Friday, November 4, 2011

Chapter Thirteen: Canada's Conservative Youth Movement Begins and Ends With Preston Manning

The Canadian Manifesto: How the American Neoconservatives Stole My Country

[Ernest]Manning campaigned actively on behalf of a full slate of Social Credit candidates, one such candidate being his son, Preston Manning, who ran for election in the Constituency of East Edmonton. The Conservative candidate secured 13,596 votes to Mr. Manning's: 6,762. Having spoken on young Mr. Preston Manning's behalf myself, I found the overwhelming vote against him hard to believe. I was one of those many who looked forward to hearing the voice of young Preston Manning on behalf of the Social Credit movement in the House of Commons. (1)

The year was 1965, when Preston Manning ran as the federal Social Credit candidate, losing out to William Skoreyko. Alf Hooke, former Alberta Social Credit MP, may not have heard Preston Manning speak on behalf of the Social Credit movement in the House of Commons, but Manning would go on to become a voice for the

Growing Up With no Through Traffic

Preston Manning was born on June 10, 1942, in Edmonton, Alberta and was raised as a devout Baptist. 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, holding that position for 25 years.

While claiming that his father did not bring politics into the home, Preston nonetheless, grew up under the influence of Social Credit, which became a mixture of American conservatism and Christian fundamentalism, under his dad. Time magazine once referred to the Manning government as "the nearest approach to a theocracy in the Western Hemisphere." (2)

With his own brand of Baptist-fundamentalist evangelism, he blended religion and politics throughout his public career. "Religion isn't to be kept on a shelf and only taken down on Sundays" he would suggest. In every public speech, religion, not politics, was the dominant theme.

Throughout most of Ernest Manning's reign in Alberta, the province was run as a one-party state. We don't need an opposition," he once said. "They're just a hindrance to us. You don't hire a man to do a job and then hire another man to hinder him." (3) Yet, the "hindrance" is what helps to define democracy.

Preston Manning would say that his father was often distant and cold. John Barr in his book, The Dynasty, called him "intensely private — and very formal". He rarely made public appearances and never invited familiarity. Only a handful of people ever called him 'Ernest'. He was E.C. Manning, thank you very much.

His constituents would connect with their premier every Sunday on his Back to the Bible Hour, a tactic learned from his mentor "Bible Bill" Aberhart. For the first four years that Aberhart was in power, he never answered a question in the legislature. Instead he would write them down, and then deliver his responses over the airwaves.

Preston was raised in a similar fashion, cut off from all those not connected to school, family and church. Even at university, it was understood that he avoid relationships, except with those who thought as he did, which meant that he was out of step with the times. According to author Murray Dobbin:Conservative Movement in the House, and today trains young activists in the art of political guerrilla warfare.

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)
As Dobbin says, both father and son "had become socially and politically isolated from the changing mainstream of Canadian society." And when they wrote Political Realignment in 1967, it was actually a blueprint for the past.

This kind of semi-isolation, also impacted the views of Stephen Harper. Growing up in what his biographer, William Johnson, referred to as the "quintessential WASP middle-class suburb."  His childhood was spent with mostly white middle-class protestants, in a pre-designed community with little "through traffic".  It must have been quite a culture shock when he arrived at the University of Toronto, a multiculturalist delight.

He lasted two months.


When running as a Social Credit candidate, Preston Manning came to know David Wilson, a former fundraiser and strategist for the Social Credit party. Wilson had just been named director of a newly formed group, known as the National Public Affairs Research Foundation (NPARF), and hired young Manning as a 'policy researcher.'

