Manning came from a political background; he was the son of Ernest Manning, Premier of Alberta between 1943 and 1968. In 1964 Preston Manning graduated from the University of Alberta with a B.A. in economics. He ran for M.P. in the 1965 federal election as a Social Credit candidate, but was defeated.
Manning formed the Reform Party in 1987, but was not elected to the House of Commons until 1993, when Reform had its first major electoral success, replacing the Progressive Conservative Party as Canada's dominant right wing party. In the 1997 election the party became Canada's official opposition, with Manning becoming the Leader of the Opposition.
With Reform's emergence, however, Manning fragmented the conservative vote into two parts - Reform and the weakened Progressive Conservative Party. With Canada's plurality voting system, the result was political domination by the centrist Liberal Party. Manning's goal was to reunite the two conservative parties under his leadership, and he launched the United Alternative movement to examine ways for the parties to cooperate. The movement resulted in the formation of a new party, the Canadian Alliance, which was attended to supplant both parties. Most of the PC Party, however, refused to cooperate, and the new party was seen as nothing but a move to transform the image of the Reform Party.
With the formation of the new party, Manning opened the door for rival leadership bids. After a fierce campaign, Manning was succeeded as leader by the younger and more flamboyant Stockwell Day in 1999. In 2002 he retired from federal politics. He is now a senior fellow at Massey College at the University of Toronto.