The Manning Networking Conference has been dubbed—aptly or not—”Like Woodstock for Canadian Conservatives” by Global’s chief political correspondent Tom Clark.
The weekend-long conference kicked off Thursday evening with a reception at the Shaw Centre that was a little less outdoor hippie music festival and a little more of what you’d expect from a formal cocktail party.
Preston Manning, president of the Manning Centre, the Conservative think-tank that organizes the annual conference, told The Lobby Monitor that there is a lot on offer for lobbyists and GR professionals this year.
“It is a networking conference so it is a real opportunity to meet a lot of people throughout the Conservative movement,” Manning said.
“And we’re also trying to deal with futuristic ideas—not where’s the movement been, but where is it heading—so government relations people are trying to look ahead at what are the issues going to be, who is the spokesperson for those issues, and what’s the Conservative response to them,” he said.
The large Trillium ballroom began to fill up around 7:30 p.m. and The Lobby Monitor spotted Tory cabinet ministers Jason Kenney and Tony Clement in the crowd, chatting away with attendees. Selfie enthusiast Clement even posted a selfie montage on Instagram late Thursday night.
Parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources Kelly Block was in attendance with her husband, Milton Block.
Not surprisingly, Laureen Harper made an appearance to give a brief speech to the crowd who moved up and assembled near the stage to hear her speak. She has attended and spoken at the conference in years past.
She discussed new legislation the Conservative government plans to introduce next week on life sentences without parole and she took the opportunity to thank Conservative supporters.
“In politics praise always comes in the absence of criticism,” Ms. Harper said.
The cash bar continued to be busy throughout the night as the drinks flowed and the appetizers of shrimp, spring rolls, and other tasty goods rolled out from the kitchen.
The Lobby Monitor spotted many consultant and in-house lobbyists in the crowd, including some folks from National Public Relations.
Recent addition at The Lobby Monitor, reporter Alyssa O’Dell, was found chatting with Amy Day, who joined the PMO’s issues management team as assistant to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Conservative MP Paul Calandra. Both hailing from Vancouver, the two bonded over a mutual longer for warming weather.
Global Public Affairs senior research consultant Michael Dietrich also joined the conversation and discussed his dissertation on research and innovation. Dietrich is currently a PhD Candidate at the University of Western Ontario.
Spotted close to the stage was Merit Canada president Terrance Oakey chatting with Catherine Swift, spokesperson for Working Canadians.
Others government relations professionals spotted include Michele Austin, former chief of staff to Tory cabinet ministers Rona Ambrose and Maxime Bernier and now senior advisor at Summa Strategies, who is speaking on a panel on “Women in Politics” on Saturday, and Impact Public Affairs president Huw Williams, who is a longtime Conservative supporter and former staffer.
And before the night was through, The Lobby Monitor did spot a Liberal amongst the Conservative MPs, staffers and supporters in the crowd. Greg MacEachern, vice-president of government relations at Environics Communications was spotted next to former Kenney staffer and Ontario PC candidate Jamie Ellerton, who is now principal at Conaptus Ltd. MacEachern was a Liberal staffer in Halifax before working on the Hill for federal Liberal cabinet ministers.
The conference runs through the weekend. More information is available online.