The Grim Hate-scape that is the 2017 Manning Centre Conference

The 2017 Manning Centre Conference starts today, February 23rd, 2017, in Ottawa. In it, we can see some of the worst ideas and most despicable plans brewing amongst Canada’s conservative elite (though they are also importing a bunch of people from the U.S. to speak).

The Manning Centre is a “think tank” aiming to help conservatives network with each other, train to be more politically effective, and research things that matter to them. Their annual conference is an important event for them.

This year the theme is “Take the lead,” and that aspiration is sponsored by (among others) Facebook, Twitter, Air Canada, Rogers, and the Canadian Real Estate Association. Sessions address: “Leading the Response to Islamist Extremism and its Ideology in Canada,” a session that was advertised with the image of a bomb in a backpack; uber-elite Doug Ford speaking on how to understand the “rise in anti-establishment sentiment”; why conservatives might be okay with defunding public schooling; how hard it is to be a conservative student at university; why we should embrace hydrocarbons; and whether it’s time to kill the CBC.

Particularly chilling is the session called “A Trump Movement in Canada? Can Trumpism be exported to Canada? Or is it already here?” This has been the question Conservative candidates have been circling around for months: How can they mobilize the people in Canada who oppose immigration, who want to kill environmental protections, who support increasing our dependence on petrochemicals, and who are on board with a future in which only rich white people flourish? While Kellie Leitch has been most blunt about her interest in becoming “Canada’s Trump,” the tendency towards far-right conservatism is ascendant.

This tendency did not simply arise among conservatives, and it is not only in response to Donald Trump’s election. Justin Trudeau’s response to Trump’s agenda has been one of warmth and collegiality, alongside an almost gleeful escalation of a pro-pipeline, anti-Indigenous, anti-refugee policies. Trudeau’s visit with Trump in Washington helped to normalize and legitimize the hateful politics and actions of his opposite number. We should care much less about whether Trudeau won the handshake battle and much more about the ways he is reneging on every promise he made about electoral reform, the environment, and nation-to-nation respect for Indigenous people.

Additionally, a key component of the Conference is a Conservative Party Leadership Debate on Friday evening, featuring 14 candidates. Among them will be Kellie Leitch, key architect of the Harper-era “Barbaric Cultural Practices” snitchline, and currently campaigning on a plan to charge potential immigrants for the cost of enduring a “Canadian values” screening test. Kevin O’Leary will be there, perhaps expanding on his plan to make unions illegal and throw union members in jail, or maybe posting more insensitive and violent home videos. Most of the 14 leadership hopefuls, including Leitch, O’Leary, Maxime Bernier, and Lisa Raitt, are all vocally opposing Motion 103 (M-103), which calls on the federal government to develop a plan to combat systemic racism and religious discrimination, including Islamophobia. That’s just too much for most of the candidates attending the upcoming Leadership Debate, who’ve responded to M-103 with a series of racist dog whistles, falsely claiming that it would limit free speech or bring about Sharia Law.

Events like the Manning Centre Conference are dangerous because they work to normalize and legitimize hateful, disgusting ideas that lead to real harm and violence. These views are part of a broader conservative agenda that endangers our communities and makes our world worse. Consider Alexandre Bissonnette, who murdered at least six people at the Centre culturel Islamique de Québec; he was part of the far-right, white supremacist movement that has been bubbling in the Canadian political landscape for a long time. (Another recent event shows us some of what might be in store for us in Ottawa this week: Rebel Media’s Freedom Rally).

Conferences and events like these take place under the guise of freedom of speech and respect for a diversity of opinions. But freedom of speech does not require that the Shaw Centre allow their venue to be booked, it does not require that Ottawa Westin and Les Suites Hotel Ottawa provide special conference rates for attendees, and it does not require that the Conservative Party of Canada deem it an appropriate event at which to hold a leadership debate. The Manning Centre and its conference should be opposed and denounced for cultivating and nurturing a politics based in racism, Islamophobia, environmental devastation, and unbridled economic war on ordinary people.

Also, can we just say that the closing session is actually just kinda sad? Live taping of the Mark Steyn CRTV show (a guy whose main claim to fame is that he’s a friend of Conrad Black), with a live musical performance from Tal Bachman (another guy whose hit single “She’s so high” came out seven years ago – you probably don’t remember it, but it’s bascially is a paean to women who don’t have breast implants and deign to notice Tal Bachman).