Alberta Social Credit Party

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Alberta Social Credit Party
Leader Len Skowronski
President Earl Solberg
Founded 1934 (1934)
Headquarters Calgary, Alberta
Ideology Conservatism,
Social credit: Albertan
Political position Right
Colours Green, blue
Legislature
0 / 87
Website
www.socialcredit.com
Politics of Alberta
Political parties
Elections

The Alberta Social Credit Party is a provincial political party in Alberta, Canada, that was founded on the social credit monetary policy and conservative Christian social values.

The Canadian social credit movement was largely an out-growth of the Alberta Social Credit Party. The Social Credit Party of Canada was originally strongest in Alberta, before developing a base in Quebec when Réal Caouette agreed to merge his Ralliement créditiste movement into the federal party. The British Columbia Social Credit Party formed the government for many years in neighbouring British Columbia, although this was effectively a coalition of centre-right forces in the province that had no interest in social credit monetary policies. The party won a majority government in 1935, barely months after its formation, and remained in power until 1971. However, it has held no seats since 1982, and finished a distant seventh in the 2012 general election.

Origins[edit]

William Aberhart, a Baptist pastor and evangelist in Calgary, was attracted to social credit theory while Alberta was in the depths of the Great Depression. He soon began promoting it via his radio program on CFCN in Calgary, adding a heavy dose of fundamentalist Christianity to C.H. Douglas' original ideology. The basic premise of social credit—that all citizens have the right to the wealth they jointly produce—was especially attractive to farmers sinking under the weight of the Depression. Numerous study groups devoted to the theory sprang up across the province, which united into the Social Credit League of Alberta.

Rise to power[edit]

From 1932 to 1935, Aberhart tried to get the governing United Farmers of Alberta to adopt social credit. When the 1935 UFA convention voted against adopting Social Credit and UFA Premier Richard Reid rejected the proposals as being outside the province's constitutional powers, Aberhart entered Social Credit candidates in the that year's provincial election. There was widespread discontent with the overly cautious direction of the UFA government, and in some cases, local UFA chapters openly supported the Social Credit candidates. The UFA government was also reeling from a scandal that had forced Reid's predecessor, John Brownlee, to resign a year earlier. This, in particular, caused some socially conservative UFA members to transfer their allegiance to the Christian-based Social Credit movement.

In the August 22, 1935 election, much to its own surprise, Social Credit won a landslide victory, taking 54% of the vote and winning 56 of the 63 seats in the Legislative Assembly. The only elected opposition was five Liberals and two Conservatives. The UFA lost all of its seats in the worst defeat for a sitting provincial government in Canada.

The Socreds' expectations for the elections were so low that they hadn't named an official leader during the campaign. With the win, Social Credit had to choose a leader who would become the province's new premier. Aberhart was the obvious choice, but he initially said he didn't want the office. However, he was finally prevailed-upon to take power, and was sworn in as premier on September 3. He entered the Legislative Assembly a year later in a by-election.

The first year and a half in power was a period of adjustment for the newly elected SC MLAs and their premier. Negotiations between Aberhart and Major Douglas, who had been hired by the UFA as a financial advisor, were colourful but unproductive. Aberhart, consumed with details of governance and administration, had little opportunity to progress along the Social Credit monetary reform road. After election he hired an orthodox financial expert named Magor, much to Douglas's displeasure, thus forestalling radical monetary reform. In March 1937 many SC MLAs revolted against Aberhart's leadership, refusing to pass the provincial budget until Aberhart promised serious reform of the banking system.[1]

Not "funny money"[edit]

Following the 1937 revolt, the government made a serious attempt to implement social credit policies. It passed several pieces of radical populist legislation, such as the issuance of prosperity certificates to Alberta residents (dubbed "funny money" by detractors) in accordance with the theories of Silvio Gesell. Douglas, the originator of the Social Credit movement, did not like the idea of prosperity certificates, which depreciated in value the longer they were held, and openly criticized Gesell's theories.[2]

The Socreds also passed bills that would have placed the province's banks under government control. However, Lieutenant-Governor John C. Bowen refused to grant Royal Assent to the bills. The Supreme Court of Canada subsequently ruled the legislation unconstitutional because only the federal government can legislate on banking.

