So far, Alberta has had two watershed elections in its history. The first was in 1921 when the United Farmers of Alberta swept to victory and ended the Liberal Party’s time in power, pretty much forever, in Alberta.
The next came in 1935.
The Great Depression was raging, and people wanted something to help them. There were thousands of people on relief, communities were bankrupt and there seemed no end in sight.
That is where Bible Bill Aberhart comes in, but we will get to him.
After John Brownlee had resigned as premier over the sex scandal that dominated headlines, Richard Gavin Reid took over on the United Farmers of Alberta, and the premiership, on July 10, 1934.
Reid had less than a year before the next election and he began several policy initiatives to deal with The Great Depression. First, he passed legislation allowing the government to purchase cattle from farmers who could no longer afford to feed them. He also worked out a cost-sharing agreement with the federal government and the railways to relocate farmers fleeing the dust belt. He called for the creation of a federal wheat marketing board, and proposed protecting farmers from creditors. His government also experimented with universal health care, in a proposal that would give free medical, dental and hospital care. A pilot project was supposed to happen in Camrose, but the election ended that proposal.
Despite all that he accomplished in a short time, his party was often at odds with him and some felt he moved too far to the left towards the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation.
The biggest problem for Reid was social credit and William Aberhart. Aberhart was stating that the gap between production and purchasing power in society was the cause of The Great Depression. Reid actually supported social credit, as it was envisioned by its creator C.H. Douglas, rather than the populist social credit put forward by Aberhart.
To that end, Reid called into question Aberhart’s understanding of social credit and the fact that Douglas did not like Aberhart or believe he understood his theories. He once called the policies of Aberhart fallacious from start to finish. Reid, hoping to capitalize on this, invited Douglas to come to Alberta and serve as an Economic Reconstruction Advisor, making $4,500 for a three-week trip around the province. Douglas accepted this but many were angered at the money he received. Overall, the tour provided mixed results as Douglas was evasive in evaluating Aberhart’s version of social credit.
William “Bible Bill” Aberhart had worked as a school teacher for almost a decade when he was offered the position of a principal of Mount Royal School in Calgary in 1910. Aberhart was a devout churchgoer and in 1922, was leading the Westbourne Baptist Church. He also held a bible study group in Calgary.
By 1925, he was on CFCN broadcasting Sunday sermons, which quickly began to grow in popularity as his profile increased across the province.
His popularity only increased as the Great Depression began. It was at this time that Aberhart started to turn towards Social Credit as a solution to the problems of the depression.
At the time, Aberhart was not interested in politics and from 1932 to 1935, he lobbied the United Farmers to adopt social credit theories but they never did.
He wrote to his niece in July 1933 stating,
“Some people tell me I should run for premier of Alberta. Ha! I have no ambition along that line but the radio broadcast has made me well-known all over the province.”
Most don’t believe that Aberhart understood social credit theories. The theory was that prices rise faster than incomes when regarded as a flow. As a result, an individual’s purchasing power should be supplemented through issuing of new credits that don’t derive from the productive system.
Aberhart’s solution to the problem of the Depression was issuing every adult citizen a monthly credit of $25, issued as a non-negotiable certificate. It was his belief that the credit would allow people to buy food, shelter and clothing.
Going into the election, the Social Credit Party had very low expectations and they didn’t even have a formal leader, beyond their de facto leader in Aberhart. In fact, Aberhart did not even run in the election, maintaining that he was not pushing social credit for political gain.
Aberhart, despite not running, spoke for the party and using the skills he had honed over a decade on the radio, was an electrifying speaker that sparked the imaginations of those who listened to him. He would cry as he discussed the plight of the poor, get the audience laughing with a joke, and then sell them on his message as they were held captive by his words.
One farmer said,
“He appealed to us because he attacked the banks and mortgage companies really fierce. You should have heard the crowd applaud this part.”
Unable to convince the United Farmers of Alberta to adopt his policies, Aberhart created his own party, the Social Credit Party of Alberta.
As for the Alberta Liberals, they ran on the platform of The Rest of Canada Can’t Be Wrong, which referred to the popularity of the Liberals elsewhere in Canada.
Overall, this election campaign was seen as the most negative in Alberta’s history. Many Social Credit members were accused of openly defacing campaign signs of opponents, and drowning out speeches with honking horns. There were reports of cars smeared in red paint, sugar put in gas tanks and even tires slashed.
