Sunday, September 27, 2009

Joe Clark's Fear of Reform Conservatives Goes Back a Long Way

For several decades, the social conservative movement that was launched by Ernest Manning and a group of wealthy Canadians, had plans to take over the Progressive Conservatives.

While the senior Manning was initially approached to start a new party, where 'money would be no object', he felt that the best way was to work through the already established PCs, and turn them into a completely ideologically driven party of the hard right.

His own attempts failed, but two decades after he began the project, his son Preston started that third party, of the the initial proposal; with every attempt to later use it to hi-jack Canada's just right of center conservative base.

Most of the long time PC members, fought long and hard to prevent that from happening, including former leader and one time Prime Minister, Joe Clark.

He knew exactly what this movement was, perhaps better than anyone; because his history with Preston Manning and social credit (later Reform) went back a long way.

Schools of Thought

Joe Clark and Preston Manning attended the University of Alberta at the same time and were members of the Youth Parliament; Joe as leader of the Progressive Conservatives and Preston, of course, Social Credit.

"At university in the early sixties he (Manning) gave the impression of a rural kid completely isolated from the ways of urban society ... 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 influence on him ..." (Preston Manning and the Reform Party. Author: Murray Dobbin Goodread Biographies/Formac Publishing 1992 ISBN: 0-88780-161-7, pg. 5)

Preston also faced a lot of criticism from students over his father's government, which he "took back to his father. His exposure to these issues ... did not challenge Preston Manning's acceptance of conservative ideology ...

"It was not simply that Social Credit was found ... to be wanting in in areas of social policy - it was more that conservative ideas and Conservative government (as defined by Manning ideology) were being challenged by socialism. Left-wing thinking was influencing events and people ..."

"Manning fought the trend with enthusiasm - and paid for it with criticism in the campus press ... Preston Manning told the paper that free enterprise had to reform to continue it existence. The social reforms were to be .... the individual responsibility ... of every Canadian citizen ...

"We (socreds) believe that Canada is drifting towards socialism even when the majority of Canadians are opposed to collectivism and the welfare state..." (Dobbin, 1992, Pg. 24-25)

Naturally Joe Clark was fully aware of Manning's political philosophy, which was in direct contrast to his own, and indeed that of most Canadians.

On a larger stage

After the Reform Party was founded, Preston Manning decided to run against his old university nemesis Joe Clark in the riding of Yellowhead Alberta, for the 1988 election. This wasn't so much because of a personal grudge, but he felt that the publicity would be good for the party. With Mr. Clark's status, the press would be following this race closely.

There is a funny story about that campaign from author Gordon Laird.

"Like many Albertans Preston Manning knows how to dress cowboy ... Manning learned how to ride on his parent's farm near Edmonton where he once won northern Alberta's 4H livestock raising championship .... but it was not until 1988 that Reform's head cowboy formed his first posse. Campaigning against the incumbent Progressive Conservative, Joe Clark ... Reform's new leader hatched a publicity stunt before a debate in the town of Jasper. A 'Reform Posse' of riders, complete with Reform banners and saddle blankets, was organized to chase down the ex-prime minister, who was scheduled to arrive at the local train station. It was High Noon for Mulroney's token westerner. 'The posse and Sheriff Manning were in pursuit of the notorious Joe Clark' ....

"To the disappointment of the fifteen horses and riders looking for a political lynchin', Clark never showed; his train was delayed. The Reformers still had fun handing out 'Wanted' posters and posing for pictures with tourists ..." (Slumming it at the Rodeo: The Cultural Roots of Canada's Right-Wing Revolution, Gordon Laird, 1998, Douglas & McIntyre, ISBN: 1-55054 627-9, Pg. 50)

Manning lost and he lost soundly.

But when Joe Clark and others fought desperately to hold onto the party started by Sir John A. MacDonald, it had nothing to do with partisanship. He knew exactly who Preston Manning was. He knew exactly who Stephen was. And he knew exactly what the Socred/Reform/Alliance 'revolution' was.

When Stephen Harper, after winning the leadership of the Alliance , told him to 'stop pissing around or get out of my way', he stood his ground and got trampled on, along with people like Flora MacDonald, Sinclair Stevens and Jean Charest.

The unthinkable had happened, resulting in, as Flora MacDonald so aptly put it: "... the demolition of a historic 150-year-old institution that has done so much to build this country ... She also stated: "The party's future lies not in some right-wing alliance that would violate the progressive and moderate traditions of its former leaders, but with a renewed emphasis on the values that the great majority of Canadians feel represent their views." ( The Toronto Star, November 14, 2003)

But it was too late.

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