According to Alf Hooke, Ernest Manning had been approached on several occasions, by a group of wealthy individuals, to establish a new conservative party in Canada, based on the principles of the Conservative movement in the United States. Instead Manning suggested that they simply take over Canada's Tory party, in the same way that the U.S. conservatives had taken over the Republican Party. In his book Political Realignment, which was a blueprint for what Manning called 'social conservatism', he states:
"... in the national field, the Social Credit party can make its maximum contribution to the furthering of its own ideals and principles and more importantly to the well being of the country as a whole, by doing everything within its power to encourage and assist in bringing about an effective reorganization of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. Social Credit supporters, however, must insist that reorganization occur on a basis which will enable them, without sacrificing their convictions, to join with and support such a reconstructed national political movement." (3)
NPARF* would fund the creation of the new policy direction. Columnist Don Sellar in the Calgary Herald on 21 July 1967, described the NPARF as "a somewhat secretive, staunchly right-wing, lobby group funded by several prominent businessmen, including R.A. Brown, president of Home Oil, Cyrus McLean, chairman of B.C. Telephone, Renault St Laurent, lawyer and son of the former prime minister, Ronald Clarke, an Edmonton architect, R.J. Burns, a Calgary lawyer, and A.M. Shoults, president of James Lovick Ltd. of Toronto, all of whom were close friends of the elder Manning." (6)

Preston Manning had become a fan of John Wesley (1703-1791), who had led the Methodists to 'Christian Perfection', tackling many social issues of the day. Those driving the social conservative agenda were concerned that Tommy Douglas, a follower of the social gospel, would lead many Christians into his fold, so they needed to have policy worded in such a way, that it appeared to be a holy endeavour.

Young Manning, a master of calculated ambiguity, drafted policy that looked liked FDR's New Deal, but smelled like a corporate takeover of vital social services.

His star was rising.

The Young Turks or "Whiz Kids"

Besides attempting a national takeover of the PC Party, Manning was also given the task of uniting the aging Social Credit Party of Alberta with the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta, under its new leader, Peter Lougheed. Erick Schmidt, another young man employed by NPARF, and Preston Manning, met with Lougheed's group, represented by Joe Clark and Merv Leitch (later energy minister in the Lougheed cabinet), on several occasions, "and eventually produced a draft plan for amalgamating the two parties under the banner of the Social Conservative party. The idea was quickly rejected, however, by officials both within the Manning government and the Lougheed camp." (6)

Undaunted, Preston and his friend Erick Schmidt, attended the 1967 national Conservative leadership Convention, to present their plans, and even put forward the idea of Ernest Manning as the leader of a new merged party.

However, Ernest Manning had over estimated his importance, and the idea was soundly rejected. Besides, with Stanfield being named the new leader, beating out Diefenbaker 271 votes to 519 on the first ballot (7), they knew the time wasn't right. Robert Stanfield was a Red Tory and the Mannings hated Red Tories as much as they hated Liberals. When Stephen Harper joined the movement decades later, he would call Red Tories 'Pink Liberals' and set about eradicating them from his Reform-Alliance caucus.

Preston Manning's young activists, known as the "Whiz Kids" or "Young Turks", may have failed in the 1960s to bring about the Republican style conservative party they were mandated to create, but he never lost hope.

He would just have to wait for that big wave of anger.


Many believe that the National Citizens Coalition was a spin-off of NPARF, though former president, David Somerville denied it.  However, given that Ernest Manning was an advisor to the NCC, the two share many of the same ideals. (8)


1. 30+5 I know, I was There, A first-hand account of the workings and history of the Social Credit Government in Alberta, Canada 1935-68, by Alfred J Hooke, Douglas Social Credit Secretariat

2. Texas of the North, Time Magazine, September 24, 1951

3. ibid

4. Preston Manning and the Reform Party, By Murray Dobbin Goodread Biographies/Formac Publishing 1992 ISBN: 0-88780-161-7, p. 21-22

5. Political Realignment: Challenge to Thoughtful Canadians, By Hon, E. C. Manning, McClelland & Stewart Limited, 1967, Kingston Public Library call no. 320.971 M31

6. Of Passionate Intensity: Right-Wing Populism and the Reform Party of Canada, By Trevor Harrison, University of Toronto Press, 1995. ISBN: 0-8020-7204-6, p. 33-38

7. Flora MacDonald, By Alvin Armstrong, J.M. Dent & Sons, 1976, ISBN: 0-460-91698-X. p. 102-104

8. Storming Babylon: Preston Manning and the Rise of the Reform Party, By Sydney Sharpe & Don Braid, Key Porter, 1992, ISBN: 1550134124, p. 65 

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