by Allan Levine
IF YOU WANT to delvedeeper into the real meaning behind the Reform Party`s recent success at thepolls, then turn to George Melnyk`s Beyond Alienation: Political Essays on theWest (Detselig, 125 pages, $13.95 paper). In six interesting and often thought-provokingessays,
MeInyk, part historianand part philosopher, examines the social, economic, and political structure ofWestern Canada.
In his view, PrestonManning`s achievement can be explained in two ways. First, the Reform Partyleader follows a long line of dynamic Alberta politicians -- onethat started with William Aberhart, Who founded the Social Credit Party in 1935-- who gained power through the sheer will of their personalities.And second, in the book`s best essay, "Region and Reaction," lietraces the history of how Manning toned down the policies of the smallinsignificant Western separatists of the 1970s, borrowed ideas from his fatherErnest`s Social Credit platform, and created a conservative and pragmatic partywith national appeal.
MeInyk argues that it istime perceptions and views of the West changed. For too long, Westerners`identities have been shaped by Outsiders looking in. "It was not importantwhat Westerners felt about themselves," he writes, "it was important that they were alienated from the centre where all goodnesslay." In Melnyk`s view, there is more to the region`s history than protestand grievance. But only Westerners themselves can create this new identity byadopting a more Positive Outlook. It remains to be seen whether Such anapproach is either likely or desirable. For the moment, at least, the myth ofthe downtrodden West continues to serve the interests of protest-orientedpoliticians like Preston Manning.