquarters.

The Manning Centre in Calgary is scaling back its advocacy work and looking to lease space in their downtown office building at 514 11th Ave. S.W. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

He added the websites are down due to changes to the centre’s servers, and it amounts to nothing more than “an ill-timed disruption.”

Before being elected last October, Calgary Coun. Jeromy Farkas got his start at the Manning Centre and was the driving force behind the group’s council tracker, which the rookie politician pitched as an intern.

He said with the Manning Centre scaling back from its advocacy role, there is a significant void that needs to be filled.

“I really valued the work that we did through the council tracker, tracking councillors’ votes, the time spent in secret, councillors’ attendance, stuff like that so I think that there’s a real big vacuum to be filled and I’m hoping that non-profits, advocacy groups will step in there,” Farkas said.

“I’m hoping that there’s somebody out there that might be willing to pick up the torch because what the Manning Foundation and Manning Centre did was broad. It wasn’t just about the conservative movement. It had a lot more other non-partisan research.”

Best known for the Manning Networking Conference held annually in Ottawa, Whittaker noted last November the Manning Centre held its first regional conference in Red Deer, which saw some 400 people flock to the central Alberta city. He said the aim now is not only to continue its annual flagship conference but to expand that model to other centres as well.

“The idea now is to do more regional conferences,” he said.

“It’s not just about showcasing good politicians who are committed to smaller government, but reaching out to the broader small-c conservative movement.”

On Twitter: @ShawnLogan403

The Manning Centre is stepping back from its conservative advocacy role

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