Manning gambles on third down

By James Roberston

I’m in Reform country so I’ll choose my words carefully–the Reform party is on its way to a slow and painful death. This weekend’s convention in Ottawa will decide whether Reform members want to go ahead with the United Alternative. The UA is devised by Reform party leader Preston Manning to build a party that appeals to Ontario and helps consolidate votes presently split between Tories and Reformers. However, under the convention lies another issue. If the UA initiative doesn’t get two-thirds of votes, Manning will step down as party leader. Ultimately, this will decide if Reformers create a new party or consolidate their current base in the West.

Within the Reform Party are the Grassroots United Against Reform’s Demise who want to consolidate the West and axe Manning. GUARD’s initiative is to call a leadership review and from there, take a much slower approach to gaining confidence in the East–all without Manning’s leadership, of course. What will ensue after the events of this weekend could be the beginning of the end.

From scratch, Manning created a political party that dominates the West and holds the title of Official Opposition. Whether you like the guy or not, you must admit he is one of the more colourful characters in Canadian politics. Whether it’s comedians cracking jokes about the way he says "Reform Party" or mimicking his appearance, Manning is a mainstay image of Canadian politics.

If GUARD rids the Reformers of Manning, the party will not be ready to embrace a post-Manning existence, plain and simple. Who can possibly take his place (seriously, does anybody know who Dick Harris or Lee Morison is?). GUARD needs a dose of reality, as do many other members of the Reform Party–the reality being that they didn’t come into power because of their competency. On the contrary, they came into power by hitching a ride on the back of Manning and what he stood for, which is the blue-collar westerner. Bottom line, Manning is the Reform Party and he is ready to move ahead with his plans of replacing the federal Liberals in 2001, ultimately with or without GUARD members.

Hey, I will be the first to admit I’m not a Reformer (which makes me a part of a small minority in Calgary), but I found great pleasure, as probably most Canadians did, with Manning’s tough love stance with the separatists. This stance would eventually be adopted by the Liberals in the Clarity Bill. I also admire Manning’s push for a Triple E senate, and his clear position of where he stands concerning this weekend’s convention. A No vote for the UA and he will step down as leader of the Reform Party. He is determined to spread the Reform base of support, rather than see his party crushed by western isolation.

And while the Reform Party is at the height of its popularity, it will never be as accepted in the east. Its support in the West is all it will ever have and, unfortunately, to beat the Liberals you have to steal some seats in Ontario.

On top of that, it’s only a matter of time (lots of time) before the Tories get rid of Joe Clark and grab a competent leader to cast-off Brian Mulroney’s image.

Hence, time is of the essence. It is the only option for Manning and his Reformers to unify the opposition and to take on the Liberals in the next election. Sorry Calgary, but the Reform Party will never fly in the East and if it doesn’t embrace the UA and Manning, it will fall into federal obscurity with the NDP.

Reformers are just going to have get comfortable with the UA issue, and while it may look questionable now, in time the UA may prove to be better. It’s the only option that can provide the long-term security the Reform party needs.

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