Alberta Social Credit Party
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Social credit: Albertan
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The Alberta Social Credit Party is a provincial political party in Alberta, Canada, that was founded on social credit monetary policy put forward by Clifford Hugh Douglas and on 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 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 Alberta Social Credit party won a majority government in 1935, in the first election it contested, barely months after its formation. During its first years, when led by William Aberhart, it was a radical monetary reform party, at least in theory if not in effect. After Aberhart's death in 1943 and the rise to leadership of Ernest Manning, followed quickly by the discovery of oil in north-central Alberta and its accompanying wealth for many, Social Credit changed to a pro-business, anti-union, anti-government-interventionist style of governing. It stayed in power until 1971, one of the longest unbroken runs in government at the provincial level in Canada. However, it has held no seats since 1982, and finished a distant seventh in the 2012 and 2015 general elections.
William Aberhart, a Baptist lay-preacher and evangelist in Calgary, was attracted to social credit theory while Alberta (and much of the western world) was in the depths of the Great Depression. He soon began promoting it through his radio program on CFCN in Calgary, adding a heavy dose of fundamentalist Christianity to the Social Credit theories of C.H. Douglas. The basic premise of social credit is that all citizens should be paid a dividend as capital and technology replace labour in production; this was especially attractive to farmers sinking under the weight of the Depression. Many study groups devoted to the theory sprang up across the province, which united into the Social Credit League of Alberta.
Rise to power
From 1932 to 1935, Aberhart tried to get the governing United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) to adopt social credit. But 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, so Aberhart entered Social Credit candidates in that year's provincial election. There was widespread discontent with the overly cautious behaviour of the UFA government, and in some cases, local UFA chapters openly supported 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. Alberta thus elected the first Social Credit government in the world.
Not even the Socreds had expected to win the election. Indeed, they hadn't even named a leader during the campaign. The Socreds now found themselves having to choose a formal leader who would become the province's new premier. Aberhart was the obvious choice, having been the party's driving force from the beginning. He didn't want the office, but was persuaded to take power. He was elected as leader and premier-designate at the party's first caucus meeting, and was sworn in on September 3. He became a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) a year later in a by-election.
The first year and a half in power was a period of adjustment for the newly elected Socred MLAs and their premier. Negotiations between Aberhart and Douglas, who had been hired by the UFA as a financial advisor, were colourful but unproductive. Aberhart, consumed with details of governance and administration, made little 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 Socred MLAs revolted against Aberhart's leadership, refusing to pass the provincial budget until Aberhart promised serious reform of the banking system.
Not "funny money"
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 main leader 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.
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 sided with Bown and struck down the bills because only the federal government can legislate on banking. Thwarted in its 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 (ATB) in 1938. ATB has become a lasting legacy of Social Credit Party policies in Alberta, operating as of 2017[update] as an orthodox financial institution and crown corporation. It is today the only government-owned bank in Canada that deals with the public.
Bowen also refused Royal Assent to the government's Accurate News and Information Act, which would have forced newspapers to print government rebuttals to stories to which the Executive Council (cabinet) objected. The government's relationship with Bowen became so acrimonious that in 1938, Bowen threatened to use his reserve power to dismiss Aberhart. In the end, Bowen chose not to take this extraordinary action, in part because the Socreds were so popular that they would have almost won the ensuing election.
To uphold its election promise of democratizing Alberta's government, Aberhart passed a law allowing for the recall of members of the Legislative Assembly by petition of constituents. However, he repealed the legislation when he himself became the target of a recall drive.
Continuing the UFA government's conservatism (which verged on prohibition) on the matter of drinking, Aberhart's government enacted several socially conservative laws, notably one restricting the sale and serving of alcohol. It was one of the strictest such laws in Canada. Well into the 1960s, commercial airlines could not serve alcohol while flying over Alberta.
As well, the government passed stronger labour legislation, such as a minimum wage law for male workers (female workers already coming under legislation passed by the UFA government), and centralized the province's school system.
