Preston Manning, farewell, January 2001

Reform Party founder Preston Manning's 2001 farewell speech in the House of Commons.

Preston Manning, son of former Alberta Premier Ernest Manning, founded the Reform Party of Canada in 1987. It was a political vehicle of neo-conservatism and Western Canadian protest and it grew rapidly, forming the official opposition in 1997. Reform could not break out of its Western bastion, and in 2000 it reorganized as the Canadian Alliance. Manning lost the leadership contest to Stockwell Day but remained in parliament until his retirement in January 2002. This is his farewell speech.

“People in western Canada decided to change the national agenda”

Mr Speaker, it was almost 15 years ago that a small group of people in western Canada decided that we would try to change the national agenda by using the tools that democracy gives to every citizen: freedom of speech, freedom of association, and the opportunity to try to convince fellow citizens to support a political program.

In our case, as members know, we used those tools to advance on the national agenda such ideas as debt reduction, budget balancing and tax relief, and also to demand a greater clarity and rigour on the part of the federal government with respect to secession and the revitalization of federalism.

Other Canadians and other members of the House may have different concerns and aspirations. We all do. I would hope that the experience of the Reform Party would inspire democrats in every party and in every part of the country to believe more passionately and actively in the tools and ideology of democracy itself.

That ideology and those tools still constitute the best way in my judgment to change the country. I trust that our activities will inspire people . . .

Quebec and the west

In Canada, two great regions have always supported political innovation by creating new parties and by calling for systemic changes to our federal state. These two regions are Quebec and western Canada.

In Quebec, there was the Bloc populaire, the Union nationale, the Ralliement des créditistes, the Parti québécois and the Action démocratique. In western Canada, we had Riel, the autonomy movements, the Progressive Party and the parties that were born during the depression, the Social Credit and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, which later became the New Democratic Party.

This trend reappeared in the 1990s with the birth of the Bloc Quebecois in Quebec and the Reform Party in the west. Each has a platform that calls for fundamental changes. However, our platforms are so different that we were unable to work together.

I hope the next generation of agents of change in Quebec and in western Canada will have better luck and will be able to form strategic alliances and to implement the reforms that are essential to revitalize the federation for the benefit of all Canadians . . .

A little scouting

Several years ago, I was going back to Calgary on a Saturday morning flight and I sat beside a gentleman who introduced himself as Jerry Potts, Jr. He was a direct descendent of the original Jerry Potts, the great Metis scout who provided indispensable guidance to the early North-West Mounted Police when they brought peace, order and good government to the western frontier.

The more unfamiliar the territory and the more uncertain the future, the more crucial is the function of the scout, the person who will ride out ahead of the main company, study the weather and the signs of the trail, carefully note the dangers and the opportunities that lie ahead and then come back to the main company and try to help it make the right decision as to which path to take.

Once I am clear of my political responsibilities and my constituency responsibilities, I intend to do a little scouting on the frontiers of the 21st century, just as Jerry Potts scouted the last great frontier, the 19th.

Dangers ahead

Like many members, I sense dangers up ahead, dangers for Canada and Canadians, and want to explore the best paths for avoiding them or diffusing them.

Internationally, of course, we know there is the threat of terrorism and war in the Middle East and in Asia. What is the best path for peacekeepers, under those circumstances and on those frontiers?

Closer to home, there is the declining confidence of the Canadian public in the Canadian dollar. What is the course of action that preserves sovereignty in the face of globalization and perhaps a single North American or even hemispheric currency?

Even closer yet to home, to this House, 15% fewer Canadians voted in election 2000 than voted in the 1988 federal election. By what means do we restore the faith of Canadians in parliamentary democracy itself ? It affects us all; it is beyond a particular party.

New frontiers

Like many members, I also sense great opportunities ahead and want to explore the best paths for capturing them for Canada and Canadians. The frontiers of the knowledge and information economy are as vast and as exciting as those of the frontiers of the old west. What kinds of educational reforms and science policies would enable Canada to advance on that frontier?

There is now a public appetite, at long last, for health care reform. There is action on that front by the provinces. By what path will the new balance between federal and provincial or public and private resources in health care be achieved?

We are conscious of this in our own family, and many members are also, that a new generation of young people have grown up with as deep a commitment to environmental conservation as many of us in our generation had to economic development. What is the course of action that strikes the balance between the two?

These are some of the frontiers that I intend to scout, in the company of others like-minded, in the days ahead. As one scout who is somewhat familiar with the interests and capabilities of this unique company, if I see or hear something that may help members in parliament to deal with those challenges, everyone can be sure that I will let them know.

Ethical and spiritual issues

Finally, one of the signs that a democracy has fully matured is when it is able to wisely handle not only the social or economic or environmental or administrative dimensions of the public interest, but the ethical and spiritual dimensions as well . . .

While it is a mistake to see moral issues where they do not in fact exist, I suggest it is an even greater mistake to fail to see them when they do actually arise.

Responsible leadership in such circumstances will require parliamentarians to engage in those types of issues honestly, openly, respectfully and cautiously but to engage nonetheless. Again I wish this House the courage and wisdom required to venture forward on that frontier.

Lincoln’s prayer

In the spirit of the necessity to express ourselves openly on matters of faith and morality, I leave members with my favourite prayer by a 19th century statesman and democrat [Abraham Lincoln] who wrestled long and hard with these types of issues and which he gave on the occasion of his departure from his political friends:

Trusting in Him who can go with me and remain with you and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.


Canada. Parliament. House of Commons. Debates, 37th Parliament, 1st Session, January 31, 2002.  

More information

The Canadian Encyclopedia: Preston Manning


Manning Institute

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