Since its founding in 2005, the Manning Centre (also known as the Manning Centre for Building Democracy) has provided research, advocacy and training for those committed to advancing conservatism in Canada. Based in Calgary, the Centre’s leadership has included key proponents of the fossil fuel sector.
The Manning Centre is explicit in its ideological commitment to free markets, small governments and individual liberties, and it seeks to build what it calls “Canada’s conservative movement.”18 It advocates limited, market-based climate policies such as pricing carbon, while simultaneously pushing for the reduction of government regulations and the expansion of Canada’s fossil fuel industry.19
For these reasons it qualifies as a Top 50 legitimator of big carbon and fossil fuel extraction.
The Manning Centre was created in 2005 by Preston Manning, who was founder and leader of Canada’s Reform Party (1987) and the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance (2000), which laid the foundations for the new Conservative Party of Canada.1 The Reform Party was extensively funded by Alberta oil executives and Manning himself was an oil industry consultant prior to serving as Member of Parliament.2 In a 2017 speech to the Petroleum History Society, Manning reflected on his long history of oil ties, recalling sitting in on conversations between his father, long-time Alberta premier Ernest Manning, and the early proponents of the oil sands.3 Manning remains influential at the Centre as a board member, while acting as a research fellow with the Fraser Institute.
The organization maintains close ties to industry through the Manning Networking Conference, which convenes industry executives, elected officials and right-leaning journalists and researchers on policy issues.
Operating as a non-profit organization, the Manning Centre solicits donations from those interested in supporting its brand of conservatism. Its 2016 annual report states: “The Manning Centre can legally accept unlimited donations and use the funds to support free-market ideas, train like-minded activists and conduct research. With your help, we can start to compete with well-financed left-wing organizations in Canada!”4 Manning Centre, “2016 Annual Report” 5
Annual revenue information is not made publicly available, so it is difficult to assess the Centre’s key sources of financial support.
In its efforts to strengthen the conservative movement in Canada, the Manning Centre has trained Conservative Party organizers and candidates, hosted conferences that bring together political leaders and industry, and proposed right-wing policies. The Centre is emphatic that the benefits of free markets outweigh their environmental consequences and has long argued that governments should curtail regulation of the fossil fuel industry. Centre protagonists have disputed the logic of carbon budgeting,6 whereby companies or jurisdictions are held accountable for all carbon dioxide emissions from the fossil fuels they produce. For instance, in 2017, Manning Centre fellow Ted Morton castigated the National Energy Board’s decision to include “upstream” emissions in its assessment of the Energy East Pipeline. Morton wrote, “The no-more-pipelines-ever coalition will seize this opportunity to clog the NEB process with an endless line-up of studies, ‘experts’ and consultants, all predicting disastrous increases in GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions if Energy East is built.”7
In addition to policy advocacy, the Manning Centre has been an active convenor for political conservatism in Canada. Its annual Manning Networking Conference provides a venue for right-leaning researchers, academics, industry executives and elected officials to discuss policy issues, including those centring on energy and climate. Sponsors in 2018 included Enbridge, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the Conservative Party of Canada.8
Through the organization’s networking efforts, and with close ties to the Conservative Party of Canada and a variety of conservative politicians across Canada, the Manning Centre has enjoyed a considerable degree of influence in Canada’s political sphere. In addition to Preston Manning, the board includes high-profile past political leaders with extensive ties to industry. Chuck Strahl—one of the Manning Centre’s directors—resigned from his position as chair of the Security, Intelligence and Review Committee (which oversees Canada’s spy agency, CSIS) amid widespread criticism following his attempt to lobby government on behalf of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline project.9 Joe Oliver, the former Minister of Natural Resources—known for his ardent support of oil pipelines and for questioning the existence of anthropogenic climate change—also sits on the Centre’s board. Another board director at Manning, Gwyn Morgan, is the founder and former CEO of Encana. Morgan’s concurrent positions on the boards of the Fraser Institute and the Manning Centre link the two right-wing organizations at the board level.
At the time of writing, the future of the Manning Centre is uncertain. In July 2018 Manning Centre vice-president John Whittaker announced that the organization was shifting from advocacy to a focus on conferences and networking aimed at nurturing small-c conservative thinkers.10 Some observers interpreted this move as the Centre’s death knell.11
However, the Manning Centre has continued to organize major conferences. Its second annual Alberta Manning Networking Conference in November 2018 featured as a plenary speaker Stephen Buffalo, CEO of the Indian Resource Council and outspoken on the “myth of Indigenous opposition to resource development.”12 The conference’s other plenary speaker, National Post columnist Rex Murphy (a long-time climate-change denier),13 was introduced by Jason Kenney, at the time Leader of the Opposition in Alberta and now the province’s premier.14
In March 2019 the Centre’s annual national networking conference drew hundreds to Ottawa, where speakers included journalist Vivian Krause (a vocal critic of anti-fossil-fuel activism),15 Joe Oliver, Stephen Buffalo, Preston Manning and many other luminaries of the right.16 With a sympathetic provincial government now installed in Alberta—one that is adamantly committed to pushing back against critics of the ever-growing oil and gas sector in Alberta—it is possible that the Centre, and its sister organization the Manning Foundation for Democratic Education,17will be revived.
Learn more about the Manning Centre at LittleSis.org
The intent of the Corporate Mapping Project database is to engage Canadians in a conversation about the role of the fossil fuel sector in our democracy, by “mapping” how power and influence play out in the oil, gas and coal industries of BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Preston Manning, “Oil Sands Development—A Backward and Forward Look from the Manning Perspective” (keynote address introduction, Petroleum History Society Annual Meeting, Calgary, Alberta, March 29, 2017), http://www.petroleumhistory.ca/archivesnews/2017/phs2017-03.pdf.