Most of the newspapers, and nearly all of the major businesses in the province opposed the $25 credit offered by the Social Credit Party. In July, a group of businesses formed the Economic Safety League to attack Social Credit to that end.
The Calgary Herald offered its pages to Aberhart to unveil the details of his intentions and plan for the credit. The Conservative owners of the newspaper knew that Aberhart had no plan and were hoping to expose it but Aberhart never took the bait.
When he spoke and hecklers criticized him, he simply said,
“One does not have to understand electricity to turn on a light switch.”
Aberhart also called on his supporters to boycott various newspapers like the Calgary Herald. He stated,
“I don’t think you’ll miss it if you don’t have it. I think you can get the news in another way. Some of the citizens of this province cannot distinguish falsity from truth.”
The newspapers played directly into the hand of Aberhart, who used their attacks on him to portray himself as a country man up against big shots. At the time, bankers and businessmen were very unpopular as many residents in Alberta were barely getting by.
Throughout the campaign, Aberhart appeared across the province. Sometimes, he would give four speeches per day and the UFA was unable to match his energy or the hysteria growing around him from the electorate.
One Balzac woman said,
“Ask your local Social Credit supporter why he is voting Social Credit. All he knows is that his Moses has promised him $25 per month. How is he to get it, who from, or who has to suffer doesn’t worry him. Santa Claus has told him to trust and believe, ask no questions, and all will be well.”
Former premier John Brownlee, running in Ponoka, was often met with hecklers. At one point while speaking at a rally, a group of single men heckled him by asking where his mistress was. At others meetings, hecklers said he should not be allowed to speak since he had nothing worthwhile to say.
Heading into the election, despite the popularity of Aberhart, many Social Credit candidates doubted they could win.
Norman James, a Social Credit candidate, said before the election,
“I really didn’t have much hope of winning, although I talked bravely and glibly of its being in the bag. My opponents were old campaigners with well-oiled machinery to use. We were greenhorns, blundering along with nothing much but an objective.”
Most thought the Liberals would win since the federal Liberals were very popular but the Liberal Party didn’t have a clear path for voters to follow and often went whichever way the wind was blowing.
As for the Conservatives, their association with Prime Minister RB Bennett would sink them.
Now, the Social Credit were in for a surprise.
In the Aug. 22, 1935 election, the United Farmers completely collapsed. They lost every seat they had held and finished with zero seats. Even Reid, the premier, lost his seat in the election. A party wipe-out such as this has happened only two other times in Canadian history, when the Prince Edward Island Conservatives lost every seat in their 1935 election, and when the New Brunswick Conservatives lost every seat in the 1987 election.
The UFA never recovered from this defeat and were gone from provincial politics by 1937.
The Labour Party also lost all of its seats, finishing with zero as well.
For the Conservative Party, they lost four seats, finishing with only two, including one won by their leader David Duggan.
As for the Liberals, they lost eight seats but had five seats in the Legislature still and formed the Official Opposition.
As for the Social Credit Party, they won 56 seats to achieve a massive majority in their first ever election. The part also won 54.2 per cent of the vote. Only the Liberals had over 20 per cent, and the remaining parties had less than 12 per cent. Of course, with no leader they needed someone to serve as premier and they chose Aberhart, who accepted and was sworn in as premier on Sept. 3, 1935.
There were some poll stations where every vote went to the Social Credit Party. Party member Ernest Manning said,
“Which means that even the scrutineers and election people of other parties ended up voting for the Social Candidate. With that type of atmosphere around, it was quite evident that the movement was going to elect a lot of members.”
This election was the first of nine consecutive wins for the Social Credit Party, who would rule Alberta until 1971.
This election saw a turnout of 80 per cent, by far the highest in Alberta’s history.
Over the past five years since the last election, the government of William Bible Bill Aberhart had suffered some setbacks. On the one hand, Aberhart let the Second World War solve the unemployment problem, but on the other hand every important legislation he passed was thrown out by the courts, and the provincial debt had risen from $12.9 million to $129 million
The biggest issue was that his government did not implement many of the policies it had promised in the 1935 election because of the poor financial position of the province.
The prosperity certificates of $25 were not issued to the general public, despite that being a key part of the platform of the party. Instead, the money was used to pay relief workers on public work projects, and they were put into circulation via an agreement with municipalities.
The certificates weren’t technically money either, but they were marked with the value of one dollar or five dollars. To prevent hoarding, a one cent stamp had to be affixed to the back of the certificate every week to maintain its validity. This was deeply unpopular as many saw it as a tax on the money. Another issue was trying to find a seller who would actually take the certificates as money.
