At the 400 Club In the heart of downtown Calgary, the mood was upbeat at last week’s post-election get-together between Preston Manning and Reform party workers from his Calgary Southwest riding.
Before the festivities, Manning spoke to Maclean’s Acting Calgary Bureau Chief Dale Eisler. Excerpts:
Maclean’s: You have said that Reform, as the officiai Opposition, will function as a voice for all regions. Does that mean you will adjust your positions to reflect the nation, not just the West?
Manning: I contrast our position with that taken by the Bloc as the last Opposition. They were not interested in anything going on outside Quebec. We will take a more national attitude where, if there are concerns in other parts of the country, it’s our intent to represent them.
Maclean’s: Other regions of the country don't share your view on national unity How do you reflect that reality if you propose to be more than a voice of the West?
Manning: We represent the general view that people want the country united and they want Quebec to remain part of Canada. The West has some distinctive things to say on the subject. In the 21st century, this country will be united on the basis of equality of citizens and provinces or it is unlikely to be united at all. That is the unique contribution we want to make to the national unity debate. The option coming from the three old-line
parties, that granting special status to some will unify the country, has proven divisive. It’s also proven inadequate to beat the separatists in a referendum. The principle alternative isthisequality of citizens and provinces, giving to provinces a bundle of powers to develop their distinctive features.
Maclean’s: How will you make inroads in Ontario, and why did Reform fail to break through in that province?
Manning: A combination of things—the splitting of the right-wing vote, and the efforts of the traditional parties to scare voters away from this newer position on unity—decreased support. But we got a very strong mandate from the West to push some very basic ideas that are bigger than the West. No traditional party that wants to re-establish itself in the West can ignore those ideas. And by being official Opposition we have a broader stage to present our ideas to central Canada directly, not filtered through secondary sources. Maclean’s: Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard says that Reform becoming official Opposition will force Quebec out of Confederation. In effect, he says you are the separatists’ best ally. How do you respond?
Manning: First of all, the separatists have told Quebecers there’s no demand for change in the federation outside Quebec, which is 100-per-cent false. The second thing is, Bouchard never tells Quebec what Reform is proposing: power to preserve and develop the unique features of the provinces’ own economies and societies. Bouchard knows if Quebecers understood the demand there is for reform outside of Quebec, and
the nature of that demand, it could be an attractive option. The key is the emergence of a significant number of Quebecers searching for a third way, and getting tired of this polarization between federalism the way it is, and separation.
If you try to base the definition of the country on the old model, it’s like a foundation that won’t be able to hold the house in the 21st century. I don’t know how you go to a population that is more than 50 per cent neither French nor English and still base your constitutional framework on that model. You’re going to alienate over half your population. So I think time is on the side of equality of provinces.
Maclean’s: What are the key issues you intend to push as the Opposition?
Manning: Get the books balanced faster so we can get to benefits sooner—we don’t think the country is going to see strong growth and job creation until it gets more money into the pockets of consumers. On unity, we'll press not to just keep the country together, but to unite the country. And the third thing is parliamentary reforms, particularly freer votes.
Maclean’s: Do people outside Western Canada have a distorted view of you? Manning: I think so. It’s got to do with the central Canadian media treatment and the traditional parties. They call you every name under the sun—racist, extremist, traitors to Canada—and this is picked up and magnified a thousandfold. The only thing I suggest to people in the rest of Canada to reflect on is, I’m the most popular in the province that knows me the best. Chrétien is least popular in the province that knows him the best. People ought to think about what that means both ways.
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