A Calgary alderman said in a news conference today that after meeting with a representative from the Manning Centre she had the impression that he didn't think she was conservative enough.
Ward 13 Ald. Diane Colley-Urquhart also said the think-tank suggested there might be a candidate for the next municipal election this fall who could do a better job at working with "stakeholders" in her riding.
"I'm a tough girl," Ward 13 Ald. Diane Colley-Urquhart told reporters. "It takes a lot to intimidate me."
She was joined by Mayor Naheed Nenshi at city hall to clarify comments she made to reporters Wednesday.
Colley-Urquhart had mentioned she met with Dimitri Pantazopoulos from the Manning Centre, a conservative think-tank based in Calgary, roughly three weeks ago to find out what it's all about.
The centre runs workshops for people wanting to enter municipal politics.
Colley-Urquhart said Pantazopoulos called her later on Wednesday to ask why she said anything to the media because it was a private meeting.
"I basically reminded him of the questions he asked me about how conservative I was and if I was running again, and whether or not they were going to be running anyone else against me and other places — and I said, 'bring them on,'" she said.
"So I said, 'You know what Dimitri, I'm not accountable to you. I don't have to answer your questions. You can deal with the media yourself.'"
Manning Centre project director 'puzzled'
“Diane’s characterization of our conversation is incorrect," said Pantazopoulos, project director for the Municipal Governance Project, in a release.
"We had a very positive meeting where we discussed various civic issues and we left on very positive terms.
"I am puzzled at what might have changed between then and now. In point of fact, no candidate from her ward is receiving or has received any training from the Manning Centre.”
But Nenshi says the tone of the conversation indicates the Manning Centre is about much more than providing political training and is instead engaging in partisan politics.
The Manning Centre has been in the news for the last few days in relation to a video that surfaced Monday of Cal Wenzel, founder of Shane Homes, outlining a plan to defeat members of council who are seen as anti-development.
In the video, Wenzel talks about how his company, and 11 others, are each giving the Manning Centre a $100,000 donation.
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Nenshi said he has stressed since the beginning that he has never seen evidence of anyone on council being swayed by an outside influence.
"One of the real challenges over the last few days is there has been a lot of folks suggesting that some of my colleagues are bought and paid for, and I don't think that's true in any way," he said.
Nenshi looks to meet with Preston Manning
Nenshi said Preston Manning, the former head of the Reform Party of Canada and founder of the Manning Centre, is out of the country but suggested he look into the centre bearing his name.
"I would expect that Mr. Manning would realize that this is far, far beyond promoting a conservative mindset in Canadian politics," he said.
"It's gotten on certainly the boundaries of ethics, certainly on the boundaries of morality, and I would suggest as a non-profit organization — as a charity — we need to look very closely at the legality of what is happening here as well."
Nenshi said he has been requesting a meeting with Manning for a couple of months, but has not yet had a reply.
Colley-Urquhart said many members of council have been "painted with a pretty negative brush" in the whole affair.
"I have no association with the Manning Centre," she said. "If they want to run candidates against me that they feel are more conservative than me, that’s certainly their prerogative."
Colley-Urquhart said she wants Calgarians to know that members of council take the "privilege of serving the citizens of Calgary" seriously.
"We know what our ethical guidelines are and how we conduct ourselves, and hopefully in the fullness of time many of us will be able to regain the reputations we once had before all of this unfolded," she said.