How do you restore people’s trust in politicians? Well, there’s no catchy punch line here.

In his speech at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax last night, Preston Manning pointed out that jokes about elected officials pervade our social consciousness and are a sign of society’s lack of confidence in politicians.

“What do a river and a politician have in common?

“They both have a wide mouth and a narrow head,” Manning said, prompting laughter.

The former leader of the Reform Party of Canada and Canadian Alliance spoke to about 100 people last night about how to re-engage the public in democracy.

He pointed to flaws in the democratic system that lead to voter apathy.

Parliament’s adversarial nature lends itself to assertions that aren’t always truthful or give the full picture.

Citizens should also have more involvement in choosing the electoral system. Elected members should be free to represent their constituents as opposed to their party’s stance.

He said voters should also elect people based on their commitment to democracy.

“Do they listen more than they talk?” Manning said.

Politicians could become more trustful if better training was provided, he said. No other service organization invests less in human resources development, something he said he hopes to change as the CEO of the think-tank Manning Centre for Building Democracy.

Manning said potential political candidates need to learn practical skills like door-knocking, managing campaign associations and how to navigate faith in politics.

“It used to be that voters welcomed campaigns with deep religious and moral convictions. … Today, people are scared stiff of candidates with any kind of obvious religions connections. They’re wackos. They’re afraid of extremists,” he said.

Manning, who identifies as an evangelical Christian, said politicians should heed the advice of Jesus who told his works to be wise as serpents and gracious as doves.

“He did not say be as vicious as snakes and stupid as pigeons,” he said, triggering laughs all round.