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76th Annual Summer Conference, August 9–12, 2007

Annual Couchiching Award for Excellence in Public Policy Leadership: Preston Manning

Introductory remarks by David McGown

Your honour Mr. Bartelman, Mr. Manning, ladies and gentlemen….welcome to the presentation of the 2007 Couchichiching Award for Excellence in Public Policy Leadership.

It’s great to see you all here early on Sunday morning…Eric, the students…well ok, some of the students… I’d first like to thank the chair of the Awards Committee, Ceta Ramkalaramsingh and her committee for all its great work over the course of the past year.

I’d like to begin with just a few words about the Award itself… Couch established this award five years ago.

For over 75 years we have been wrestling with some of the thornier issues of Canadian and international public policy.

And we thought that in the crowded world of Award presentations, there was likely room for at least one more. An award that focused on individuals who had dedicated a significant part of ones professional life to pushing a public policy idea forward…

And often against the grain of then popular public opinion.

Life in the world of politics can be difficult, but life in the world of pushing forward public policy ideas, when voters and the media are often looking for immediate action, can be brutal.

We look for individuals who have changed the face of Canada, and for whom we hold out great respect.

Our first four award recipients were Michael Wilson, Jane Jacobs, Henry Morgentaler and Elizabeth May. It’s quite the group. There is a long standing phrase that goes around the world of politics suggesting that we all stand on the shoulders of giants. And I would suggest that these individuals, in the public policy realm are indeed giants in the work that they have done.

And I would like to stress respect, and not agreement. Because in a room like this one in Couchiching, one knows that the only things we can all agree on are that:

  1. we all should have gone to bed earlier last night, and
  2. when can we sign up to come back to the 77th annual conference.

Mr. Manning, we are here at this lake this year exploring the various facets around the challenging issues of diversity, multiculturalism, immigration and citizenship. Issues that the country, that groups and that individuals take extremely seriously.

And it was a delight to have you here yesterday to listen to some of the exchange.

And I would like to start reflecting on why the importance of individuals and how the views of each Canadian in my opinion, is just one of the reasons you are standing here today.

There is a quote from Thomas Jefferson that holds a core place in Mr. Manning’s political and public outlook…

"I can think of no safer depository for the ultimate powers of society than the people themselves. And if you think them unfit to exercise self government with a hope of discretion, the remedy is not to take self government from them but to inform their discretion."

Mr. Manning, over the course of 76 Couchiching conferences, we have been informing one’s discretion…and looking across this room I can say with great certainty that all of us in the Couch family can understand what we share in common.

A preacher, business consultant, politician, Member of Parliament, leader of the Opposition, and now the head of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy. Mr Manning quite simply, over the course of your career, you changed the face of political life in Canada. You changed how we think about politics and political life, for the better. You stressed the importance of individual perspectives. You showed us how a small group of dedicated individuals can create change in this country.

Lets just for a moment think about the Reform Party…From its founding convention in Vancouver 20 years ago in 1987, it elected its first MP, Deborah Gray in a 1988 by election…it formed the official opposition with 60 elected MP’s just a few years later under the leadership of Mr. Manning…in Canada, there are not many folks who have accomplished so much.

Reform’s early policy ideas of tax reform, deficit reduction and its position on Quebec were initially seen as not part of the political mainstream…in just a few brief years, these views had become mainstream.

Reform also gave to Canadians the opportunity to examine, reflect upon and ultimately reject other ideas including perhaps early views on immigration policy. Remember, we are not standing here because we honour someone who has been entirely successful, but individuals who have wrought great change.

And for that change, and for the dedication that you have created in the public sphere, the Couchiching Institute is truly proud to recognize you as the recipient of the 5th annual Couchiching Award for Excellence in Public Policy Leadership.

Thank you.