Monday, August 31, 2009

The Roots of Reform: Passing the Torch

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

Preston Manning was born on June 10, 1942, in Edmonton, Alberta. His godfather was William Aberhart, then premier of Alberta.

Within a year, Aberhart would be deceased and Ernest Manning, Preston's father, would become premier, and hold that position for 25 years.
The influences that have been brought to bear on Preston Manning could only have been created in Alberta. His father, Ernest Manning, was not just premier for twenty-five years but premier of what was often called a one-party state. Revered almost as a saint by many, he dominated Alberta political life during the years he was in power. Through Ernest Manning and his predecessor and mentor, William Aberhart, evangelical Christianity played a role in Alberta politics for which the only Canadian parallel is Catholicism in Quebec. Ernest Manning was both spiritual and political leader of Alberta. Preston Manning grew up under the tutelage and the shadow of his larger-than-life father. (1)
And by Preston's own admissions his father was often distant and cold, but he grew up in a household dominated by Social Credit politics*.
While he has said that his father did not bring politics into the home, Preston Manning acknowledges that the political influence was nonetheless felt early on: "The family itself did not play that great a role in politics in those days. But at a very early age, I began looking at things from a governing point of view because my father was the leader of the government." (2)
But he also grew up sheltered for most of his early life.
Ernest Manning was also intensely private — and very formal. John Barr writes in The Dynasty, his book on the Social Credit Party: "Everyone knew that Mr. Manning (as he was almost universally known; probably no more than half a dozen people ever called him 'Ernest') was Premier and that he was 'there' somehow, but his public appearances were sufficiently rare that he was neverover-exposed. Manning did not invite familiarity." (2)
Every day he was expected to go straight from school to his father's office, where he did his homework, and most of his life was centred around school, family and church. His one sibling, Keith, was born with Cerebral Palsy, and spent much of his time away, so Preston focused on his studies.

By the time he went away to university in the early 60's, he realized that the world had changed, but that he and his family had not changed with it.
At university in the early sixties he gave the impression of a rural kid completely isolated from the ways of urban society. He presented an odd image. "He was part of the Youth Parliament's Social Credit caucus at the same time Joe Clark, Grant Notley (the late, former leader of the New Democratic Party in Alberta), Jim Coutts (who became prominent in the Liberal Party under Pierre Trudeau), and others were representing their respective parties. He was a good speaker, but you never saw him on campus. People knew who he was, and the rumour was that his father didn't want him to hang around the university too much because it would be a bad moral influence on him," recalls Fred Walker, a student at that time. "He looked very out of place — odd enough in his mannerisms and physical appearance and dress to be the occasional subject of ridicule. He gave the impression of being a very serious and committed young man — but more an apologist for his father's party and policies. He didn't play a very prominent role." (2)


*Stockwell Day's mother said the same thing of her son's upbringing


1. Preston Manning and the Reform Party, By Murray Dobbin Goodread Biographies/Formac Publishing 1992 ISBN: 0-88780-161-7, pg. 1

2. Dobbin, 1992, Pg. 3-4

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