And the Lifetime Achievement Award goes to … Preston

After almost 50 years in political life, Preston Manning still delights in winning an audience

There is something curiously ageless about Preston Manning at 70.

Preston—who, like any other celebrity, has no need of a second name west of the Lakehead—was just 44 when the Western Assembly consented to make him the political captain of a regional reform movement. His colleagues in the quest to rebalance Canada, men like Stan Roberts, Ted Byfield and Stan Waters, were mostly a good 10 to 20 years older. Now, as founder of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, he trains and plays political mentor to conservative shock troops nearly a half-century his junior.

And the one thing you can be sure of is that he treats them all the same. What has always mattered with Preston Manning is the quality of your argument; he has never cared much about how many degrees you have or whether your denim overalls are untidy. This explains why the West still admires him, and may help explain why the East has never been able to wholly relent in its suspicion of him. What darker motives are concealed by that overwhelming fixation on ideas, that almost pathological relentlessness in seeking new avenues for procedural innovation and political uplift?

After almost 50 years of political life—his first, forgotten run for Parliament dating back to 1965—surely we can finally agree that there is no great secret to Preston Manning, no hidden key to the man. He sought political power as a means of gaining a hearing for ideas; now, though out of explicit power, he devotes all his time to them—keeping in mind that the Manning Centre is as much about salesmanship of ideas as the ideas themselves.

Maclean’s is giving him a Lifetime Achievement Award as a parliamentarian, but, as Manning says himself, his greatest pleasure in politics has always been trying to win over an audience, whether that audience is a roomful of voters or just one person. You may have noticed that there is not much of that sort of thing in the House of Commons. Manning always found the House, with its party disciplines and traditions, frustratingly inimical to sincere debate. It vexed him, for example, that he was generally not allowed to even mention Senate reform on the floor under the rules of the House—and he beams when reminded of how the 1998 debate on the Nunavut Act, which involved a slight change in the composition of the Senate, gave him a loophole through which he could deliver a coruscating hour-long speech.

It is still common to hear Manning and the old Reformers blamed for inculcating harmful “cynicism” about Parliament, with their rough talk of Ottawa as a foetid swamp. But Manning was the main reason angry westerners kept faith with Parliament at a time when Confederation seemed, rightly or wrongly, like a rigged game. It is not so important that he helped create a Western- dominated Conservative government; what is important is that he helped create the mere possibility that the West’s growing demographic and economic influence would be recognized and reflected in Ottawa’s institutions. The West wanted in, to use the famous phrase, and it was Manning’s foot that found its way into the door.

He remains a fertile generator of ideas around political change, even as the one he is most closely associated with, Senate reform, inches ahead painfully. (Manning still speaks of Senate reform optimistically, but as a task that will require decades rather than months.) His latest passion is for the creation of a non- partisan model Parliament—a toy apparatus with a curriculum of training courses—that could be used to prepare young private cit- izens for the forest of rules, tricks and traps they will encounter should they run successfully for the House of Commons, or go to work for someone therein. The idea is to teach the ambitious and the curious everything from the intricacies of the Marleau-Montpetit guide to the best way of running a press conference.

The classy new downtown Calgary office of the Manning Centre, which has its grand opening Jan. 23, bears an enormous sign on the interior with the Ciceronian admonition “Intrate parati” (“Enter prepared”). The old Romans made sure that citizens entered their assembly prepared by putting them through a long “cursus” of ascending public responsibilities: we, Manning observes, have no analogue. He would like to help make one. And we know better by now than to underestimate what is possible when Preston Manning happens upon a notion.




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And the Lifetime Achievement Award goes to … Preston

  1. Preston Manning is my political hero, the reason why I became conservative. Beautiful worded piece, thank you.

  2. Preston Manning and the Reform Party were the group that brought true conservatism into the Canadian mainstream(now represented by the Conservative Party). Before Reform, true conservatism was limited to the minor Social Credit federal party(and its Alberta branch). The old PC party was a “red tory” organization that failed to stand up to Liberal economic and social policies. In the 1970′s, the party even supported price and wage controls. Under Mulroney, Clark, and Diefenbaker, the PC party did almost nothing to cut back the size of government. Also, what taxes did the PC’s cut or eliminate? Outside of free trade, the PC’s were useless. The PC’s were also guilty like the Liberals of seriously underfunding our military. Finally, they eventually went along with the Liberals on almost every social policy too. When did a PC government ever overturn the repeated gun control measures of the Liberals? As Margaret Thatcher once said about Mulroney ” He seems to put more emphasis on the progressive than on the conservative”. Just proving how much of a joke it was to call the PC’s a conservative party.
    The current Canadian government has changed much of this. We now have a government that has cut the GST and corporate taxes. They understand the role that low tax rates have in attracting businesses to our shores. This government has done more to promote free trade than any previous Canadian government. They made the tough decision to raise the retirement age for CPP pensions from 65 to 67(which while politically unpopular when ensure the survival of this pension system for future generations). They have reduced regulations and tried to diverse our economic interests beyond simply the American market(while not trying to gain votes by playing the anti-U.S. card which the Liberals have been guilty of doing). They even did away with the Canadian Wheat Board. On defense, they have taken actual steps to properly fund the Canadian military. Instead of simple lip service(which every Canadian PM has done since WW2), they have upgraded the quality of the military’s equipment, slightly increased the size of the armed forces, and actually committed assets to the resource rich north. In addition to reinserting the title of royal to the armed forces, the Harper government has reminded us of the long proud history of our Canadian armed forces. Whether WW1, WW2, Korea, or Afghanistan, Canada has been blessed to have brave and tough individuals who have been willing to put it on the line for freedom. This contrasts with previous Liberal party governments that seemed to think that the only function of Canadian soldiers was to be UN peacekeepers. In addition, Harper’s government is the first modern Canadian government to understand that law abiding citizens have a right to bear arms for self defense, hunting, and target shooting. It is the first one that stood up for law abiding citizens over gun banning liberal bureaucrats. On the law and order front, this Conservative government is the first one in modern history to both strengthen our weak laws on self defense and push for tougher sentencing. When did Mulroney do this? How tough was former defense lawyer Diefenbaker on crime? Not much from what I read. Finally, the Conservative government passed a law reforming the Human Rights Commissions. This law allowed for greater freedom of speech without someone hauling you to the Human Rights Commission over simply what you said. My only problems with the Conservatives so far on social issues is that 1.) they haven’t yet tried to pass a Canadian version of the castle doctrine and 2.) they haven’t signed off on allowing a binding public referendum on reinstating the death penalty. On economics, I think that the party should be looking more at privatization(as well as look at such issues as how the private sector can revitalize the aboriginal reserves where obviously the hand of big government has failed). Overall however, I feel that for the first time in my life that we have a true center-right government running Canada and pushing its agenda. After 40 years of watching the Liberal left screw this country over, I am glad to have a real conservative government that drives them nuts in turn. Payback sucks don’t it?