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. His government was one of the most conservative provincial governments in Canada. Manning moved to purge anti-Semites from the party. While anti-Semitism had been part of the party's Christian populist rhetoric for years, it 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.
Manning led Social Credit to seven consecutive election victories. He governed with very large majorities for virtually his entire tenure, winning well over 50 percent of the popular vote and rarely facing 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 had defeated Robert N. Thompson for the federal party's leadership in 1961, only to have his win 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.
Manning's last election win, in 1967, proved ominous for the party. Despite winning 55 of the 65 seats in the legislature, it received less than 45% of the popular vote — its lowest share of the popular vote since 1940. This was a significant drop from 1963, when it took all but six seats.
More importantly, the once-moribund Progressive Conservatives, led by young lawyer Peter Lougheed, won six seats, mostly in Calgary and Edmonton. Despite having long-standing 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 Agriculture Minister Harry Strom at the party's first leadership election. However, Strom soon was eclipsed by Lougheed, whose modern and urbane image contrasted sharply with that of the dour Strom. His cause was not helped when the Tories picked up an additional four seats during the term.
In the 1971 election, Lougheed's PCs ended Social Credit's 36-year hold on power. The Socred share of the popular vote decreased slightly, but still they finished only five points behind the PCs and won a record number of votes (due in part to Alberta's larger population). While they mostly held their own in their rural heartlands, their support in Edmonton and Calgary plummeted from 1968. The PCs took every seat in Edmonton, and all but five in Calgary. The Socreds lost a number of ridings by a small margin. However, due to the first past the post system in use (which awards power solely on the basis of seats won), Social Credit's caucus was cut almost in half. It was cut down to 25 seats, and was consigned to the opposition benches for the first time in party history.
Strom resigned as party leader in 1973. In the 1973 leadership election, Werner Schmidt, vice-president of Lethbridge Community College, who didn't hold a seat in the Legislative Assembly, ran against 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.
Clark, who had the support of half of the party's MLAs, led Schmidt on the first ballot, 583 votes to 512 votes. But in an upset victory, Schmidt won on the second ballot with 814 votes, defeating Clark by 39 votes.
- Clark 583
- Schmidt 512
- Taylor 406
- Ludwig 71
(Ludwig eliminated, Taylor withdraws)
- 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. It didn't help matters that Schmidt was never able to get into the legislature; he lost a by-election shortly after taking the leadership. 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 the popular vote it had received in 1971. Schmidt failed to win a seat and resigned as party leader, leaving Clark to take the leadership unopposed. Under Clark, the party staved off total collapse in the 1979 election, holding onto its four seats.
Dormancy in the 1980s
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. Again without its 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 riding 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, Social Credit parliamentary leader Raymond Speaker, the 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 Party 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. George Richardson was named acting leader.
Social Credit went into the 1982 election in a precarious position. It had not had its leader in the legislature at any point during the parliamentary term, and for the first time since 1935, it had 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 altogether for the first time, and has never elected another MLA.
In 1986, Social Credit, Western Canada Concept and the Heritage Party of Alberta joined 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
Interim leadership of the party was given to Martin Hattersley, an Edmonton lawyer, and later to Harvey Yuill of Barrhead. The party ran 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 could have meant eight seats 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. Social Credit's fortunes 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
As of 2004[update], 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:
- re-regulation of energy services,
- creation of a public automobile insurance provider, and
- the use of government funds to build meat packing plants in response to the BSE crisis.
- vehement opposition to the proposed privatization of the Alberta Treasury Branches.
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:  and )
In the Drumheller-Stettler by-election on 12 June 2007, the party's candidate Larry Davidson placed third with 11.7% of the vote.
The party fielded eight candidates for the 2008 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 percent, 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 of Alberta candidates.
