Manning gambles with Reform's future

Reform party Leader Preston Manning asked party members Wednesday to take a chance. He urged them to follow him to the United Alternative and leave the Reform party behind.

Manning has put his political future on the line over the United Alternative movement.

He announced last week he would resign as leader if Reform members didn't throw their support behind the new movement.

Manning believes United Alternative is his best effort to create a new and more inclusive national political party that could win enough votes to defeat the governing Liberals.

"I'm going to get out of this foxhole and run up the hill," he said at a news conference in Calgary. "Now I'm hoping that there's a bunch of other people that are going to come with me."

But critics say Manning's drive to create a new party is destroying the old one.

"I would call this the end game of Preston Manning and the Reform party," said Tom Flanagan, a political scientist at the University of Calgary.

"After what he has done the last few days, it's clear the party will cease to exist in its present form."

But predictions of the party's demise haven't stopped Reform MPs from expressing interest in taking over the leadership if Manning resigns.

Reform MP Dick Harris announced on Tuesday that he was interested. Now, Lee Morrison, another Reform MP, will declare his intentions to run for the party leadership next week and former Reform MP Jake Hoeppner has announced he's running.

Hoeppner, expelled from the party for his opposition to the United Alternative, is calling in an open letter for Reform members to take away Manning's membership for turning his back on the party he created.

For his part, Manning says he doesn't believe the naysayers who predict the demise of the Reform party. "It's the end of a chapter, but not the end of the book. I suggest it will be a happy ending for Reformers."