Former Reform Party leader Preston Manning is adding his voice to those who say Canada's chief electoral officer should continue to have a role in encouraging Canadians to vote.

In his keynote speech to the Manning Networking Conference Saturday, Manning issued a call to "Conservative governments, conservative opposition parties, and the Conservative Movement ... to constantly affirm and re-affirm their commitment to extending rather than limiting democratic expression."

Manning said he wants to see the federal government's Fair Elections Act legislation amended to "strengthen, rather than reducing, the role of Elections Canada and the chief electoral officer with respect to promotional and educational activities designed to increase voter participation in Canada’s elections."

The legislation tabled last month by Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre would limit the chief electoral officer's power to provide information to the public. The CEO's role would be limited to informing the public of when, where and how to cast a ballot.

Manning also suggested that political training expenses be exempt from the current spending limit. The not-for-profit Manning Centre for Building Democracy runs a political training centre in Calgary and is a supporter along with the Manning Foundation of the Manning School of Practical Politics.

Manning suggested it might be time to "loosen the grip of leaders and House officers" over individual MPs.

And he called on his former House of Commons colleagues to "give serious consideration" to supporting Conservative MP Michael Chong's bid to re-balance the power dynamic between caucus and party leadership. Chong addressed the conference on Friday.

The annual conference has become a must-be-seen-at event for up and coming  Conservatives. This year, Employment Minister Jason Kenney chose the conference stage to reveal that he had finally reached agreements in principle on the controversial Canada Job Grant.

As the annual conservative confab rolls into its second — and final — day, participants also heard Poilievre talk about his government's vision for Senate reform, Conservative MP Joy Smith talked about prostitution laws with Sun News columnist Anthony Furey and Institute for Marriage and the Family researchers presented a closer look at what they claim is a "marriage gap between rich and poor Canadians."

The final speaker Saturday afternoon is author and commentator Mark Steyn, who wraps up the two-day event with a keynote address on "Conservatism and the facts of life."

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