Thursday, July 9, 2009

Harper Finally Remembers His National Citizens Coalition Roots

“When parties lose their appeal, voters must turn to advocacy groups to make their case with government”. Stephen Harper, when President of the National Citizens Coalition

To prove his point, he resigned his seat in 1997, to join the executive of the NCC, then spent $200,000.00 to get 60 Reform candidates elected, later the same year.

Yet today, if you read his bio on the Conservative Party website, you will find no mention of the National Citizens Coalition, nor will you find any mention of them in Preston Manning's book, despite the fact that they played such a prominent role in the Reform Party's success.

However, more recently you can find on the NCC's website, clear evidence that both men still have their political partners on their minds. They hadn't forgotten them at all, not that any of really believed that they had.

The event took place last year when Preston Manning was awarded the Colin Brown Medal of Freedom at a dinner sponsored by the NCC. (Colin Brown was the founder of the secretive group, and past recipients included Stephen Harper and Conrad Black) Guest speaker Harper made the introduction and Manning tells the audience of his long relationship with the organization.

Remarks by Preston Manning
to the
Colin Brown Medal of Freedom Award Dinner
Sponsored by the
National Citizens’ Coalition
Calgary, April 30, 2008

Thank You
Thank you first of all Stephen for your presence here tonight and for your very kind words. Its hard to believe that it was over twenty years ago that I introduced you to the first Reform Convention in Winnipeg at which you gave an outstanding speech of "regional fairness."

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then – from Reform, to your years with the NCC, to the Canadian Alliance, to the new Conservative Party, and finally minority government.

And I am sure I speak for your many friends and well wishers here, when I wish you and your colleagues every success in taking that one last big step – from minority to majority government. Thank you Stephen, and every best wish for the days ahead.

And thanks to each and every one of you for your support of the National Citizens Coalition and your presence here tonight. Thank you Sandra, for sitting through your three thousand, seven hundred and thirteenth speech. And most of all for your love and support, without which I could have accomplished little or nothing in our public life.

And at the risk of singling out any one supporter of the NCC and my own political adventures, I would like to pay special tribute tonight to Jack and Daphne Pirie and their family. They should be in Hawaii today, but they are here. And it was Daphne who first helped us get started here in Calgary by organizing her "lunches for the curious." If you weren’t curious about Reform, Daphne would harass you until you were. Thank you Jack and Daphne, Neil and Kim, for all your family means to Sandra and me, to the NCC, and to your many friends here.

With respect to the Colin Brown Medal of Freedom Award, this is especially meaningful to me because of our family’s long association with the Browns and the National Citizens’ Coalition. My father, Ernest Manning, was a close friend of Colin Brown Sr. and sat on the very first NCC Council. What appealed to many of us in those early days was that Colin Brown and his associates were not "gloomy conservatives" but were able, like Bill Buckley in the US, to present freedom-infused critiques and ideas with positive enthusiasm and humour.

One of our favourite NCC advertisements was back in the days when the government-run post office was in chaos and Mr. Trudeau was nevertheless proposing to create a government-owned oil company, PetroCanada. The full-page NCC ad which ran in the national newspapers simply asked "Would you like the people who are running the Post Office to be in charge of your energy supply?" It made the point about the follies of expanding government ownership, but it did so in a pithy and humorous way – an approach which has been the hallmark of NCC advocacy from that day to this.

It is truly an honour therefore to receive this Freedom Award symbolizing the values and work of Colin Brown, the National Citizens’ Coalition, and its many supporters – and again I thank you sincerely and congratulate you on your more than forty years of principled, freedom-inspired advocacy....

...A few weeks ago I attended the Canada Networking Conference and Exhibition in Ottawa, a conference which our Manning Centre intends to organize annually to get market-oriented thinkers, advocacy groups, and political activists together once a year in one place just to get to know each other better and compare best practices.

We very much appreciated Prime Minister Harper’s attendance at our pre-conference reception and the presence of NCC representatives at the conference itself, and you are all invited to the next one which is scheduled for March 13-14 of 2009 in Ottawa.

One of the Conference sessions focused on how best to define the health care system of the future toward which freedom oriented politicians, think tanks, and advocacy groups should be working.

Here is the one sentence description of that future system that I took away from that session:

"Canada’s future health care system should be characterized by universal access to care ... and freedom of choice (public and private) with respect to health care delivery, financing, and insurance."
(aka: Two-tiered health care system)

This principle – universal access to care but freedom of choice with respect to delivery, payment for service, and insurance – is applicable with modification to a host of social services delivered by governments – from education, to child care, to health care, to elder care, and to certain aspects of social assistance.

The Exercise of Political Freedom

The preservation and expansion of democratic freedom involves far more that simply exercising our rights to hold elections, to vote, and to run for public office – the principal "democratic rights" mentioned in our Constitution.

For political activists, especially freedom-loving, conservative-oriented political activists, to maximize their contributions to democratic politics, there is a real need to strengthen both the intellectual capital and the human resources available to conservative oriented political parties – to enable them to win more elections and to govern in accordance with conservative principle after they are elected.

Strengthening the intellectual capital of the conservative movement requires increased efforts to generate a steady stream of fresh principled ideas and policy proposals which will assist conservative politicians to speak, campaign, legislate, and govern in accordance with the principles they profess to stand for.

Strengthening the human resources available to conservative parties requires increased efforts to provide more and better training to political activists who will run for public office, their supporters, and their staffs to improve their effectiveness and prospects for success – training in everything from door knocking, to constituency organization, to campaigning, to public communications, to advocacy, to constituent and interest group relations, to legislating and everything in between.

My Question: As modern political parties focus primarily on fighting elections, who is going to help provide them with this increased and improved stream of intellectual capital and human resources - what I call "democratic infrastructure" - so essential to their ultimate success?
Increasingly it needs to be provided by others sympathetic to but outside the party structures – in the case of conservatives by various elements of "the movement" - by conservative oriented think tanks and policy centres, by conservative oriented campaign schools and training programs for candidates, mangers, and executives, and by freedom oriented communications vehicles from journals and telecasts to bloggers, to freedom oriented interest groups and advocacy groups such as the National Citizens’ Coalition.

Building, and supporting the efforts of others to build, this democratic political infrastructure is the primary purpose of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy with which I am now engaged on a full time basis, and why I continue to be so supportive of the ongoing advocacy work of the National Citizens’ Coalition.

In closing, I wonder whether some of you may be thinking, but are too polite to ask: "This defence and advancement of freedom is such a vast undertaking. What can one individual or even a group of individuals really do to contribute meaningfully to freedom’s preservation and growth?"

..."small things" – like sponsoring advertisements, or freedom articles, or supporting meetings and speaking events ...

It is in this spirit that the National Citizens’ Coalition grants – and I accept – the Colin Brown Medal of Freedom Award.
Thank you.

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