The program was eventually cancelled after one year.
There were other problems for Bible Bill during his first mandate, specifically with the press.
On Sept. 20, 1937, Bible Bill stated on his radio program, “these creatures with mental hydrophobia will be taken in hand and their biting and barking will cease.” The creatures he referred to were the press. On Sept. 24, he would put forward the Accurate News and Information Act.
This act would allow the chair of the Social Credit Board to require a newspaper to reveal the names and addresses of its sources, as well as writers. If a newspaper did not comply, it would result in fines up to $1,000 per day and prohibitions on the publishing of the newspaper. The Act would also require newspapers to print any statement which, as the act says, “has for its object the correction or amplification of any statement relating to any policy or activity of the Government of the Province.”
Not surprisingly, the act was attacked immediately by opposition politicians who called it supporting fascism. International newspapers jumped on the criticism as well. One newspaper in England called Aberhart, “a little Hitler”
The Edmonton Journal would state in an editorial, “if this Bill should pass and stand, where then would be freedom of speech and liberty of the press? Where then would be the liberty of the citizens to free expression of opinion. The press bill now before the legislature is a dictatorial challenge to every freedom-loving Canadian whose home is Alberta.”
John Bowen, the Lt. Governor of Alberta, understood that this would be a very controversial issue so he reserved royal assent of the act until the legality could be tested at the Supreme Court of Canada.
Bible Bill was not pleased by this and in 1938, he announced the elimination of the official residence of the Lt. Gov, his government car and his secretarial staff. It was never stated publicly but it is felt this was in direct response to the reservation of assent.
While the Act was suspended with the reservation, that did not stop Bible Bill from attacking the press. On March 25, 1938, the Social Credit Party ordered that Don Brown from the Edmonton Journal be jailed, as they stated, “during the pleasure of the assembly” for misquoting a Social Credit backbencher. The government stated he committed scandalous misrepresentation and the RCMP was ordered to deliver Brown to a provincial jail in Lethbridge. He was to be held there, without trial, indefinitely. He was never actually jailed and the very next day, due to the immense negative publicity from across Canada, a new resolution was passed to release him from custody.
It was around this same time that the Supreme Court ruled that the Accurate News and Information Act was beyond the power of the Alberta government and found that the Canadian constitution included an implied bill of rights that protected freedom of speech as being critical in a parliamentary democracy.
For their fight against the act, the Pulitzer Prize committee awarded the Edmonton Journal a bronze plaque, the first time a non-American newspaper was ever honoured. In addition, 95 newspapers around the province were presented with engraved certificates.
One of the biggest accomplishments of Aberhart during his first term was the establishment of Alberta Treasury Branches in 1938. The operations of the banks included special credit given for those who used made-in-Alberta goods. The Crown corporation and financial institution continues to exist to this day.
Aberhart waited to call the election until the federal Liberals called their election. He then had his scheduled for March 21, five days before the federal election. Aberhart chose not to run in Okotoks-High River, where he was worried he would lose. Instead, he chose to run for one of the five seats available in Calgary. This gave him a much better chance of re-election. He said,
“I am picking up the gauntlet thrown at my feet by those who have said Aberhart is afraid to let his name appear on the ballot in Calgary for fear of defeat.”
Recognizing that the Social Credit Party was still very powerful, the Conservative and Liberal Parties decided to run joint candidates as part of what they called the Unity or Independent Movement. The Social Credits lost four of their own members to this party, having crossed the floor to it.
Aberhart called the union of these members a swindle, and stated,
“When they know they are beaten under their own banner, they run as Independents.”
The Labour Party also ran in this election, but for the most part were seen as a non-party with little chance at election success.
The Liberals were two decades removed from their height and their best days were behind them. Edward Gray served as the leader, and he only supported Independent candidates that his party had a hand in nominating.
Throughout the election, the Union Party had the full support of the press who were no fans of Aberhart and the Social Credits. For the most part, there was no neutral reporting as the papers featured speeches by Unity candidates. Then, they would print a box on the front page of the papers detailing what Aberhart promised, and what he had in fact delivered. On two days, the Calgary Herald devoted four full columns to an expose on the alleged financial incompetence of the Social Credit Party. Nearly every editorial in the major papers attacked the Social Credit Party.
“It will take more than all the money the Big Shots can pour into this election, or the most ridiculous cartoons some moron can conceive.”
