Alberta general election, 1921
The Liberal Party of Charles Stewart, which had governed the province since its creation in 1905, was defeated by a surging United Farmers of Alberta, an agricultural lobby organization that was contesting its first general election. The UFA was led by president, Henry Wise Wood, who declined to take the leadership of the government and become Premier. The UFA's third choice, its vice president, Herbert Greenfield, agreed to do so, and sought election to the legislature in a by-election.
In an attempt at proportional voting, each voter in Edmonton and Calgary could choose up to five candidates, while Medicine Hat voters could choose two candidates. All other districts remained one person - one vote. The United Farmers swept most of the rural area while its opposition hung onto seats within the cities. No party ran a full slate of candidates.
The Liberals which had governed the province since 1905 were led into the election by their third Premier and leader Charles Stewart.
The Alberta Government Telephones scandal had broke before the election. It was learned that the Liberals spent money to have telephone poles crated and shipped in big stacks to remote communities in which they had no intention of installing phone lines in an effort to garner support and votes.
The United Farmers of Alberta under the leadership of President Henry Wise Wood was contesting its first general election. The party had come into being after the organization had decided to no longer be content with being a lobby group (and farmer supply co-operative). They merged with the Non-Partisan League of Alberta who had formed before the 1917 general election and had elected a couple members. The Non-Partisan League activists were significant within the political machinery of the United Farmers.
The merged party experienced a significant amount of growth in the run up to the general election. It won its first by-election with the election of candidate Alexander Moore in the electoral district of Cochrane in 1919 and achieved a coup when Conservative leader George Hoadley crossed the floor. The Non-Partisan League MLA's despite not changing their affiliation caucused with the United Farmers.
Wise Wood knew well before the election was over that his party was going to form government. In a famous speech he gave at Medicine Hat on July 8, 1921 he was quoted as saying "Farmers may not be ready to take over government, but they are going to do it anyway". He also said in that speech that he only wanted his 20 best candidates to go to Edmonton to form the opposition, but knew there would be a lot more elected.
Split in the Labour forces
The campaign was contested by two provincial labour parties: a main party named the Dominion Labor and a splinter group in Edmonton named the Independent Labor Party.
Dominion Labor ran candidates in primarily urban ridings such as Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat. Its President Holmes Jowatt decided to help his candidates get elected, declining to seek office himself.
At the beginning of the election Independent Labor offered to nominate Edmonton area candidates at a joint convention to prevent the splitting of the labour vote and use the co-operation to eventually unite the parties. The Dominion Labor declined the offer stating that to do so would divide its own ticket. Among the ILP candidates was pioneer photographer Ernest Brown.
The Conservative Party which has been the primary opposition in the province since it was created in 1905 had seen a split in the ranks under the leadership of George Hoadley. The caucus divided into two separate Conservative caucuses. Hoadley left the Conservative party sitting as an Independent and then won the United Farmers nomination in Okotoks and crossed the floor. The party replaced Hoadley by selecting Albert Ewing an Edmonton area Member of the Legislative Assembly as leader.
The Conservatives spent the campaign criticizing the wasteful and extravagant spending of the Liberal government. They also reminded Alberta voters of the Alberta Government Telephones, telephone pole scandal. The Conservatives campaign for reforms to the provincial tax code as well as pressing for provincial resource rights and voter list reforms in the election act.
Despite the split in the party the Conservative campaign attracted some high profile support. Former Liberal Premier Alexander Rutherford a big supporter of Ewing, led the campaign for the five Conservative candidates contesting for seats in Edmonton.
The Conservative party was a long time recovering from the split in the party. Supporters of Hoadley and their rural base migrated to the United Farmers. The change of amalgamating the districts in Calgary and Edmonton to a block vote did not help Conservative candidates. In Edmonton the strong Liberal block dominated and all five seats were captured by liberal candidates. The only Conservative to return was Lethbridge MLA John Stewart. Albert Ewing went down to defeat in Edmonton.
The Socialist Party of Alberta which had been in decline since its leader got defeated in the 1913 general election fielded two candidates under the label Labour Socialist. It opposed both the Dominion Labor and Independent Labor parties.
Calgary, Edmonton and Medicine Hat
The Liberals, in fact, won a larger share of the votes cast than the UFA (about 34%, compared to 29% for the UFA). The popular vote numbers do not represent the actual number of voters however as urban voters in Calgary and Edmonton were allowed to place five votes and Medicine Hat voters 2 votes, as the districts contained 5 and 2 seats respectively, while rural voters in other constituencies only had 1 vote under the first past the post electoral system. The United Farmers did not run in Calgary and only had a single candidate in Edmonton, thus it did not benefit from the higher weighted city vote. It was also noted by defenders of the government that the UFA percentage of total seats is identical to the percentage of votes it received in the constituencies in which it ran candidates.
The result of the election radically and forever altered the political landscape of the province. The United Farmers walked away with a majority government while the Liberals formed opposition with MLAs in the cities of Calgary and Edmonton and some northern strongholds.
President Henry Wise Wood was voted to lead the government as Premier unanimously from the 38 MLAs who attended the first United Farmers caucus meeting. Wood declined becoming Premier because he was more interested in operating the machinery of the United Farmers movement rather than crafting government policy. He said he feared that the UFA would repeat what had happened elsewhere when farmers movements engaged in electoral politics, rose to power and quickly destroyed themselves. He wanted to remain focused on the movement. The UFA vice-president, Percival Baker, had won his riding with a majority of votes, despite being badly injured in tree-falling accident and was speculated to have a place in the cabinet. He however died the day after the election. The United Farmers caucus finally chose Herbert Greenfield, who had not run in the election, to become Premier.
|Party||Party Leader||# of
|1917||Elected||% Change||#||%||% Change|
|Soldiers' vote (Province at large)||0||2||-||-||-||-||-20.33%|
|Source: Elections Alberta|
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (March 2011)|
- "President Wood of U.F.A. Wants But 20 Farmers In The Next House". Vol 17, No. 301 (Edmonton Journal). July 8, 1921. p. 1.
- "Futile Effort To Unite Branches Of Labor Party". Vol. 17 (No. 301). Edmonton Journal. July 8, 1921. p. 1.
- Monto, Tom. Protest and Progress, Three Labour Radicals in Early Edmonton. Edmonton: Crang Publishing, Alhambra Books. p. 86.
- "Conservatives Stand For Alberta Controlling Her Own Natural Resource". Edmonton Journal. July 13, 1921. p. 3.
- "Old Party Lines Completely Shattered". Edmonton Journal. July 12, 1921. p. 4.
- Leslie Young McKinney (September 3, 1921). "Henry Wise Wood The Man Who Would Not Be Premier". The Lethbridge Daily Herald. p. 3.
- "Member-elect Ponoka riding died as result farm accident". Edmonton Journal. July 20, 1921. Retrieved October 8, 2012.
- "U.F.A. Now Has 39 Members In Legislature So Recount Shows". Edmonton Journal. July 19, 1921. p. 1.