Imagine a political party that favors the withdrawal of troops from Bosnia and formal debate over whether to remain in NATO, yet in the next breath opposes government-imposed privileges for homosexuals and other politically correct groups, among them Sikhs demanding to wear turbans to work. This party not only supports cutting corporate welfare and abolishing taxpayer-subsidized benefits for wealthy senior citizens, but consistently supports a reduction of its own political pork, including lavish tax-free, federal pensions.

Americans should be so lucky. Of course, this is not the Republican Party of Newt Gingrich. Canadian Preston Manning and the Reform Party that he leads are unique in the democratic world: their platform is built around opposition to the obscene perquisites of political life. Last year. Reform Members of Parliament took Ottawa, Canada’s capital, by storm, accepting voluntary salary cuts and opting out of the lucrative legislative retirement system. Maclean’s magazine, the Canadian Time, attacked Reform as “Ottawa’s New Puritans,” whining that “the obsession with cutting perks has gone too far.” Reform received attention of a different sort from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), an FBI-type police unit. According to media reports, CSIS paid an alleged neo-Nazi informant to infiltrate and gather intelligence on Reform and a Jewish group.

Taking on the Canadian ruling class. Manning has accomplished something that stateside anti-establishmentarians can only dream about: electoral success. In the last national election, held in 1993, Reform destroyed the ruling Progressive Conservatives, Canada’s version of American corporate-style Republicans. The Progressive Conservative government fell, and their strength in the 295-seat Canadian national parliament declined from 168 to only two. Reform won nearly 20 percent of the national vote, and increased its representation from one to 52 seats. Reform’s strength is on a par with the Bloc Quebecois, an Eastern European- style separatist party, which controls 53 seats and serves as Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition to the ruling Liberal government. If Manning maneuvers adroitly. Reform could either emerge as the official opposition, if an independence referendum in Quebec fails later this year, or form a coalition government after the next national election in 1997. Otherwise, Reform would probably devolve into a regional protest party similar to Social Credit, a western Canadian populist movement that is now virtually defunct. Forty-six of Reform’s 52 MPs hail from Canada’s two westernmost provinces: Alberta and British Columbia. Only two MPs are from east of Saskatchewan.

Western Canada’s alienation from the Progressive Conservatives’ preoccupation with Quebec played a key role in the Reform Party’s emergence. In June 1987, Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney negotiated the Meech Lake Accord with Quebec’s political elite. Language recognizing francophone Quebec as “a distinct society” was viewed in parts of Canada as hostile to English; Meech Lake unraveled after Anglo parliaments in Manitoba and Newfoundland failed to ratify the accord. “Meech Lake really made the Reform Party,” an Ottawa staffer explained. Those founding Reform in 1987 included ex-Progressive Conservatives unhappy with Mulroney, a George Bush clone who also imposed a hated General Services Tax during his tenure in Ottawa.

Reform leader Manning, 53, studied Western Canadian alienation firsthand while growing up on a farm near Edmonton. Canada is essentially ruled by politicians from the nation’s two most populous provinces: Ontario and Quebec. The Canadian establishment has focused in recent decades on the demands of Quebec’s francophone majority, largely to the exclusion of the nation’s Western provinces. This has given rise to Western protest movements, among them Social Credit, whose plan to reform the banking system found its greatest support among farmers. Manning’s father, Ernest, was Alberta’s Social Credit premier from 1943 to 1968. Renowned for his weekly radio show, “Back to the Bible Hour,” Ernest Manning was no doctrinaire conservative. He used Alberta’s growing oil revenues to build up the province’s public school and welfare systems. He also moved to purge racist elements from Social Credit, including those who blamed the Great Depression on “Jewish financiers.” In 1982, B’nai B’rith gave him a Humanitarian Award for his efforts.

The younger Manning has faced similar elements within the Reform Party. In October 1993, a Reform MP candidate in Ontario was dropped after he bashed immigrants in an interview. The candidate, John Beck, later told the Toronto Star, “It seems to be predominantly Jewish people who are running this country.” According to the February 21, 1994, issue of Maclean’s, a newsletter issued by the local office of British Columbia Reform MP Werner Schmidt contained a quotation from Adolf Hitler which Manning termed “regrettable.”

Like other right-wing movements. Reform has attracted its share of crackpots, some of them perhaps drawn by the party’s pledge to restrict immigration from 250,000 to between 100,000 and 150,000 annually. During the 1993 elections. Reform critics, including Progressive Conservatives, charged racism on more than one occasion. But Manning’s moral leadership and a clever Reform TV advertisement that featured an Asian- Canadian talking about the importance of economic opportunity for all groups deflected much of the criticism. Since then, Canadian public opinion on the issue has moved in Reform’s direction, forcing the ruling Liberals to propose a new policy that reflects a less charitable mood: immigrants would be limited to 190,000-215,000 per year.

Reform also opposes government-imposed privileges for politically correct groups. This has included so-called hate crimes legislation, which in Canada resembles thought crimes straight out of George Orwell’s 1984. Reform MPs voted this year against a bill extending the hate crimes statute to homosexuals. In response, homosexuals have bashed Manning, an evangelical Christian, whose wife Sandra and he have been married for 29 years. The couple has five children. A parliamentary member of the socialist New Democrat Party, which suffered heavy losses in the last election, described two male posteriors in a pro-homosexual movie as “those unforgettable speaking orifices, paralleled only by those Reform party members of Parliament who sit in front of me.” Reform has been fighting the cultural war on other fronts. The party’s first parliamentary filibuster was against a government appropriation for native Indians. When a Sikh sued the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, demanding to wear a turban while on duty, Alberta Reform members collected funds to launch their own legal action supporting RCMP policy. Nelson Eddy would have been proud.

