The Weekly

'Stop looking for the Messiah': Preston Manning on the future of the Conservative Party

As the Conservative Party rebuilds and seeks a new leader, Preston Manning urges fellow conservatives not to seek out a single saviour but to develop a competent team with a range of skills. And to be careful with social media.

Manning urges his party to seek out a competent team and be careful with social media

Manning joined CBC's Nil Koksal on The Weekly to talk about the future of the Conservative Party. 5:57

Thursday marks the last day politicians will be able to enter the Conservative leadership race. So far, four candidates are in the running: Peter MacKay, Marilyn Gladu, Leslyn Lewis, and Erin O'Toole.

The leadership contest comes at a pivotal time for Conservatives. The party is rebuilding, after last fall's election. Conservatives dominated in Western Canada, but couldn't win enough support in the Greater Toronto Area or in Atlantic Canada. Now there's a lot of talk about change and who is going to lead them in a new direction.

Preston Manning, who founded the Reform Party in 1987, says the next generation of Conservative voters shouldn't look for an ideal candidate, but rather focus on who can build a "competent" team.

"The sooner the political establishment figures that out and stops looking for the Messiah and look for the team — whatever party does that best, is going to be best," said Manning on The Weekly. 

Manning spoke with Nil Köksal on The Weekly Sunday just ahead of the release of his second book Do Something!

Let's start with the nastiness and polarization you write about. One of the candidates for the Conservative leadership Peter MacKay has had to delete a tweet recently. It seemed to support some vigilante response to the blockades. In another tweet he referred to some protesters as 'thugs'. What does that suggest to you?

I think this business of instantly replying to everything is dangerous. You know, I've written up op-eds, I've given speeches, and I've made it a habit when I get it all done,and I think I've got it right, and I've even got the lines for you, I set it aside for a day and come back to it. In a social media world, people don't do that. They just instantly react to whatever is being said. And I actually think that's dangerous for a politician.

But my worry is that this chattering on social media has become a substitute for doing anything. So I say, particularly to young people, this is fine, involve yourself in the social media, say a lot, listen a lot, complain a lot, tweet a lot, blog a lot, but at the end of the day, decide are you going to do anything about what you've just been dealing with in the social media?

What do you specifically think people should be doing on social media differently? By people, I mean politicians.

I guess the challenge is like any technology is try to stress the positive and suppress the negative. I've been involved in candidate recruitment almost my entire life and one of the most disturbing things right now is, if you try and get some substantive person that's got a lot to contribute ... the biggest single reason they give now for not even considering candidacy is 'I will not subject myself, or more often than not, my partner or my family to the abuse that I know I'm going to get through the social media.' So I think we have to address that fewer and fewer ethical, competent people are going to even put their foot in the water. 

You've talked a lot in your career about the importance of addressing environmental concerns and climate change. But Lisa Raitt said she lost her seat in the last election because voters told her they didn't think the Conservatives had a strong enough platform. Why is that still such an open question for the party?

I do think Conservatives have to have a stronger position on environmental protection and I don't see anything philosophically incompatible with conservatism and the environment. Conservation and conservatism come from the same root. Every economic activity has environmental consequences ... some of them are bad. You can try to fix the bad ones by massive government intervention in the economy, macro-regulation, micro-regulation, policy on top of policy. That's one approach, basically the approach the current government has taken. Or, you can say for every negative environmental impact, we're going to figure out what you got to do to avoid or mitigate it and we're going to include the cost of the mitigative measures in the price of the service or the products and the people that are using it pay for the environmental protection.

Why do you think it's not happening? There were so many questions throughout the last campaign, it still seems to be a stumbling block.

The biggest problem is that the science that is connected with the environmental conservation has been primarily championed in the political arena by liberals and socialists for whom Conservatives do not have a very high regard and what they're really reacting to is the political champions of that science, not really the science.

What's the ideal candidate for the Conservatives right now in this time in Canada?

Well I do think it's someone that can reconcile some of these big conflicting interests many of which have been aggravated by the policies and the lack of action by the current government.

How confident are you that they're going to make the right choice?

Well, I hope for the best. It's not an easy thing. This idea that there's some miraculous leader that will appeal to every region of the country and every sector of the electorate and be a super communicator and a lawmaker and a policy-maker and a decision-maker. There is no such leader like that. What you can get is someone with competence in one or two or three areas and they've got to build a team around them that have those other components. I think the sooner the political establishment figures that out and stops looking for the Messiah and looks for the team — whatever party does that best is going to be best.

This interview has been condensed. Full interview can be found in the clip.

About the Author

Ania Bessonov works as a reporter in Toronto and as a producer on CBC's The Weekly with Wendy Mesley.