The Unity Party candidate, David Duggan, alleged that in 1936, Aberhart entered into a deal so that an investor could buy Alberta bonds at 60 per cent of their value, then exchange the bond issues at a lower interest rate. Aberhart denied the charge but when Duggan produced a signed copy of the agreement, he stated it was true.
The Social Credit Party, through Ernest Manning, attacked the Unity Party by asking if they would return interest rates to the original levels, reimburse bondholders, and if so how would they do it without raising taxes.
They then ran on the slogans of Keep Aberhart and Keep the Sheriff Out, while the Union Party ran slogans such as Free Yourself From Social Credit’s Pocket Hitlerism.
Election meetings were rowdy and scuffles would often break out when Aberhart was speaking. His supporters and detractors came to blows several times at meetings. At his wind-up rally at the Empire Theatre in Edmonton, ten policemen stormed in to stop people fighting in the crowd.
Aberhart stated that the world was watching the election, he said,
“The world is looking at this election if you measure up, you will send an electric thrill through the world.”
In the March 21, 1940 election, the Social Credit Party lost 11 seats to finish with 36, which was still more than enough for a majority. This would be the most opposition that the party faced until the election in 1959.
Aberhart, who won his seat, said,
“I would like to say that I am very much delighted and quite satisfied with the results of the provincial election as far as I know them at the present time.”
Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King wrote in his diary the day of the election,
“An interesting feature of the evening was the beginning of returns from Alberta. They indicated that the Social Credit government was having a close run through likely to be again office. I am quite sure that this evidence of the ground the Social Credit is losing in Alberta itself will react much to our favour on Tuesday.”
As it turned out, King was right. His party gained six seats to finish with a massive majority of 179 seats, the most in Canadian history to that point.
The Independent Movement Party won 19 seats and became the Official Opposition. Despite having 17 less seats, the party only finished with .4 per cent less of the popular vote. The party lost a number of seats by very small margins, and with a different election system, likely would have won the election.
The Labour Party won only one seat in the election, while the Liberals lost five seats and finished with only one.
The Cooperative Commonwealth Federation nominated candidates for the first time in this election, but even through they took 10 per cent of the popular vote, well ahead of the Liberals and Labour, they won no seats.
As the vote was held in March, there was surprise for the turnout that was high despite muddy roads and a snowstorm. The Nanaimo Daily News stated,
“One of the surprises of yesterday’s balloting that saw a heavy vote despite snow storms and muddy roads in different sections of the province as the poor showing of the CCF which had 36 candidates.”
When the 1944 Alberta election rolled around, William Aberhart was gone as premier of the province. He had not resigned, but had passed away.
After the 1940 election, Aberhart mostly dealt with the impact of the Second World War on Alberta. Employment was high and everyone had lots of money. Plans for further implementation of Social Credit were put on the backburner during the war years.
The days of The Great Depression were over, and most people had forgotten about the lack of follow through on a number of promises Aberhart had made during that difficult time.
Then, on May 23, 1943, Aberhart died suddenly while visiting his daughters in Vancouver.
The Edmonton Journal wrote,
“Mr. Aberhart won world-wide fame in fighting for farm debtor relief and introduced much sweeping legislation along this line.”
He was buried in Burnaby and was succeeded by his long-time disciple, Ernest Manning.
Manning moved away from the monetary theories of Douglas upon taking over as premier. It was his goal to move the party to a more moderate path. Upon becoming premier at the age of only 35, he was the youngest premier, or first minister, in the history of the British Parliamentary system since William Pitt the Younger in the United Kingdom over 150 years previous.
The task of taking over as premier was not going to be an easy one for Manning with the shadow of Aberhart. The Edmonton Journal wrote on June 1, 1943,
“The strong personality of the late premier only adds to the initial difficulties of his task, for as Today and Tomorrow, the Social Credit weekly, put it in a special editorial article paying tribute to Mr. Aberhart no one can take his place.”
This would be the first election for Manning, who had served in the Legislature since 1935.
Although Manning was coy on whether an election would be called. On July 4, 1944 he stated he didn’t know where the talk was coming from, adding,
“One has not been called, and such is not contemplated.”
A few days later, he called an election.
The Independent Movement still existed, and was led by James H. Walker, who had been part of the United Farmers of Alberta, before becoming the leader of the Independent Movement in 1941, after he was elected to the Legislature in 1940.
