During last weekend’s Manning Conference in Ottawa, I had the opportunity to sit down with a man who has spent nearly all his life involved in conservative Canadian politics in one way or another.

Preston Manning, as many of our readers will know, was the leader of the former Reform Party from 1987 to 2000 and a Member of Parliament from 1993 to 2002. Much of his work in the 1980’s and 90’s paved the way for what is now the Conservative Party of Canada.

While his Wikipedia page will tell you much more than that, in sum, he is a man who has spent much of his life in and around the political arena and has a great deal of experience to draw on when providing thoughtful answers to questions both big and small.

Faith in public life

Given that Manning had recently written a book entitled Faith, Leadership, and Public Life, I started off our conversation by asking him about what it is like to be a Christian, or even just a person of faith, in the public sphere.

Manning said it can be tough to conduct yourself as a person of faith in today’s political climate in Canada. Because of this climate, he wrote his latest book to help provide guidelines for “faith oriented people who want to get into the political arena.”

Preston Manning at MSC2019
Preston Manning speaks at MNC2019. Photo by Yanky Pollak/The Post Millennial Corporation

Using a line that has served him well in the past, Manning said he follows the advice of Jesus of Nazareth who advised Christians to be “as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16), which does not mean, as Manning says with a chuckle, “to be as viscous as snakes and as stupid as pigeons.”

The future of Western civilization

Building off of our talk of faith, I proceeded to ask Manning for his thoughts on the state of the West more broadly, in terms of its moral purpose and foundation. Using the analogy of the two pillars of Western civilization, Athens with its Greek reason, and Jerusalem with its Judeo-Christian values, as laid out by American political pundit Ben Shapiro in his latest book, I asked Manning if he felt we were starting to lose both those pillars.

“There’s a lot of truth to that,” he replied. On the faith side of things, Manning pointed to the need to “legitimate” the expression of faith in the political arena. This doesn’t mean it has to dominate, it just needs to be presented.

“We need to understand that it’s okay to talk about your faith in the political arena. What is the point of liberating some people from the closet and then stuffing others in?”

Preston Manning

On the reason side of things, Manning postulated that a return to a more principled politics would likely come at the local level. “All these early ideas of democracy were worked out not in an empire, not in a federation, not in a confederation but in a city state.”

The success of Jordan Peterson

Shifting to the topic of a homegrown academic who’s had great success over much of the Western world, Manning and I discussed the rise of Jordan Peterson and the success of his message of personal responsibility.

Best selling author and Canadian academic Dr. Jordan Peterson. Photo: Gage Skidmore

Manning noted that many politicians, even conservative ones, often get caught up emphasizing the freedom side of the coin without talking about the other side of personal responsibility.

“You can have as much freedom as you’re prepared to accept responsibility for.”

Preston Manning

He went on to say that Peterson has been successful because he tells people the truth. Everyone knows that life can’t be all take and no give, good things require hard work. Freedom is no exception, it must be protected and upheld by engaged and virtuous citizens otherwise it will descend into chaos and anarchy.

Stephen Harper’s populism

Finally, while we talked about many other interesting things, the other main topic we touched on was populism and Manning’s thoughts on Stephen Harper’s new book dealing with the issue. Harper, when doing a series of interviews and promos for his book back in the fall, said on The Ben Shapiro Show Sunday Special that Manning was “the one individual who had the most influence on my political thinking.”

Book Review: Stephen Harper's Right Here, Right Now
Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Manning said the book was very interesting to him because for the longest time “Stephen was very skeptical for the longest time about the populist dimension of the Reform Party.”

“In his book he identifies a ‘positive populism’, which is not too different from what I’ve been talking about. I find it quite interesting that Stephen felt there is a way to manage, direct, and respect populism so that it can be constructive rather than destructive.”

Preston Manning on Stephen Harper’s book ‘Right Here Right Now’

Sizing up Harper’s analysis of the situation, Manning assessed that Harper is correct to point out that while free trade and globalism have benefited many, some people have been hurt as well. Politicians need to listen to those hurt and channel their anger into positive solutions for them.

“I think it’s quite a constructive commentary on populism,” he concluded.