Preston Manning | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Preston Manning

Ernest Preston Manning, politician (b at Edmonton 10 June 1942), son of Alberta premier Ernest Manning.
Manning, Preston
Founder and leader of the Reform Party, Preston Manning (courtesy Reform Party of Canada).

Ernest Preston Manning, politician (b at Edmonton 10 June 1942), son of Alberta premier Ernest Manning. After graduating from the University of Alberta in 1964, Manning ran unsuccessfully as a Social Credit candidate in the 1965 federal election before joining the National Public Affairs Research Foundation, a conservative think tank. During 1966-67 he researched his father's book, Political Realignment, and co-wrote the White Paper on Human Resource Development for the Social Credit government in Alberta. The White Paper led to the creation of several new agencies: a Department of Youth, a Human Resources Council and the Alberta Service Corps.

After the elder Manning retired in 1968 father and son established Manning Consultants Ltd, a management consulting firm. Preston experimented with the Social Conservative Society in the late 1960s and later the Movement for National Political Change, a precursor to the Reform Party. Neither attracted many members, but the conservative ideas laid out gave rise to the Reform Party in the more congenial climate of the late 1980s when disillusionment with the federal Conservative Party deepened. The party was formed at a convention in Winnipeg in November 1987, with Manning as its leader.

Manning's advocacy of a party promising fiscal responsibility, provincial equality (ie, no special status for Québec) and parliamentary reform (including a "Triple E" - equal, elected and effective - Senate and direct democracy provisions) appealed to many in the West, especially those disenchanted with Brian Mulroney's governing Progressive Conservative Party. Though Manning lost decisively to Joe Clark in the 1988 federal election, and Reform itself elected no MPs, the party did elect its first member of Parliament a year later in an Alberta by-election. Manning's vigorous opposition to the Meech Lake Accord (see Meech Lake Accord: Document) raised Reform's profile and played a major role in the Accord's failure in 1990 and that of its successor, the Charlottetown Accord (see Charlottetown Accord: Document), in 1992. In the 1993 federal election, Manning translated Western resentment and anger into a stunning success. Alberta voters overwhelmingly embraced the Reform Party, electing Reform candidates in 22 of 26 seats (subject to recounts). The party also had unprecedented success in British Columbia, winning 24 of 30 seats, and added 4 in Saskatchewan and one each in Manitoba and Ontario. In the process, the Reform Party helped complete the process of destroying the Conservative Party that its rival Bloc Québécois had begun in Québec, reducing the party's elected Mps to two.

In the 1997 general election, Reform under Manning increased its seat total to 60, enough to unseat the Bloc Québécois as the official opposition. However, all of Reform's members were from west of Ontario. Canadian political geography had split mostly along regional lines, with Reform in the West, the ruling Liberals in Ontario, and the Bloc holding firm in Québec, and a handful of Conservatives and New Democrats in the Maritimes.

Discontented with being perceived as a regional party, Manning proposed a radical solution. In 1998, in an effort to woo Eastern Canadian conservatives, Manning initiated the United Alternative movement, an effort to merge Reform with the remnants of the Progressive Conservative Party. Manning's proposal met with resistance from some prominent Conservatives -- most notably Joe Clark, who had re-emerged as leader -- and from some Reformers as well, who feared that Manning might water down the party's principles to appease Eastern Canada. Nonetheless, in the spring of 1999, Reformers voted on whether to continue to promote the United Alternative.

These efforts resulted in early 2000 in the creation of the Canadian Alliance Party. A while later, Reform's membership agreed to dissolve that party. Manning resigned as Leader of the Opposition on 10 March 2000 to run for the leadership of the new political party. His run proved unsuccessful, however. On 8 July 2000, Stockwell Day soundly defeated Manning for the Alliance leadership, taking 63.6 percent of all votes cast on the second ballot.

The subsequent federal election of 27 November 2000 saw Manning once more elected in the riding of Calgary Southwest. Shortly thereafter, however, he announced he was being treated for prostate cancer. On 21 March 2001, amidst growing turmoil within the Alliance Party over Day's leadership, Manning announced his intention to leave federal politics by the end of the year, which he did in January 2002. Since then, Manning has taken up a number of posts, including Senior Fellow with the Fraser Institute and Canada West Foundation and Distinguished Visitor at both the University of Calgary and University of Toronto.

A skilled debater, Manning's performance during election campaigns is considered one of the key reasons he was able to bring his political movement forward so fast. His impact on the Canadian political scene is controversial. On the one hand, he is credited with forcing the Liberal government to re-examine their policies on crime and punishment and the public debt, and to take a harder constitutional line on Quebec separatism. On the other hand, critics suggest Manning's policies have left the issue of Quebec's place in Canada unresolved and that his founding of the Reform Party ensured the splintering of Canada's conservative movement, inadvertently leading to the election of a series of Liberal governments.

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