The Harper Index

Manning's appointment to science board fraught with ironies

Reform party founder mentored Harper only to be undermined by him – a pattern that would repeat itself.

Reform party founder mentored Harper only to be undermined by him.OTTAWA, July 25, 2008: Earlier this month, on a summer Friday afternoon, Stephen Harper appointed his former boss, Reform Party founder Preston Manning, to Canada's science advisory panel.

With Parliament adjourned and the opposition and media corps mostly away, little mention was made of the irony of appointing a religious fundamentalist and career politico with a BA in economics to the Council of Canadian Academies. The mandate of the group is to provide an "independent, expert assessment of the science underlying pressing issues and matters of public interest." Its goal of building "public confidence that policy and regulatory decisions are being based on broadly accepted scientific knowledge and evidence" conflicts with Manning's own conservative religious views.

Another potential irony in the appointment is the long-term unease, if not hostility, that has existed between the two since Harper deserted Manning's Caucus suddenly in 1997, as this previously-published backgrounder indicates:

Preston Manning hired Stephen Harper in 1987 to work for the Reform Party but Harper was to betray his mentor on numerous occasions. Manning was still recovering from his Harper-inflicted wounds as recently as 2002, when he wrote a book called Think Big: My Adventures in Life and Democracy. In it, he describes Harper as elitist and disloyal, an opportunist and a quitter.

In 1987, Manning recruited Harper, then a University of Calgary economics student, to become Reform's chief policy officer. Harper played a major role in drafting the 1988 election platform. He also ran in that year's election and lost. Reform did not win any seats but Deborah Grey soon became the party's first MP in a by-election and Harper became her legislative assistant in Ottawa.

In 1992, Harper clashed with Manning over the Charlottetown Accord. Manning writes in his book that he expected to oppose the accord but that first he wanted to consult the Reform Party membership. Harper and his close associate Tom Flanagan, a University of Calgary professor who doubled as a key Reform policy advisor, demanded that Manning announce his opposition immediately. [p 47]

"It would not be the first time that Tom and Stephen and I would differ on the extent to which we should involve the grassroots of the party in decision making," Manning writes. [p 48-49] He says that both Harper and Flanagan exhibited a "dislike and mistrust" of Reform's populist dimension. "At this point, I did not fully appreciate that while Stephen was a strong Reformer with respect to our economic, fiscal and constitutional positions, he had serious reservations about Reform's and my belief in the value of grassroots consultation and participation in key decisions..." [p 48-49]

In July 1993, Manning and other Reformers were engaged in a two-day meeting to plan for the upcoming federal election. He had another contretemps with Harper and Flanagan, which he describes as "a dark cloud" hanging over the session. [p 73] He says that Harper and Flanagan wanted to run a campaign focusing resources and activity on Western Canada. Manning wanted to run a national campaign, and says that is what Reform Party members had resolved to do at their previous convention.

These disagreements also centred upon Rick Anderson, Manning's choice for campaign director. Harper and Flanagan were adamantly opposed to the appointment. Manning writes that they had never forgiven Anderson, an Ottawa-based communications consultant, for supporting the Charlottetown Accord. But Manning believes Harper's antipathy to Anderson had a "deeper" origin. "Stephen had difficulty accepting that there might be a few other people (not many, perhaps, but a few) who were as smart as he was with respect to policy and strategy. And Stephen, at this point, was not really prepared to be a team player or team builder." [p 74]

Manning accuses Harper of taking his discontent to the media, something Harper was also to do on future occasions. [p 74] Tom Flanagan, by his own admission, also contacted journalists to criticize Anderson's appointment and he even sent Manning a faxed memo insisting that he would retain the right to vent further criticism. Manning then fired him from his position as a policy advisor. [Waiting for the Wave, p viii, 133]

Harper had already quit as Reform's chief policy officer in 1992, but he remained a candidate in the next election. Manning writes: "He withdrew from the national campaign effort to work almost exclusively on his personal campaign for election in Calgary West." Manning adds that the loss of a key player "was a blow to our overall campaign effort, and it put more of a burden on those who had to fill the gap left by his withdrawal." [p 74]

Reform won 52 seats in 1993. Harper was elected in Calgary West. Several months later, in April 1994, he and other caucus members went public with criticisms about Manning's use of a personal expense account provided by the Reform Party for its leader. Manning used some of the money to enhance his wardrobe and his appearance. (As Prime Minister, Harper now has a make-up artist and image consultant, apparently on the public payroll).

In his book, Manning was still smarting over what he called Harper's "machinations." [p 262] He says that he expected attacks from his political opponents, "but the ones that affected us most as a family, were the ones that came from internal sources." [p 261] Manning says that Harper attacked Sandra Manning as well as her husband, then "professed not to know what all the fuss was about, saying that he was being 'unfairly accused'." [p 262]

In 1996, Manning and other Reformers were laying the groundwork for another election when Harper let the side down again. "Stephen Harper had gloomily concluded that we were gong nowhere and would likely lose badly in the next election," Manning writes. "Rather than pitching in to help turn things around, Stephen again chose to withdraw. This was now the third time that Stephen had vacated the field prior to a big battle — the first time when he retreated from our Charlottetown Accord campaign, and the second time when he withdrew from the 1993 national election campaign to concentrate solely on his own riding." [p 146]

Harper chose to resign his seat as an MP in January 1997, six months prior to the election. Manning writes: "The media predictably interpreted this as yet another sign that Reform was in decline, which made it even more difficult to energize the pre-election campaign." Harper was soon named as vice-president, and later president of the secretive and right swing National Citizens' Coalition.

When the election campaign moved into full swing in May 1997, Manning says, Reform came under public attack "from within". He says Harper, Flanagan and others told journalists that the party would fail and that Manning was a liability. [p 161] Of Harper and the others, Manning writes: "Why people who professed to be supportive of the principles of Reform would provide comments disparaging its election efforts, at the very time when grassroots Reformers were working their hearts out to make the campaign launch a success, was beyond me." [p 161]

Officially, Harper sat on the political sidelines between 1997 and 2002. The people who spin for him claim that he was reluctant to return to politics. That explanation is belied by his behaviour in repeatedly slipping the political knife between his leader's ribs. Manning was later defeated by Stockwell Day in the leadership race for the new Canadian Alliance party. Day flopped as a leader and in 2002 Harper defeated him in yet another leadership race. Harper then contested a by-election in Calgary Southwest. Ironically, the seat was vacant because of the retirement of Preston Manning — Harper's one-time benefactor and mentor, and the most frequent target of his betrayals.

Related individuals, organizations and significant events
CBC has been a Reform-Alliance-Conservative target for years
Reform Party

Harper Conservative vs. Public Values Frame
  Traditional values / Disloyalty, expediency
  Sitting on the political sidelines / Waiting for opportunity
  Intelligence / Arrogance
  Ego / Teamwork

Links and sources
  Waiting for the Wave: The Reform Party and Preston Manning, Tom Flanagan, Stoddart: Toronto, 2005
  Think Big: My Adventures in Life and Democracy, Preston Manning, McClelland & Stewart: Toronto, 2002

Posted: May 14, 2007

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