Preston Manning – Leader of the Reform Party 1987-2000
The Reform Party wasn’t just another western Canadian populist party like so many before or since. The Reform Party decimated the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP when they finally burst onto the scene in full force in 1993. That election year they won 52 seats and held a seat in every province west of Quebec including Ontario. Even more impressive was they took 24 of 32 seats on the Left Coast in BC and 22 of 26 in Alberta. The PC’s managed only 2 seats in 1993 and the NDP 9.
In 1997 they became the official opposition, increasing their seat total to 60. They lost their seat in Ontario and became a voice for Western Canada, increasing their number of seats in all four western provinces including British Columbia, yes, that same British Columbia we have today that votes Green and Orange.
What made the Reform Party so much stronger than past movements was the leadership and vision of Preston Manning and his innate ability to break down the most complex of topics and make it understandable to the lay person. I remember well his Big Mac analogy when talking about government bureaucracy.
Oh, western alienation was at an all-time high, much as it is today, and that helped. And he had a motivated team of volunteers. I followed him around Saskatchewan on a couple of trips and sold memberships and passed around the KFC bucket. But it was Manning’s message and messaging that won over the populace.
But it takes more than western alienation to rally people and make them believe that you are authentic, that you have their best interests at heart and you will make a difference in their lives. Manning was able to that. He took a grassroots movement and build them into a force that would leave a lasting impact on Canada. He also provided hope for Westerners that felt left out after the Mulroney years and the during the Chretien reign.
The Reform Party stood for a reform of government that would allow all regions of Canada to be part of the decisions as opposed to the domination of Quebec and Ontario. One of their main tenants was a Triple E Senate, something we should have in Canada but will never happen due to Quebec’s veto power. The Triple E Senate he proposed stood for Equal, Elected and Effective. Much different from the un-elected, patronage appointed Senate chamber we have now.
The idea called for an equal number of Senators from each Province that would be elected by the people, not appointed by the Prime Minister and effective in that the House would have to negotiate any bill they wish passed with the Senate, like they do in the USA. This would be a major improvement for our British Parliamentary system which currently gives any majority government a four-year dictatorship. We witness firsthand, almost daily, what has been going on in Ottawa the past five years with zero accountability. Can you say $1 trillion debt and yet no clean drinking water on the reserves?
Manning had a positive impact on Ottawa but was never given much credit for it. I recall the buzzword of government legislation at the time, even though it was the Chretien Liberals, was “reform’ this and “reform” that. I smiled every time I heard it on the news as I knew he had made his impact even if he never achieved the full dream and vision. A dream and vision that Western Canada would have an equal say in Confederation.
Manning is quoted as stating, “The greatest contribution of the Reform Party to national politics was to demonstrate that, despite all the flaws and shortcomings of Canadians democracy, a small group of people with limited resources could still take the tools that democracy gives to all Canadians – freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom to persuade electors to vote this way or that – and change, at least to some degree, the composition and direction of the parliament and the policies of the national government.”
In 2019 Manning was called upon by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to lead a group on getting a fair deal in Confederation. In January 2020 he retired from the non-profit advocacy group he founded when he left the House of Commons, aptly named the Manning Centre for Building Democracy leaving a legacy that should not be forgotten.
His impact on folks like myself have been profound. He showed, as he stated that “a small group of people with limited resources could still take the tools that democracy gives to all Canadians – freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom to persuade electors to vote this way or that – and change, at least to some degree, the composition and direction of the parliament and the policies of the national government.”
Now that was worth repeating! Stay tuned…
Yours in love of this great Province we call Saskatchewan