The Current

Populism can be positive and constructive — even when fuelled by anger, says Preston Manning

As the founder of two federal political parties — both of which became the official opposition — Preston Manning has been called the godfather of Canadian conservatism. He talks to Anna Maria Tremonti about his history with the movement, and what he thinks of the political landscape today.

Potential coalition of conservative provincial governments could be 'a powerful political force'

As the founder of two federal political parties — both of which became the official opposition — Preston Manning has been called the godfather of Canadian conservatism. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
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Preston Manning says the recent wave of conservative victories across the provinces could put the country on a positive and productive track — anger and all.

"I think that there is a potential coalition among the now six Conservative provincial governments … That's quite a powerful political force," Manning, told Anna Maria Tremonti on The Current.

He characterized some of the recent wins, including Doug Ford in Ontario and Jason Kenney in Alberta, as riding a wave of populism — a term that is often associated with an ideological clash between everyday citizens and groups identified as the elite.

"While there is anger and energy there, it can be turned towards positive objectives and I think that should be the objective of any leadership during a populist era," Manning explained.

"I think the challenge here is to listen to those people. Why are they mad? Why are they angry? They're not unreasonable. Then, try to channel that into 'okay, there's things that can be done to fix that,' rather than tear everything apart."

Populist movement gave women the vote, says Manning

Manning provided the example of the Progressive Party, a centre-left party that formed in 1920 with the support of farmers who were angry at high tariffs imposed by the federal government.

"They turned that anger into support for freight rate reform, for freer trade, and they are the ones that got women the vote. That came up through a populist movement," he said.

"The first woman Member of Parliament was — well, she was no Liberal. She wasn't a Conservative. She was a member of the Progressive Party of Canada."

Listen to Manning discuss with Anna Maria Tremonti why he's concerned about the role of "identity politics" in federal politics today:

Preston Manning, who founded of two federal political parties which contributed to the creation of today's Conservative Party of Canada, explains why he's concerned about the role if identity politics in the country's federal government. 3:36

Manning, now retired from politics, himself rode a wave of populist discontent as the founder and leader of the Reform Party of Canada in 1987, becoming leader of the opposition.

The party was renamed the Canadian Alliance in 2000. After Manning resigned, Stephen Harper led the Alliance in a merger with the Progressive Conservatives, creating today's Conservative Party of Canada.

Preston Manning pauses in front of a Reform Party of Canada sign during a news conference in Ottawa on Nov. 27, 1991. (Ron PolingéCanadian Press)

He hopes the growing slate of provincial conservative governments — including the recent victory of Dennis King's Progressive Conservatives in P.E.I. — will continue the trend of constructive populism.

"I think they'll use some of it to oppose some of the things that the federal government's doing. But my hope is … there's some positive and constructive things they can unite to do as well," he said.

"So I think they'll be more than just an opposition. I think they'll offer alternatives on some of the national issues to what the federal Liberals have."

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

Produced by Idella Sturino.

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