Manning Centre to change its name as founder Preston Manning announces retirement

Former Reform Party leader Preston Manning has announced his retirement from the political think tank and advocacy group he founded in 2005.
Preston Manning speaks at the opening of the Manning Centre conference in Ottawa in 2017. The former Reform Party leader will be stepping away from the centre this year. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Former Reform Party leader Preston Manning has announced his retirement from the political think tank and advocacy group that bears his name.

It won't have his name for much longer: the Manning Centre for Building Democracy has announced a rebranding effort for the the organization and the high-profile conferences it organizes.

Manning Centre president Troy Lanigan told CBC News that the 78-year-old former MP, who founded the organization in 2005, is leaving the centre behind so he can spend more time with his family.

Lanigan said the centre is changing its name because Manning himself believes that will leave it free to chart its own course.

"He feels too many things are named after politicians and doesn't feel he needs that legacy," said Lanigan. "Its legacy is its mission."

Lanigan said the centre will continue to pursue the mission that Manning set out to accomplish, which he described as "breaking down silos and getting conservatives to work together and work strategically to create opportunities for success." 

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CBC News has been unable to reach Manning, who is vacationing in Australia.

Former Reform MP and Conservative cabinet minister Chuck Strahl told CBC News that before the Manning Centre came along, conservatives from different provincial parties seldom met with their federal counterparts, or each other, to exchange ideas and propose policy initiatives.

"It's kind of easy to forget that there wasn't a networking opportunity for what Preston always called the 'conservative movement,' as opposed to political parties," Strahl said.

"Preston is of the opinion that the conservative movement benefits from getting together, in all of its facets, and without having the party hierarchy managing it or overlooking it. This was the best way to get the best conservative ideas."

A long goodbye

Manning will step back from the centre's work over the coming year, said Lanigan, adding that Manning himself will address his decision during the promotional tour for his coming book.

The centre has launched a survey to solicit supporters for ideas for a new name.

Strahl said that, no matter what name it ends up with, he hopes the centre will continue to provide a venue where conservative ideas can be discussed and debated.

"It's a better idea to get together and talk about things in a safe place rather than wait until there's a crisis of some sort," he said.

"It doesn't always come off perfectly but at least there's a place to do it. And I think there will be, regardless of what name it's given going forward."

Former Conservative minister of transport, infrastructure and communities Chuck Strahl says Preston Manning gave Conservatives a "safe place" to exchange ideas and discuss policy. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Manning was the founder and sole leader of the Reform Party, which later became the Canadian Alliance before merging with the Progressive Conservatives to form the current Conservative Party of Canada.

Manning served as the MP for Calgary Southwest from 1993 until 2002, and as leader of the Official Opposition from 1997 to 2000.

Manning started the Manning Centre after leaving the House of Commons. The centre organizes the annual Manning Networking Conference, now entering its 12th year.

The Manning Centre has made donations to registered third parties such as Canada Strong and Proud, which was linked to a number of robocalls and text messages sent out in June asking Canadians about their voting intentions and their position on pipelines.

Some complained that they received the calls without having given permission for political advocacy groups to contact them.

The group got at least $240,000 from the Manning Centre during the last federal election campaign for a series of anti-Trudeau and anti-Liberal campaign ads.

The Manning Centre also gave $4,500 to Newfoundland and Labrador Strong and another $11,200 to Nova Scotia Strong, according to Elections Canada.

The full financial returns for third party groups will not be due at Elections Canada until next month.

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