Bowen also refused Royal Assent to the Accurate News and Information Act, which would have forced newspapers to print government rebuttals to stories the Executive Council (cabinet) objected to. The government's relationship with Bowen became so acrimonious that in 1938, Bowen even threatened to use his reserve powers to dismiss the government. In the end, Bowen chose not to take this extraordinary action, in part because the Socreds were so popular that they would have almost certainly been re-elected.

Thwarted in their attempt to gain control of Alberta's private banks, Aberhart's government gained a foothold in the province's financial sector by creating the Alberta Treasury Branches in 1938. ATB has become a lasting legacy of Social Credit Party policies in Alberta, operating as of 2013 as an orthodox financial institution and crown corporation. It is today the only government-owned bank in North America that deals with the public.

Other policies[edit]

The government, to uphold its election promise of allowing democratic control of the government, passed a law allowing for the recall of members of the Legislative Assembly by petition of constituents but then repealed the legislation when Aberhart himself became the target of a recall drive.

The government also enacted several socially conservative laws, notably one restricting the sale and serving of alcohol. It was one of the strictest such laws in Canada. For many years, commercial airlines could not serve alcohol while flying over Alberta.

As well, the government passed stronger labour legislation, such as a minimum wage law, and centralized the province's school system.

Manning era[edit]

Social Credit was elected with a slightly reduced mandate in 1940. "Bible Bill" Aberhart died in 1943 and was replaced by his Provincial Secretary and Minister of Trade and Industry, Ernest Manning.

Manning's government was much more pragmatic. Under his leadership, the party largely abandoned social credit monetary theories, though it did issue prosperity certificates from oil royalties in 1957 and 1958.[3] His government was arguably one of the most conservative provincial governments in Canada. Manning moved to purge the party of anti-Semitism, which had been an element of its Christian populist rhetoric for years, but had become far less fashionable after World War II. Several socially conservative laws remained in place, such as the ban on airlines serving alcohol over provincial airspace.

Under Manning, Alberta became a virtual one-party state, winning seven consecutive elections. The party usually won well over 50 percent of the popular vote, and rarely faced more than ten opposition MLAs. He wielded considerable influence over the party's federal counterparts as well. For example, he let it be known that his province would never accept francophone Catholic Real Caouette, leader of the party's Quebec wing, as the party's leader—even though Caouette headed the party's third-strongest faction (behind the Alberta and British Columbia Socreds). This led to rumours that Caouette actually defeated Robert N. Thompson for the federal party's leadership in 1961, only to be vetoed by Manning and the Alberta Socreds.

The discovery of significant reserves of oil in 1947 transformed Alberta from one of Canada's poorest provinces to one of the country's richest with resource revenues pouring into the government's treasury.

Decline[edit]

Manning's last election win, in 1967, proved ominous for the party. Despite winning 55 of the 65 seats in the legislature, it won less than 45% of the popular vote—its lowest share of the popular vote since 1940. More importantly, the once-moribund Progressive Conservatives, led by young lawyer Peter Lougheed, won six seats, mostly in Calgary and Edmonton. Despite having wide support in Calgary and Edmonton (Manning himself represented an Edmonton riding), Social Credit was at bottom an agrarian-based party, and never really lost this character. The party didn't react nearly fast enough to the changes in Alberta as Calgary and Edmonton gained more influence.

Manning retired in 1968 and was replaced by Harry Strom at the party's first leadership election. However, Strom soon found himself eclipsed by Lougheed, whose modern and urbane image contrasted sharply with that of the dour Strom. In the 1971 election, Lougheed's PCs ended Social Credit's 36-year hold on power. The Socreds saw their share of the popular vote decrease slightly, finishing only five points behind the PCs. However, the PCs took every seat in Edmonton and all but five seats in Calgary. Due to a quirk in the first past the post system, this decimated the Social Credit caucus. They finished with only 25 seats to the PCs' 49, consigning them to the opposition benches for the first time in party history. Strom resigned as party leader in 1973 and was succeeded by Werner Schmidt, vice-president of Lethbridge Community College, who didn't hold a seat in the Legislative Assembly. Schmidt won the 1973 leadership election by defeating former Highways Minister Gordon Taylor, former Education Minister Robert Curtis Clark, who was also the party's acting leader in the legislature, and John Ludwig, dean of business education at Alberta College.[4]