Reform’s campaign for change has been its most successful. Manning has cleverly exploited the Canadian public’s resentment of the perks enjoyed by MPs, who like their counterparts in the United States Congress receive lavish, tax-free pensions for life. “Listening to him, he [Manning] sounds exactly like Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” Maclean’s columnist Peter C. Newman complained. Reform literature blares, “So You Don’t Trust Politicians? Neither Do We!” The party’s platform is a cornucopia of ideas for standing a political establishment on its head. Reform advocates giving citizens the right to recall MPs and a greater voice through national referendums. The party also supports granting MPs more freedom from party discipline when casting votes in parliament. Critics charge that the latter idea is self-serving. Manning would undoubtedly benefit from dissident Liberal MPs voting against the ruling Liberal government. But would a Prime Minister Manning exercise such laissez faire charity toward Reform MPs wishing to vote against his government?

After the 1993 election, Manning announced that Reform MPs would not accept a long list of parliamentary perks, including free haircuts, massages, and French lessons for spouses. Manning asked Reform MPs to give up ten percent of their salaries, or pay the tax on their $21,300 annual tax-free allowance—if they could afford to do so. At a press conference. Manning returned the keys to his taxpayer-subsidized automobile and chose a former secretary’s office as his own. But Manning was embarrassed in March 1994 when it was revealed that Reform’s executive council provided him with a $31,000 fund to pay for expenses, including clothing and dry cleaning. “He [Manning] wasn’t at all well dressed,” Reform spokesman Ron Wood said in defending the fund. The revelation set off a firestorm of controversy, largely within Reform. Calgary West MP Stephen Harper said the fund “undercuts our ability to forcefully and credibly articulate the positions we’ve taken on some of these pay and perks issues.” With Manning’s blessing. Reform’s executive publicly rebuked Harper, who is seen as a possible successor to Manning. After the incident, both men said they wanted to put personal differences behind them. “We’re growing up,” one Reform member observed.

To his credit, Manning has emphasized constituent relations. Reform MPs have been encouraged to spend more time in their ridings, meeting with constituents, than playing government in Ottawa. (A riding is a Canadian parliamentary district.) Reform prides itself on taking direction from the grass roots, rather than from a core group of party bosses. When a gun control bill surfaced in parliament this year, some Reform MPs initially expressed support for the measure. But after hearing from constituents, Reform MPs voted as a bloc against the legislation.

This strategy has allowed Reform to stay close to the Canadian public’s pulse. Nowhere is this clearer than on the legislative pension issue, a topic outside the parameters of debate for Newt Gingrich. Canadian MP pensions are payable after only six years of service; payments begin when the member retires, regardless of age, until recently, when Reform’s criticism forced the Liberals to set 55 as the minimum age for receiving benefits. Double-dipping was tolerated; payment had occurred even if the cx-MP held another government post such as ambassador. The Liberal bill was opposed by Reform, which supports MP pensions only if they “are no more generous than private sector norms.” In a principled rejection of Ottawa’s political culture, Reform MPs opted out of the system, creating a clear contrast with Liberals. One can visualize the Reform TV ads in the 1997 campaign: “Has Ottawa Got a Pension Plan for You!”

Yet there are limits to Reform’s antipolitics. The party has not, for example, been aggressive on MP pay raises. Reform advocates popular referendums. Why not a popular vote on politicians’ pay raises? Canada’s five-party system offers more of an electoral choice than the American two-party system, but a “None Of The Above” ballot option would give Canadian voters yet another choice.

Manning has, however, been out front on foreign policy issues. Public opinion polls show the Canadian public opposed to military intervention in war-torn foreign locales like Somalia and Bosnia. A scandal involving the brutal murder of Somali civilians by Canadian troops, and the recent Bosnian hostage-taking of Canadians, have fueled public opposition. Unique among party leaders, Manning has called for the withdrawal of Canadian troops serving with United Nations missions. The contrast with the socialist NDP is ironic. Critical of NATO membership, the NDP have been cheerleaders for U.N. military adventurism.

One of Reform’s less-publicized proposals calls for formal debate on whether Canada should remain in NATO. In 1993, Manning said he favored Canadian withdrawal from NATO, which seemed to contradict Reform’s formal position. He later retreated, saying NATO membership should be reviewed. Reform is not strictly noninterventionist; the party supported extending a ten-year-old agreement allowing the United States to test cruise missiles over Canada and supports cutting, not abolishing, foreign aid. The party is strangely silent on Canada’s draconian Official Secrets Act, which allows the government to harass and prosecute journalists who report embarrassing facts about Ottawa’s foreign policy.

But the domestic issue of Quebec is likely to determine whether Reform emerges as the formal opposition. The party favors no special treatment for Quebec. They would abolish official bilingualism, but give all provinces, including Quebec, exclusive control over language and culture. If Quebec votes against separation from Canada, moderate Bloc Quebecois MPs could leave the party, erasing the slim, one-seat deficit Reform faces in Ottawa. Reform could emerge in a stronger position if Quebec votes for separation and the Liberals mishandle the issue as the Mulroney government did. Both scenarios assume Reform does not compromise on its antipolitical agenda, a task that becomes more difficult the longer the party’s members are in public office.

Unsolicited advice to Mr. Manning: Don’t sign any book deals with a foreign publisher.