  3. Preston Manning has forever altered Canada. The Conservative Party has basically adopted 80%-90% of the Reform Party policies. In government , the Conservatives have now for the first time moved the Canadian political scene to the right of Britain. Harper is basically the Canadian version of Margaret Thatcher(and the majority of the Conservative party members and MPs are probably to the right of him). The Conservatives would probably be in sync with the UKIP(a right-wing party of former Conservatives who left David Cameron’s now centrist Conservative Party). In America, the Conservatives would probably be somewhere to the right of the Democrats and to the left of the Republicans. This is a major change when you consider that the 1988 election platform of Mulroney’s PC party was viewed as to the left of the Democrat Party’s 1988 election platform under Michael Dukakis. I don’t know where the party would lie on the political spectrum of such countries as Australia or New Zealand. Although in Australia, the center-left Labour Party is largely to the right of Canada’s Liberal Party. The reality is that the main influence of Preston’s Reform Party is that Canadian conservatism no longer really embraces the big government policies of the Red Tory dominated PC’s, the One Nation policy adherents of Britain’s Conservative Party(including David Cameron, Ted Heath,etc.), or most of the so called center-right parties of mainland western europe. An interesting what if is whether or not Canada would be so far to the right today if Kim Campbell and her PC’s had won a majority government in 1993. I think probably not. The messed up joke is that the 1993 PC collapse and 13 years of Liberal Party rule based on a fractured right-wing probably helped move Canada further to the right than one or two terms of majority rule by Kim Campbell ever would have.

    • I agree…

      The EUSSR socialists can never face the facts of what socialism really is.

      The EUSSR imports an Islamic invasion of their own countries to provide workers to support the failing pension schemes of usury (which is forbidden by Islamic law) without a thought for the future of their own children…

      State governments alone in the USA have a 5.17 TRILLION dollar public employee pension liability and no way to pay for it.

      Keynesian economics is a model based on an exponential growth curve and is doomed to failure because it is a mathematical certainty.

      At home in England, the only purpose of the Labour party is to attempt lifting a turd by the clean end.

      The only purpose of Liberal Democrats is to try to convince everyone they can lift the other clean end.

      The only purpose of Cameron’s coalition is to hope the previous two are successful while their own hands stay clean.

      UKIP is all about getting out a shovel, cleaning up the yard and getting our hands dirty.

      Great Britain had to drop bombs so Libya was safe for democracy, but we got no promised referendum on membership in the EUSSR?

      -

      Back in the EU

      Back in the EU

      Back in the EUSSR

      Those great debts really knock me out

      They kick the West’s behind

      See Angela’s blubbery cellulite hanging out

      That EU troika is always on my mi, mi mi, mind

    • “The Conservative Party has basically adopted 80%-90% of the Reform Party policies.”

      Oh, fur shur. Except for that whole thing about consulting and voting with the wishes of constituents rather than party. And MP recall. And referendums. And removing GST from general revenue for a “debt retirement fund”. And eliminating patronage. And eliminating the federal power to strike down provincial laws. And allowing the provinces to appoint BofC directors. And adding property rights to the Constitution. And implementing a triple E Senate. And removing the power of the PM to appoint federal judges and giving that power to the provincial legislatures (with ratification by the Triple E senate). And Nonrenewable 10 year judicial terms. And eliminating regional differences in EI requirements. And scrapping the Official Languages Act. And ending Multiculturalism. And polluter-pay. And renegotiating NAFTA retain Canadian control of water. And changing Parliamentary rules to allow more free votes. And binding referendums on abortion and capital punishment. And allowing the federal government to use “notwithstanding clause” only if supported by amajority in referendum. And fixed election dates. And restrictions on Orders-in-Council. And freezing MP salaries while in deficit. And increasing age of MP pension eligibility to 60. And calling an election if they don’t eliminate the deficit after 3 years in office.

  4. Hubris. A sin.

    I thought these Reformers contended to put their faith before their own pride.

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