Manning doublecrosses Day
It was the late American pianist and actor Oscar Levant who once said of a politician, "He'll doublecross that bridge when he comes to it."
Former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, it seems, has come to that bridge, which he built into a book entitled, Think Big: My Adventures in Life and Democracy.
Early reports have Manning roasting his successor Stockwell Day for a series of assorted sins including, the one which this correspondent finds most interesting, Day's active courtship of evangelical Protestants in his successful leadership bid.
In last Saturday's National Post news story about Manning's book (which your correspondent has not yet read) we are told that while Manning says he shares Day's religious beliefs he always opposed bringing politics into the religious arena.
Two days earlier, according to another National Post story, Manning, speaking at the Pluralism, Religion and Public Policy conference at Montreal's McGill University, denounced the "taboo" he says prevents Canadian politicians from introducing their spiritual beliefs into public debate.
"In the world of Canadian politics and public policy," said Manning, "the spiritual dimension is ignored, suppressed and prevented from even being expressed.
"There's a virtual absence of religious or spiritual references in Parliamentary and political debate, even on moral and ethical issues. In the House of Commons, it is taboo to get in any depth into what your own personal convictions are and how it might apply to public policy. 'We don't talk about things like that here,' is the unspoken rule."
Manning complained that the pendulum has swung too far toward secularism, citing the Chrétien government's insistence that Jesus not be invoked during a ceremony for victims of the Swissair crash off Nova Scotia, and the "complete exclusion of spiritual references" in official Canadian events marking the Sept. 11 tragedy.
What Manning says about religion and politics is, sadly, true. But it's not just most politicians who are uncomfortable with the topic. The main culprits are journalists who are overwhelmingly hostile toward religious conviction and who, as Day discovered, are ready to malign any politician who dares confess that his religious belief helps shape his public positions.
The idea here is not to defend Day's leadership. Heaven knows he made enough mistakes on his own hook without having to look to outside sources to explain what happened. But much of the opposition and media assault on Day revolved around his religious conviction. What's more, much of it was either grossly distorted or simply made up out of whole cloth. Manning would certainly know this, yet, perhaps seeking revenge, appears to be doing the same thing to Day as much of the media did when it became a blood sport to smear him because he was not embarrassed to say he believed in a higher power than the Prime Minister's Office.
It's a bit much for Manning to attack Day for being so openly evangelical on the one hand, then publicly lament a "taboo" about religious advocacy in politics.
Some believe Manning actively helped orchestrate the internal party attacks against Day's leadership at the time. Who knows? One this is for certain: he actively avoided supporting Day at a time when Manning loyalists were feverishly undermining his leadership efforts and a word from Manning could have ended much of it.
There is little doubt that when Manning announced the death of Reform and the birth of the Alliance, he expected to win the leadership contest. When he lost, he showed few signs of being a good loser.
During that tumultuous time, Manning appeared bitter about his loss, and it hardly speaks well of him now to flail Day's support among evangelical Protestants who a) represented a relatively small percentage of Day's leadership vote anyway, and b) aren't exactly horrible people who should be shunned by those seeking high public office.
By attacking Day this way, Manning, whether he means to or not, attacks the evangelicals themselves, many of whom, until Day came along, had been open and active supporters of Manning. No doubt he liked them then.
History shows there is much to criticize in Day's leadership of the Alliance, just as there is in Manning's leadership of Reform. But to attack Day for actively courting evangelicals in his book, then publicly complain about the "taboo" of expressing religious beliefs in politics, well, let's just say it's not Manning's proudest moment.
Or, as George Bernard Shaw wrote in Man and Superman, "The more things a man is ashamed of, the more respectable he is."
And Manning, we're certain, is a respectable man.
Claire Hoy's e-mail address is email@example.com