It fielded three candidates in the 2012 election, and garnered 0.023% of the total vote. Its six nominated candidates won 832 votes in the 2015 election, 0.056% of the total vote - an increase of 0.033% over its 2012 result.
|1935||William Aberhart||63 / 63||163,700||54.25%||
56 / 63
|1940||56 / 57||132,507||42.90%||
36 / 57
|1944||Ernest Manning||57 / 57||146,367||51.88%||
51 / 57
|1948||57 / 57||164,003||55.63%||
51 / 57
|1952||61 / 61||167,789||56.24%||
52 / 61
|1955||61 / 61||175,553||46.42%||
37 / 61
|1959||64 / 65||230,283||55.69%||
61 / 65
|1963||63 / 63||221,107||54.81%||
60 / 63
|1967||65 / 65||222,270||44.60%||
55 / 65
|1971||Harry Strom||75 / 75||262,953||41.10%||
25 / 75
|1975||Werner Schmidt||70 / 75||107,211||18.17%||
4 / 75
|1979||Robert Curtis Clark||79 / 79||141,284||19.87%||
4 / 79
|1982||George Richardson||23 / 79||7,843||0.83%||
0 / 79
|1986||Did not contest the 1986 general election (see Representative Party)|
|1989||Harvey Yuill||6 / 83||3,939||0.47%||
0 / 83
|1993||Randy Thorsteinson||39 / 83||23,885||2.41%||
0 / 83
|1997||70 / 83||64,667||6.84%||
0 / 83
|2001||James Albers||12 / 83||5,361||0.53%||
0 / 83
|2004||Lavern Ahlstrom||42 / 83||10,874||1.22%||
0 / 83
|2008||Len Skowronski||8 / 83||2,051||0.22%||
0 / 83
|2012||3 / 87||294||0.02%||
0 / 83
|2015||6 / 87||832||0.06%||
0 / 83
- William Aberhart 1935-1943 (7th Premier of Alberta)
- Ernest Manning 1943-1968 (8th Premier of Alberta)
- Harry E. Strom 1968-1972 (9th Premier of Alberta)
- James Henderson (acting) 1972-1973
- Werner Schmidt 1973-1975
- James Henderson 1973 (leader in the legislature)
- Robert Curtis Clark 1973-1975 (leader in the legislature)
- Robert Curtis Clark 1975-1980
- Rod Sykes 1980-1982
- Raymond Speaker 1980-1982 (leader in the legislature)
- Ray Neilson 1984-1985
- George Richardson (Acting leader) 1982-1985
- Martin Hattersley (Interim Leader) 1985-1988
- Harvey Yuill (Interim Leader) 1988-1990
- Robert Alford 1990-1992
- Randy Thorsteinson 1993-1999
- James Albers 1999-2001
- Lavern Ahlstrom 2001-2007
- Len Skowronski 2007–present
- Johnson, L.P.V. and Ola MacNutt, Aberhart of Alberta, p. 100-149
- C.H. Douglas. "The Approach to Reality". The Australian League of Rights. Retrieved 2008-02-27.
- Caldoralo, Carl (1979). "The Social Credit in Alberta 1935-1971". Society and Politics in Alberta. Methuen. pp. 108–130.
- Donn Downey, "OBITUARY / Ernest Charles Manning History of former Alberta premier also history of Socreds," Globe and Mail, February 20, 1996
- "2,000 delegates to Alberta Social Credit meeting pick successor to ex-Premier today", Globe and Mail, February 3, 1973
- "Schmidt wins Alberta Social Credit leadership, upset may split party", Globe and Mail, February 5, 1973
- "Sykes to enter oil fray", The Calgary Herald, December 1, 1980
- "Speaker Optimistic Over AGM". Vol LXXVI 259. The Lethbridge Herald. October 17, 1984. p. 6.
- The Alberta Social Credit Party
- The William Aberhart Historical Foundation
- Social Credit
- Social Discredit: Anti-Semitism, Social Credit and the Jewish Response
- The Prairie Roots of Canada's Political 'Third Parties'
United Farmers of Alberta
|Governing party of Alberta
Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta