When the Reform Party was still getting used to the spotlight

Five months after an election that boosted their numbers and status, the Reform Party was still not entirely comfortable in the House of Commons.

Their seat count jumped from one to 52, and that took some getting used to

Despite becoming the official opposition in the 1993 election, members of the Reform Party still saw themselves as outsiders on Parliament Hill. 2:52

After seven years on the outside, it was hard for members of the Reform Party of Canada to get used to their new place as insiders.

Founded in Calgary in 1987, the party had achieved its greatest electoral success to date, winning 52 seats in Alberta and B.C. in the 1993 election that almost wiped the Tories from the House.   

"Reform MPs make a point of doing things differently," said the CBC's Saša Petricic, reporting on March 20, 1994. "Raising questions that are sometimes taboo, about immigration or the governor general, for instance."

Questions in the House were inspired by what came in over the fax machine at the party's offices, and members used their allotted time to push for changes in how the country was governed. 

Examples included "introducing a code of ethics for MPs" and "asking for more referendums."

Politeness mattered

Reform Party Leader Preston Manning holds up a Party leaflet to make a point during a question and answer session following his speech at a rally in Smiths Falls, Ontario on Oct. 2, 1993. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

Another difference was Reform's determination to keep the debate polite.

The party would send a list of their upcoming questions in the House to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, to give him more time to review them with his advisors.

"When they send us their questions in advance, they'll certainly get better answers," Chrétien said, in French.

Reform Party Leader Preston Manning and wife Sandra wade through supporters on Oct. 25, 1993 after winning 53 seats for the Reform. (Dave Buston/Canadian Press)

Even Sandra Manning, wife of Reform leader Preston Manning, thought he could stand to be more forceful.

"I guess I'd like to see him just a little more aggressive," she told an interviewer.

Preston Manning agreed his wife was the "feisty" one in the family, but it just wasn't his style.

"I can't manufacture false emotion," he said in a parliamentary scrum.

Needs more strategy

MP Stephen Harper said the party needed to bring up questions "at the right time, with the right intensity, and with the right degree of pursuit and coordination." (Sunday Report/CBC Archives)

MP Stephen Harper said Reform had yet to finesse its approach.

"The party ... has been successful at getting a new style," he said. "But it's not been successful at being really strategic with that style."

"Reform insists ... it will keep on playing the role of political outsider," summed up Petricic. "Polls show that despite its lack of experience or spark, the party has retained its election support.

"But the challenge will be to build on that."

The Reform Party boosted its numbers in the 1997 election that followed, becoming the Official Opposition.