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An Interview With Preston Manning

March 14, 2012
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AQUEDUCT, MARCH 2012 

Can you tell us about where your passions lie? What are your predominant concerns right now in light of your work with the Manning Centre for Building Democracy and particularly the Marketplace Institute?

One of the conclusions I’ve come to from my active work in the political arena is that political people – and by that I mean everyone from volunteers at the constituency level that have a lot to do with recruiting candidates for public office, all the way up to political staff who want to run for elected office to people who are in elected office – need more training. They need more knowledge and skills to do their jobs than they normally arrive to their jobs with, and the Manning Centre for Building Democracy is involved in raising money and putting it into such training.

Part of that training involves a better understanding of how markets work. We’re particularly interested in market-oriented politicians of the more conservative variety, though our thesis that everyone could use more knowledge and skill before they get to the political arena applies no matter what your political party affiliation is. One thing that is extremely important for political people today is to understand what impacts their words or their actions or their failure to speak or their failure to act may have, particularly on the economy and businesses.

One of the programs we run is on navigating the faith-political interface. You have well-meaning faith-oriented people who get involved politically often over these complex moral, ethical issues: abortion, same-sex marriage, and euthanasia, which is going to be the next big issue. But they often need some help on how to conduct themselves wisely and graciously. If they don’t do so, they discredit their faith communities and scare away potential secular allies. So I’ve been involved in training people to connect faith with politics in the marketplace wisely and graciously. These are all subjects that I can learn more about from the people at the Marketplace Institute. I have a lot of experience on the practitioners end, but I am less familiar with the literature, the studies or the research behind some of these positions that relate faith with business or the market or to politics. So I hope to get a better grasp of that by working with the Institute, and to be able to contribute too.

Many Canadians associate you not only with politics, but specifically Conservative politics. How do you understand that association now?

Christian convictions and commitments should transcend your political values. If you’re dealing with the political arena, you can’t avoid associating with political ideologies and parties. I actually think that the most dangerous people in the political arena are those who profess to have no ideology. But you need to subject all ideological convictions to the rigours of examination in the light of our faith. I tend to resist suggestions that you shouldn’t have partisan affiliations, because then you can’t operate in the real world of electoral politics. You can’t pass a law in the Parliament of Canada unless you can get 150 votes together. If you abolished all the parties today, you’d have new ones forming tomorrow. As a Christian, you need to subject all those partisan associations and positions to what your faith teaches you.

What happens when your faith teaches you to take a different stance from that advocated by your party?

There is not a lot of freedom in our parliamentary system because party discipline is so strictly enforced. The most important thing to think through is what your theory of democratic representation is before you get there. There are three models of representation. The trustee model, advocated by Edmund Burke, is that you represent your own personal convictions and judgments. The mandate model is based on the idea that when you run in an election on a platform and a set of principles, and are elected, that’s what you go by (the party’s position). You have a “mandate” to do so. The delegate theory is that you’re a “delegate” of your electors, and if their collective position on an issue can be determined, you are obliged to represent it. In practice, it’s a matter of balancing all three. The difficulty arises when these models come into conflict.

The party that I was involved in forming believed that your highest obligation was to your constituents’ view, even if it went against the party’s or your own. So you had to exercise your leadership by trying to convince your constituents that their view was not the best option and that there was a better course of action. In my experience, if I couldn’t persuade them of my position, I would vote in line with my electors’ position, but I would let them know that I didn’t share their view, and if our views couldn’t soon be reconciled, we would be heading to a parting of ways. It should also be noted that if you are honestly prepared to defer to your electors’ views, they will actually defer to yours. I also tell Christian candidates that if you can’t vote for something you personally don’t believe in, tell your electors ahead of time what your position is and what those issues are.

What do you look most forward to in working with the Marketplace Institute?

Given my interest in connecting faith to business and markets and politics, I’m looking forward to meeting with other people who share that interest but have different perspectives on how you make these connections. I’m also looking forward to gaining a better grasp of the academic and theological foundations for these connections since so much of my experience has been in the operational arena. Regent College is a great place for that.

Secondly, I like working with younger people. I think as you get older, your role shifts from being an activist yourself to advising and helping the next generation that’s coming along to not make the same mistakes you made and to give them guidance. Even in my work with the Manning Centre, the part I like the best is working with students or people who are just beginning to explore their political interest or political careers. And again, Regent is a great place to encounter that and participate in that sort of activity.