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Reform is in the house, the official opposition in 1997

A mere decade ago, a tiny band of Western conservative populists founded the Reform Party of Canada, vowing to attack government waste and perks. Now the official Opposition, the party has a mandate to shake establishment politics to its Ottawa core. Reform leader Preston Manning had joked that Stornoway, the Opposition leader's mansion, would be turned into a bingo hall to help pay down Canada's debt. But now he's signalling he may move in after all.

In this clip from CBC Television's The National, Reform MP Jason Kenney says most Canadians believe Manning should have "access" to the $2-million home and servants. But his colleague Jack Ramsey can't believe Manning and his wife would move into such a mansion "when one out of five children are living in poverty." The move, one Calgarian says, would make Manning look "like every other politician."
• The day after this report was broadcast, Preston Manning announced that he would indeed move into Stornoway. He said he made the difficult choice at the urging of members of his party and the public, who didn't want him to show disrespect for the position of Opposition leader. "We changed our mind on this because we genuinely believed the public changed their mind on it," Manning told reporters.

• In May 1997, Manning famously said of Stornoway: "We would suggest maybe we get a hold of it and use it as a bingo hall and apply the proceeds to the national debt." On June 6, 1997, four days after the election, Manning was adamant he would continue living in an Ottawa hotel. "My wife and I feel that Stornoway's way too extravagant for us. We've never lived in a place like that and it's an enormous cost to taxpayers."

• In a 1998 interview with the National Post at Stornoway, Manning said he "probably shouldn't have said it should be turned into a bingo hall." His wife Sandra added: "We didn't fully appreciate at the time the significance of this home. It was uninformed." Despite the regret, Manning stressed that he did not approve any extra expense for renovation or refurbishment. "We have an arms' length relationship with this house," he said.

• The Reform party platform for the 1997 election included $15 billion in spending cuts, tax cuts of $2,000 for the average four-member family by 2000, a balanced federal budget, the end of official bilingualism and multicultural programs, a crackdown on illegal immigrants and a hardline stance at the negotiating table if Quebecers opt for sovereignty.

• Reform won 60 of 301 seats in the 1997 election but failed to elect any members east of Manitoba. It had achieved remarkable growth as a protest party and influenced public policy, especially deficit elimination. It was not as successful, however, working within the system as the Opposition. Reform ceased to exist in March 2000, making way for the Canadian Alliance and then the Conservative Party of Canada led by Stephen Harper.

• Stornoway is located at 541 Acacia Ave. in the village of Rockcliffe Park, home to many embassies and grand homes. The 34-room mansion was built from 1913 to 1914 for Ascanio J. Major, an Ottawa grocer. It has eight bedrooms, five bathrooms and extensive grounds. Stornoway comes with three servants — a house administrator, a chef and a chauffeur.

• Stornoway has housed Opposition leaders since it was bought by a private trust in 1950. The federal government bought it in 1970. It sat empty from 1993 until 1997 because Lucien Bouchard of the Bloc Québécois opted instead to stay in a hotel in Quebec across the river from Ottawa. Conservative leader Robert Stanfield lived there a record nine years. A young Catherine Clark, daughter of Joe, sometimes stood on a pillar pretending to be a statue when tour buses drove by.

• As well as the house, Manning accepted a car and almost $50,000 in extra salary as Opposition leader. MPs from other parties often used Manning's Stornoway flip-flop and acceptance of the other perks to criticize the Reform leader during Question Period. A handful of Reform MPs endured similar accusations of hypocrisy after opting back into a generous pension plan for parliamentarians they had harshly criticized for years. Manning stayed out of the plan.

• The federal government maintains seven official residences including Stornoway. All are in the Ottawa area except the Governor General's secondary residence at The Citadel in Quebec City. The other homes are: the prime minister's mansion at 24 Sussex Dr., the prime minister's cottage at Harrington Lake; the governor general's residence at Rideau Hall; The Farm where the Speaker of the House of Commons lives; and Rideau Gate for international guests of Canada.
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: June 19, 1997
Guest(s): Deborah Grey, Jason Kenney, Preston Manning, Jack Ramsey
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Saša Petricic
Duration: 3:05

Last updated: January 31, 2012

Page consulted on August 21, 2012

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