From "Young Turk" to "Policy Scout," It's the Same Preston Manning

By Patten, Steve | Inroads, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

From "Young Turk" to "Policy Scout," It's the Same Preston Manning


Patten, Steve, Inroads


From "Young Turk" to "policy scout," it's the same Preston Manning Preston Manning, Think Big: My Adventures In Life and Democracy. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2002. 452 pages.

PRESTON MANNING ENTERED POLITICS IN THE MID-1960S, FIRST AS an unsuccessful Social Credit candidate in the 1965 federal election, then as something of a policy wonk working under the wing of his father, Alberta Premier Ernest Manning. During the senior Manning's final term in office, Preston did some research and writing for his father, the government and the Alberta Social Credit Party. He was dubbed a "Young Turk" by the press and his influence was on the rise. His father was increasingly willing to seek his counsel and rely on him to craft political messages for public consumption. It was in this context that Preston Mannings political views and approach to the challenges of politics and government took shape.

Today Preston Manning is once again a full-time policy wonk. A Senior Fellow at the Fraser Institute and a Distinguished Visitor at both the University of Calgary and the University of Toronto, Manning now presents himself as a self-styled "policy scout" exploring the frontiers of democracy and public policy. In his new book, Think Big: My Adventures in Life and Democracy, Manning traces Ms evolution from "Young Turk" to "policy scout." Along the way the former Reform Party leader recounts the story of the Reform-Alliance party and reveals his vision of the broad "Reform project," of which the Reform Party and the Canadian Alliance are a part. He also shares his views on the experience of the Canadian Alliance sans his sage leadership, including two chapters dissecting the weaknesses and political sins of Stockwell Day, and numerous references to the shortcomings of the current leader, Stephen Harper. But, as an autobiography, Think Big primarily aims to sketch a portrait of the author and retell the story of his involvement in events of political interest.

Think Big as autobiography

As is common in autobiographies, the story Manning tells is airbrushed to hide blemishes; indeed, much of the book reads as if it were backlit with the writers equivalent of the soft white light that gives events a sense of surreal composure and orderliness. This does not mean that important events in the life of Preston Manning or the Reform-Alliance party are dishonestly recreated. Manning has been very careful and sincere in writing this autobiography. But there is a suspiciously logical and seamless linearity in his characterization of the development of his ideas, motivations and actions, even in the context of high-pressure situations in which he and the Reform-Alliance party were confronting difficult and complex issues. One can not help wondering whether the former Reform Party leader is writing from a defensive posture, providing rational justifications for complicated decisions and events that were likely characterized by uncertainty and indecision. It is not that Think Big is an example of historical revisionism, but merely that Manning may engage in some (self-)deception when he recreates personal motivations and decision processes for the reader.

An interesting example of this is found in Manning's retelling of the story of how he and the Reform Party came to a decision to actively challenge the Charlotte-town Accord. Tom Flanagan, the University of Calgary political scientist who was then Director of Research for the Reform Party and now serves as Chief of Staff in Opposition Leader Stephen Harper's office, has been very critical of Preston Manning for hesitating before deciding to campaign against the 1992 accord. In his book Waiting for the Wave,1 Flanagan contends that while he and other advisers - including Stephen Harper - urged Manning to speak out against the Charlottetown Accord immediately after its release, the Reform Party leader showed no initial interest in leading a No campaign. While Manning never personally supported the accord, he indicated a willingness to live with il, and it appears he even made some efforts to ensure that Reform would stay neutral in the October 1992 referendum. …

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From "Young Turk" to "Policy Scout," It's the Same Preston Manning
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