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Bob Wakeham: A story likely not on the senator’s playlist

Conservative Senator Fabian Manning
Sen. Fabian Manning — file photo

It may not have been the scoop of the week, or the day, or even the hour, but I was nevertheless intrigued (and had my magnanimous nature inspired) upon hearing last week through “Da VOCM News Service” — as the longtime cops-and-robbers reporter, Mike Critch, described his employer in his legendary sign-offs — that Sen. Fabian Manning is telling tales in Ottawa.

Bob Wakeham
Bob Wakeham


The headline in the online version of the story caught my interest: “Senator Boosting Tourism Through Storytelling,” although the piece itself was short on detail, except to note that Manning started his project during the 100th anniversary of Beaumont Hamel, and took it upon himself to “educate his fellow senators” and tell 100 stories about “the province, its people and major events.”

Sadly, though, this extraordinarily grand contribution to Newfoundland heritage and tourism (Manning is quoted as saying his work has “attracted a number of first-time visitors to the province”) has taken much longer than he thought it would, and he is apparently stuck on 28 stories.

Given that Manning, I’m sure, is as busy as a beaver in Ottawa — the Senate, after all, has always pushed its workaholic members to extreme limits of endurance — I decided to provide a contribution to this most noble cause.

Being a modest soul, uninterested in self-promotion, like all politicians, Manning — it’s safe to say — has not taken the time to mine his own history of nuggets, to tell his own “story”; so I’ve been presumptuous enough to play the role here as frontman for the modest senator from the Cape Shore.

It’s a story sprinkled with patronage, even the odd touch of principle.

The latter is a reference to a time when Manning was one of the few Tories to stand up to Danny Williams during his reign, and was ousted from King Daniel’s caucus after publicly disagreeing with a controversial crab fishery policy the government was implementing.

Manning, though, had a rather unique reason for opposing Williams: he has said his son’s basketball teammates had been “giving him the gears” because of the crab policy, and, in a move that could have been lifted from the script of an episode of “Father Knows Best” or “Leave it to Beaver,” Manning — thinking of his offspring — altered his views.

It wasn’t ideology so much as his kid was being razzed; at least that was the inference.    

But the heave-ho from the sycophantic Williams caucus was not the end of Manning, not by a long shot; serendipity intervened with the introduction to his political life of a godfather in Ottawa, Don Corleone Harper, who would eventually take care of his every need, all in exchange for unconditional, blind loyalty.

But the heave-ho from the sycophantic Williams caucus was not the end of Manning, not by a long shot…

Following an initial, successful run in federal politics, serving a term as an MP, Manning was defeated in a subsequent election. (The ever-vengeful Williams was in his “don’t eff with me” mode, launching the Anything But Conservative (ABC) campaign that helped defeat Manning and the rest of his colleagues in this province).

It was then that Manning’s bond with the Ottawa don reaped its first benefit, when the godfather made him an offer he couldn’t refuse: a seat in that extremely well-paid, lucratively pensioned patronage trough called the Senate, in return for heading down to Newfoundland every once in a while to sell the Harper wares (much like a car salesman trying to peddle lemons, given the prime minister’s immense lack of popularity here at the time).

When the next election rolled around though, there was Manning, perhaps suffering pangs of conscience, quitting the Senate and making the honourable move to actually allow Newfoundland voters to determine his status in Ottawa, as opposed to munching on a foul patronage plum for the rest of his days.

Ah, but defeat once again raised its retaliatory head. Newfoundlanders once more told Manning where to go.

So what’s a loser, an ex-senator, to do?

Well, glory be, the godfather was on the phone with another offer Manning could not refuse: back to the Senate, a second dip in the disgusting Senate trough.

And that’s where he now sits. End of story.

But, wait, there’s an odd epilogue to this Manning saga.

A couple of years ago, the senator slipped in the House of Commons cafeteria and struck his head, winding up in hospital.

And, according to the National Post, this past spring his lawyer, operating just inside the two-year statute of limitations, launched a $250,000 suit against the House of Commons on behalf of the senator and his wife.

Manning was seeking $200,000, according to The Post, primarily due to “costs of care and out of pocket expenses,” while his wife was suing for $50,000 due to the “impact (Manning’s) injuries have had on her relationship with him, including the loss of companionship.”

It would have made for a rather fascinating case, to say the least, played out, as it would have been, in a public courtroom, but, alas, Manning scrapped the suit, indicating there was a “clear misunderstanding” between him and his lawyer as to the “scope” of the claim.

Still, though, an interesting asterisk for the story of Fabian Manning, perhaps the 29th story in his collection of anecdotes from Newfoundland.

No need to thank me, Senator.

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at

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