Manning, Preston

Manning, Preston
▪ 1998

      In the Canadian general election held on June 2, 1997, Preston Manning's Reform Party of Canada received 19% of the popular vote and won 60 seats in the House of Commons. Thus, barely 10 years after its founding in 1987, the Reform Party had risen from a western fringe party to become the official opposition, with Manning becoming leader of the opposition. He had not even held elected office until 1993, when he was voted into Parliament for the riding of Calgary Southwest.

      Manning was born on June 10, 1942, in Edmonton, Alta., into a family deeply involved in politics. His father, Ernest, was leader of the Alberta Social Credit Party, premier of Alberta (1943-68), and a Canadian senator (1970-83). After graduating from the University of Alberta with a degree in economics (1964), the younger Manning spent three years working on projects for his father. He followed in his father's footsteps as a populist and an evangelical Christian fundamentalist and gave sermons on the elder's radio program, the "Back to the Bible Hour." After running unsuccessfully as a candidate for the Social Credit Party in the 1965 federal election, he helped his father write Political Realignment (1967), a book that outlined a social conservative agenda for Canadian politics and was a synthesis of marketplace economics and humanitarian socialism. After his father retired from provincial politics, Manning launched a career as a management consultant in the energy industry.

      In 1987, however, he returned to the political arena and founded the Reform Party in an effort to gain economic and political power for the western provinces. Four years later the party voted to expand its regional base and become a national force. A new party mission was also outlined in Manning's book, The New Canada (1992), and later was adopted. Its goals were to work for a balanced, democratic federation of provinces and to recognize that all provinces and citizens were equal. As the first and only leader of the party, Manning formed its name, its statement of principles, and many of its policies, and it came to represent a mixture of his populist views and the conservatism of most party members. Manning saw populism as the "common sense of the common people" and espoused policies that would allow the populace to have more say in the development of public policy. Some, however, voiced fears that Manning was trading popularity for principles. After the 1993 election he underwent a physical transformation that included eye surgery, hair colouring, a sleek new wardrobe, and voice training. He also rescinded an earlier vow not to live in Stornoway, the official residence of the opposition leader, and in September 1997 he supported the Calgary declaration that recognized Quebec's "unique" character, an action that made traditional party members uneasy.

      Although the Reform Party was disappointed that in the 1997 election no party candidates were elected outside the western provinces, it expected that the strong showing of the party would give the Canadian West a greater voice in the federal government.


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Universalium. 2010.

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