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Preston Manning: Preaching Populism in the Heartland

December 04, 1990|MARY WILLIAMS WALSH

The man who has channeled western Canadian disaffection into Canada's fastest-growing political party is Preston Manning, 48, the son of a prairie populist who governed the province of Alberta for a record 25 years.

Manning grew up on a 70-Holstein dairy farm, read the Bible assiduously, studied economics at the University of Alberta and watched from the ringside as his father, the famous Ernest Manning, governed. The elder Manning had made a name for himself on western Canada's "Back to the Bible Hour" radio show; his political organization, the Social Credit Party, was a conservative, religious, populist movement originally formed around the free-credit principles of an obscure English engineer.

As a young man, Preston Manning realized he shared much of his father's faith and conservatism and felt tempted to follow him into Social Credit politics. But by the time young Manning was old enough to make a difference, the so-called SoCreds were on the ropes in Alberta. Rather than join the big-time Liberals or Progressive Conservatives, he decided to wait until the time was right to organize a new movement.

While he waited, Manning ran a business-consulting firm, serving up economic advice to top Canadian companies with interests in Alberta. In the mid-1980s he helped organize a Vancouver meeting of alienated western Canadians, which eventually led to the creation of the Reform Party. He was elected party leader at the Reformists' founding convention, in 1987.

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