Alberta general election, 1921
61 seats in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta
31 seats needed for a majority
The Alberta general election of 1921 was the fifth general election for the Province of Alberta, Canada. It was held on July 18, 1921, to elect members to the 5th Alberta Legislative Assembly. It was one of only four times that Alberta has changed governments.
The Liberal Party, which had governed the province since its creation in 1905, lead by Charles Stewart at the time of the election, was defeated by a very-new United Farmers of Alberta political party.
The UFA was an agricultural lobby organization that was contesting its first general election. It had one sitting MLA at the time of the election: Alex Moore (Cochrane). (The UFA was led by president Henry Wise Wood. After the UFA's victory, he declined to take the leadership of the government and become Premier. The UFA caucus's third choice, its vice president, Herbert Greenfield, who had not run as candidate in the election, agreed to do so, and sought election to the legislature in a by-election.)
In a (weak) attempt at proportional voting, each voter in Edmonton and Calgary could vote for up to five candidates, while Medicine Hat voters could vote for up to two candidates. All other districts remained one voter – one vote. (By the time of the next election, a system of Single Transferable Voting was brought in, with more democratic results.)
No party ran a full slate of candidates. The UFA ran candidates in most of the rural constituencies, and one in Edmonton. The Liberal Party ran candidates in almost all the constituencies. The Conservatives ran a bare dozen candidates, mostly in the cities. Labour mostly avoided running against UFA candidates, by running candidates in the cities and in Rocky Mountain, where they counted on coal miners' votes.
The United Farmers took most of the rural seats, doing particularly well in the heavily Protestant south of the province. A majority of the votes in the constituencies where the UFA ran candidates went to the UFA.
Labour took five seats, two in Calgary. One Labour MLA was named to the UFA government cabinet, in a sort of coalition government. The Liberals took all the seats in Edmonton, due to the block-voting system in use. This multiple-vote system also skewed the vote count (see "===Calgary, Edmonton and Medicine Hat voters cast multiple votes ===" below).
The Liberal Party, which had governed the province since 1905, were led into the election by its third Premier and leader, Charles Stewart.
The Alberta Government Telephones scandal had broke before the election. It was learned that the Liberals spent AGT 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 UFA's political wing, as a 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, which 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 MLAs, despite not changing their affiliation, caucused with the United Farmers.
Wise Wood knew midway through the election campaign that his party was going to form government. In a famous speech he gave in 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 would have preferred that only his 20 best candidates were elected, to form the opposition, but he said he knew there would be a lot more than that 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 declining to seek office himself, instead devoting his energies help other candidates.
At the beginning of the election Independent Labor offered to nominate Edmonton area candidates at a joint convention with the DLP, to prevent the splitting of the labour vote and use the co-operative good-will to eventually unite the parties. The Dominion Labor declined the offer stating that to do so would divide its own ticket.
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 had been in decline since O'Brien lost his seat in the 1913 general election. Two Socialist candidates ran in this election, under the banner Labour Socialist, Frank Williams in Calgary and Marie Mellard in Edmonton. Marie Mellard would join the new Communist Party within the year.
Calgary, Edmonton and Medicine Hat voters cast multiple votes
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 exaggerate the actual number of Liberal party supporters however. Urban voters in Calgary and Edmonton were allowed to place five votes and Medicine Hat voters 2 votes, as Edmonton and Calgary contained 5 seats each and Medicine Hat 2 seats, while voters in the other constituencies, most of which were contested by the UFA, only had 1 vote each 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.
This over-representation of big-city voters was so significant that there were more than 120,000 more votes counted than there were voters voting—significant as no single party received more than 102,000 votes. The Liberal Party received 28,000 votes in Edmonton and 20,000 votes in Calgary, almost half of their total across the province, under this system where each big-city Liberal voter could lodge five votes for the party. If you give the Liberal Party only one-fifth of their vote tally in Edmonton and Calgary, the Liberal Party total vote count decreases to well below the UFA total. Now it could be that each voter in Edmonton gave one of his/her votes to the Liberals (but not likely), but even so the Liberal candidates in Edmonton received 8,000 more votes in Edmonton than there were voters who voted. This 8,000 is more than half the difference between the Liberal's and the UFA's tallies province-wide.
It was also noted by defenders of the government that the UFA percentage of total seats (62 percent) is identical to the percentage of votes it received in the constituencies in which it did run candidates.
The result of the election radically and forever altered the political landscape of the province. The United Farmers won a majority government, mostly with rural MLAs predominantly from the south of the province, while the Liberals, formerly in power, were moved to the opposition side of the Chamber with MLAs in the cities of Calgary and Edmonton and some northern strongholds.
The 38 MLAs who attended the first United Farmers caucus meeting voted unanimously for UFA President Henry Wise Wood to lead the government as Premier. Wood, who had opposed the UFA becoming a political party for fear that political in-fighting would break up the movement, 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 farmers movement as a non-partisan movement and as an economic group instead of as a political party. The UFA vice-president, Percival Baker, had won his riding with a majority of votes, despite being badly injured in a 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 (just as later William Aberhart and James Prentice would be premiers without a seat at first.)
|Party||Party Leader||# of
|1917||Elected||% Change||#||%||% Change|
|United Farmers||Henry Wise Wood||45||*||38||*||86,250||28.92%||*|
|Dominion Labor||Holmes Jowett||10||1||4||+300%||33,987||11.40%||+8.56%|
|Soldiers' vote (Province at large)||0||2||-||-||-||-||-20.33%|
|Sources: Elections Alberta; "Alberta provincial election results". Elections Alberta. Archived from the original on 2008-02-11. Retrieved 2008-01-13.|
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- Vote count skewed by multiple voting in Calgary, Edmonton, and Medicine Hat.
- turn-out figure not available because the official Report on Alberta Elections does not give turn-out figure and does not give number of eligible voters in Edmonton and Calgary. Also block voting in those cities confuses strict accounting; as does election of one MLA by acclamation, but in 1926 when about the same number of voters turned out in the cities, the turn-outs there were about 50-60 percent.
- "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.