Schmidt won the leadership in an upset victory on the second ballot with 814 votes, defeating Clark, who had the support of half of the Social Credit caucus, by a margin of 39 votes. Schmidt had trailed Clark on the first ballot by a margin of 512 votes to 583.[5]

First ballot

  • Clark 583
  • Schmidt 512
  • Taylor 406
  • Ludwig 71

(Ludwig eliminated, Taylor withdraws)

Second ballot

  • Schmidt 814
  • Clark 775

Social Credit sank into near-paralysis in opposition. Having spent all but a few months of its history prior to 1971 in government, it was unable to get the better of the Tories. The party's support collapsed in the 1975 election, when it fell to four seats—just barely holding onto official party status—and lost half of its popular vote from 1971. Schmidt failed to win a seat and resigned as party leader. Clark took the leadership unopposed. The party managed to stave off total collapse in the 1979 election, holding onto its four seats.

Dormancy in the 1980s[edit]

Clark resigned and on November 29, 1980, former Calgary mayor Rod Sykes became the party's new leader defeating Edmonton alderman Julian Kinisky 538-292.[6] Again without a full-time leader in the legislature, the party continued to sag in the polls. It badly lost a by-election to the upstart Western Canada Concept in the Olds-Didsbury vacated by Clark, losing official party status in the process. Unable to resolve the party's internal and financial problems, Sykes quit as leader in March 1982.

On March 31, 1982, Raymond Speaker, the Socreds' parliamentary leader and leader of the opposition in the Legislative Assembly, announced that Social Credit would sit out that year's election. In his press release, he said it would be useless for Social Credit to fight the next election since there were not enough Social Credit voters left in the province.

The Social Credit council quickly distanced itself from Speaker's statement. There was wide speculation at the time that Speaker would cross the floor to Western Canada Concept. Unable to attract a new leader, the Social Credit membership held an emergency meeting September 18, 1982. A resolution was put forward that would have dissolved the party. This was soundly rejected by the attending delegates and a new president was elected.

As soon as the writs were dropped in October, Speaker and Walt Buck and left the party to become independent candidates for the legislature. The party's third MLA, Fred Mandeville announced his retirement. Social Credit went into the 1982 election without a full- time leader, and for the first time since 1935, no incumbents. The party ran only 23 candidates and garnered only 0.8 percent of the vote. It was shut out of the Legislative Assembly for the first time since 1935, and has never elected another MLA.

In 1986, Social Credit, Western Canada Concept and the Heritage Party of Alberta joined together to form the Alberta Alliance Political Association. The Alliance fell apart when the WCC left, followed by Social Credit. The AAPA became the present day Alberta Party. Social Credit sat out the 1986 election. Most of its remaining supporters joined and ran for the Representative Party, which had been formed by Speaker after he and Buck were denied funding normally reserved to opposition parties.

Rebirth in the 1990s[edit]

Interim Leadership of the party was given to Martin Hattersley, an Edmonton lawyer, and later to Harvey Yuill of Barrhead. The party ran only six candidates in the 1989 election. The party was rekindled under the leadership of Robert Alford from 1990 to 1992. In 1991, Randy Thorsteinson, a Reform Party of Canada activist, was elected as party president. In 1992, Thorsteinson was elected as leader, and Robert Alford as president. Social Credit improved its performance in the 1993 election, but won no seats. In the 1997 election, the party nominated 70 candidates, and won 64,667 votes, over 7% of the popular vote.

After the 1997 election, polling revealed that the Social Credit Party was poised for a break-through: an estimated 150,000 Albertans would have been ready to once again support Social Credit as an alternative. This would have meant up to eight seats or more in the legislature. However, in April 1999, Thorsteinson, a devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, resigned to protest an internal party proposal to limit Mormon involvement within the party. The fortunes of the Social Credit party quickly faded.

In November 1999, James Albers was elected over Jon Dykstra and Norm Racine to lead the party in a hotly contested race. Wiebo Ludwig was disqualified. During the election of 2001, the right wing vote fractured between the newly formed Alberta First Party and Social Credit. Most right-wing voters went back to supporting the Progressive Conservatives, who had experienced a resurgence in popularity.

Thorsteinson founded the Alberta Alliance Party in October 2002.

Lavern Ahlstrom was appointed leader of the party in February 2001. Under Ahlstrom's leadership, the party made moves toward re-embracing elements of social credit monetary theory.

The party nominated 12 candidates in the 2001 election (down from 70 in 1997) and received 5,361 votes (0.5% of the popular vote), down from 64,667.

Alberta Social Credit today[edit]

As of 2004, Social Credit insists it is "neither a 'right-wing' nor a 'left-wing' political party", and that it opposes both "big business" and "big government". However, the party has adopted what some Albertans might consider to be centrist or even left-leaning policies. These include:

The party nominated 42 candidates for the 2004 election, and won 10,874 votes (1.2% of the popular vote, an increase of 0.7% from 2001.) It polled well in a few ridings, most notably Rocky Mountain House where Lavern Ahlstrom tied for second place.

In late 2005, the party entered discussion about merging with the Alberta Party and the Alberta Alliance. Despite cooperation and successful merger talks between the party leaders, the Social Credit Party membership voted down the motion to merge at the 2006 Social Credit Convention. (See: [1] and [2])

In the Drumheller-Stettler by-election on 12 June 2007, the party's candidate Larry Davidson placed third with 11.7% of the vote.

In early November 2007, Len Skowronski replaced Lavern Ahlstrom as leader of the party. [3]

The party fielded eight candidates for the 2008 Alberta general election on March 3. The party received 0.22% of the total or 2,051 votes, a decline of 1.0% from the previous election. The best individual riding result, and the only result over 3.0%, was for Wilf Tricker in Rocky Mountain House, who received 6.4% of the vote, finishing fifth in a field of seven candidates, just 0.62% behind the Green candidate and well ahead of the NDP and Separation Party candidates. It only fielded three candidates in the 2012 election, and only garnered 0.02 percent of the total— easily the party’s lowest ever election result.

Election results[edit]

Year Candidates/Ridings Seats Won Popular Vote % Result
1935 63/63 56 163,700 54.25% Majority Government
1940 56/57 36 132,507 42.90%
1944 57/57 51 146,367 51.88%
1948 57/57 51 164,003 55.63%
1952 61/61 52 167,789 56.24%
1955 61/61 37 175,553 46.42%
1959 64/65 61 230,283 55.69%
1963 63/63 60 221,107 54.81%
1967 65/65 55 222,270 44.60%
1971 75/75 25 262,953 41.10% Official Opposition
1975 70/75 4 107,211 18.17%
1979 79/79 4 141,284 19.87%
1982 23/79 0 7,843 0.83% 6th Place Standing
Did not contest the 1986 general election see Representative Party
1989 6/83 0 3,939 0.47% 4th Place Standing
1993 39/83 0 23,885 2.41%
1997 70/83 0 64,667 6.84%
2001 12/83 0 5,361 0.53% 6th Place Standing
2004 42/83 0 10,874 1.22%
2008 8/83 0 2,051 0.22%
2012 3/87 0 294 0.02% 7th Place Standing

Party leaders[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Johnson, L.P.V. and Ola MacNutt, Aberhart of Alberta, p. 100-149
  2. ^ C.H. Douglas. "The Approach to Reality". The Australian League of Rights. Retrieved 2008-02-27. 
  3. ^ Donn Downey, "OBITUARY / Ernest Charles Manning History of former Alberta premier also history of Socreds," Globe and Mail, February 20, 1996
  4. ^ "2,000 delegates to Alberta Social Credit meeting pick successor to ex-Premier today", Globe and Mail, February 3, 1973
  5. ^ "Schmidt wins Alberta Social Credit leadership, upset may split party", Globe and Mail, February 5, 1973
  6. ^ "Sykes to enter oil fray", The Calgary Herald, December 1, 1980
  7. ^ "Speaker Optimistic Over AGM". Vol LXXVI 259 (The Lethbridge Herald). October 17, 1984. p. 6. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
United Farmers of Alberta
Governing party of Alberta
1935-1971
Succeeded by
Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta