Conservatives meet for annual Manning Centre conference

Conservatives have converged on the capital to hobnob with senior cabinet ministers, talk policy with premiers and trade tips with some of the country's most successful campaign strategists at the Manning Centre Networking Conference. Follow our live blog and watch livestreaming coverage.

Controversial author Mark Steyn to headline weekend get-together

Minister of Employment and Social Development Jason Kenney speaks at the Manning conference in Ottawa on Friday. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall also addressed the conference, which brings together members from across the conservative spectrum. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

In what has become an annual pre-spring tradition, small- and big-C conservatives have converged on the capital to hobnob with senior federal cabinet ministers, talk policy with provincial premiers and trade tips with some of the country's most successful campaign strategists.

In the six years since the Manning Centre Networking Conference made its debut on the political convention circuit, it has grown steadily in size, scope and — perhaps most critically — influence within Canada's conservative movement.

At last check, that includes both card-carrying Tory loyalists and those who feel more comfortable outside the tent, particularly those who lean more towards the libertarian or social conservative side of the true-blue ideological spectrum.

Over the course of the two-day confab, attendees will see author Mark Steyn, former federal minister turned CEO Jim Prentice, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and New York Times columnist Ross Douthat take the same stage.

Outside the main hall, they'll have to choose between breakout sessions — a bear-pit session with Employment Minister Jason Kenney, for instance, or hear what pollster Dimitri Pantazopoulos has to say about "Conservatives and the City"?

Best of all, at least from a journalistic perspective: Every last minute of it will be open to the media.

In fact, reporters won't just be allowed to take notes — they're also on the official program.

One Saturday morning session offers "the journalists' perspective," courtesy of CBC News Network's Power & Politics regular contributors John Ivison (National Post), Jennifer Ditchburn (Canadian Press), Bob Fife (CTV News) and Luiza Ch. Savage (Maclean's).

Later that day, Susan Delacourt (Shopping for Votes) and Paul Wells (The Longer I'm Prime Minister) join historian Bob Plamandon (The Truth About Trudeau) and former Conservative strategist Tom Flanagan (Winning Power) for an authors' panel on their latest books.

Make no mistake, though: historically, ManningFest has been less a love-in than a focus of lively, if respectful discussion, which is likely to be the case this year as well.

The pros and cons of income splitting will almost certainly come up at the Saturday morning breakout session on the "marriage gap," featuring the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada's Peter Jon Mitchell and Macdonald-Laurier Institute researcher Philip Cross, chaired by Conservative MP Kelly Block.

Meanwhile, Sun News columnist Anthony Furey will put his views on the future of Canada's prostitution laws up against those held by Conservative MP Joy Smith, with her colleague, Stella Ambler, serving as moderator.

Given the potential for spirited and substantial political debate, is it any wonder that ManningFest has become one of the hottest political tickets in town?