Preston Manning believes faith is necessary in an ethical society and should be part of public life
By Nathan Rumohr
The B.C. Catholic
Unethical democracy concerns former Reform Party leader Preston Manning. The man credited with reviving conservatism in the country said Canadians suffer from a lack of real political education and a lack of faith in the public square.
"People of faith should be involved in the political process," Manning told The B.C. Catholic in a recent interview. "Jesus sent out His disciples to do public work."
Manning said people talk about faith only in general terms, and try to ignore it when it comes to public policy. "The biggest difficulty is legitimizing faith in the political arena."
The lack of faith combined with an unethical political system prompted Manning to start the Manning Centre for Building a Better Democracy in 2005. The think tank and training centre serves to advance a free and democratic Canada through the minds of political entrepreneurs. The centre is based on the conservative values of individual freedoms, religious tolerance, and strong families.
"The country would be raised better if people were better educated in the political system," Manning said. He noted that his institution isn't just about winning elections but about allowing politicians to uphold their morals and values once in parliament.
Manning was born into a life of faith and politics in 1942. His father Ernest Manning was a devout Baptist who became the premier of Alberta in 1943.
Before that the elder Manning worked under another former Alberta premier, William Aberhart, who started the Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute. Manning said his father was captivated by Aberhart's radio program "Back to the Bible Hour."
The younger Manning said as a young man he wasn't quite as captivated by the Christian message as his father. "Like many young Christians I questioned my faith."
He said he wrestled with making faith "his own." But it was his quest to unite faith and politics pushed him to become involved in the public square.
Manning graduated from the University of Alberta in 1965. He then ran unsuccessfully as a Social Credit candidate in that year's federal election. He went on to work for the National Public Affairs Research Foundation, a conservative think tank, and established Manning Consultants Ltd. in 1968 with his father.
It was in 1987 that Manning made his mark as a politician, establishing the Reform Party, which joined disillusioned conservatives who were unhappy with the Progressive Conservative Government under Brian Mulroney.
Reform brought together people who held social conservatism in high regard. "Politicians should be comfortable using religion with constituents," Manning said.
Manning led Reform to become the official opposition in 1997, but retired from politics in 2002 after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Now working as a political mentor, Manning is still turned to by the media and politicians for his opinion on political matters. One of those matters he has paid attention to is abortion.
"The abortion issue is being reframed with the advances in genetics and medical science," he said.
In 2009 Manning told a pro-life gathering at the Signal Hill Focus on Life Fundraiser that the pro-life strategy must incorporate more than a moral position.
He compared the pro-life movement to the slavery abolitionists led by William Wilberforce. He said the abolitionists used the moral high ground with little success. It was when the anti-slavery advocates began to show the horrors of slavery that the public became aware of the wrong.
"As soon as both sides operate in a different framework on debating abortion the issue will move forward," Manning said.