The Co-operative Commonwealth was led by Elmer Roper, who had first been elected in 1942, and took over as the leader of the party upon the death of previous leader David Duggan. The party was proving to be very popular, and they wanted the nationalization of private utilities.
A new party emerged for this election as well, the Veterans and Active Force, which was a one-man political party led by William J. Williams, who was a Second World War veteran.
Throughout the campaign, Manning campaigned on Social Credit being the only alternative to socialism and communism.
“The old order of the past has gone forever, people are convinced of that. What are they going to put in its place, that is the question. In all other provinces, they have had only one movement to which to turn…socialism. Alberta is the only province which has another alternative, Social Credit.”
Compared to previous elections, this one was a quiet affair. It was far less bitter compared to the 1935, or even the 1940 election as well.
Manning spent most of the campaign criticizing the CCF’s plans to socialize various companies. One plan by the CCF to socialize the Calgary Power Company was heavily criticized by Manning stating it would create a $20 million debt and an interest payment of $600,000.
Manning began to call the election day U-Day, citing it as a day of united action similar to D-Day. He said,
“On D-Day, Allied troops launched a united assault on German aggression in Europe. On U-Day, you, the individual voter, have a responsibility and a job to do. The actions is up to you.”
In the election, servicemen and veterans voted in the first phase of the election Aug. 4, 1944, four days before the main election.
In the Aug. 8, 1944 election, the Social Credit Party under Ernest Manning won a resounding victory by picking up 16 seats to finish with 51. They also took over 50 per cent of the vote.
“Once more the enlightened electorate in Canada has spoken with a clear and unmistakable voice. The sweeping verdict which they have today rendered at the polls may regarded as fourfold.”
He then cited it was an endorsement of the government, an expression of confidence, a repudiation of socialism and a rejection of deceptive political practices.
The Independent Movement earned only three seats, dropping from 15 before the election. Even though the party had 48 seats fewer seats than the Social Credit Party, they were still the Official Opposition.
The Co-operative Commonwealth won one more seat, finishing with two seats. This was a shock for the party, who believed they were about to break through politically.
The Veterans and Active Force won the only seat it contested.
As Alberta moved to the last election of the 1940s, the Social Credit Party was looking to hold on to power, which it had since 1935.
As it turned out, very little would change in this election.
Only the three main parties contested in the election as well.
Social Credit were still led by Ernest Manning, who was hoping to win his second election and remain as premier.
The province had moved out of the Second World War and Manning remains incredibly popular. He had also served as the Provincial Treasurer during those years.
The province had a major change on the horizon after a huge oil deposit was discovered at Leduc in 1947. This would fundamentally alter the economic prospects of the province and make it one of the richest in the country. Oil and gas would slowly become the most important industry in the province, reshaping provincial politics as well. This also moved the province towards developing the oil sands under Manning’s premiership.
Manning was also very anti-Communist, as well as anti-media, believing that they were full of Marxists and sympathetic to the cause of Communism. He said at one point,
“Evident, in my view, in the news media, which are heavily slanted, as a general rule favorably slanted, to socialist philosophy. This isn’t by chance, it is because communism has been smart enough to see that there are always a goodly number of men in that field who are sympathetic to the socialist and even communist philosophy.”
In 1946, Manning’s government began censoring communist propaganda films in an effort to eliminate what is saw as communist though in Alberta-shown movies. This meant the banning of several films including Blackboard Jungle and the Wild Ones.
Manning was also anti-union, and considered labour strikes to be communist and anti-Christian. When the January 1948 coal miners strike broke out with thousands of coal miners striking, the province was in danger of losing power. The strike was so large it accounted for 30 per cent of all time lost to strikes in Canada that year. This began a move by Manning to rewrite the labour laws of the province by March so that the government could shut down the strike.
The Co-operative Commonwealth Party was still led by Elmer Roper, who hoped to improve on the two seats the party had in the Legislature.
James H. Prowse led the Liberals, who were far removed from their heyday of four decades previous.
Heading into the election, there were 173 candidates going for the 57 seats. The total cost of the election was put at $250,000, or $3.2 million today.
The CCF attacked Manning and the Social Credit Party over claims that private companies were making millions of dollars from the province’s natural resources, and the residents of Alberta were not getting a fair share. Manning denied this was the case, and that the government had been pursuing a consistent policy when it came to natural resources. He said,
“Alberta’s natural resources are being developed in the best interests of all citizens.”
On the election ballot was a plebiscite on public power. Manning said in July 1947 that the government would not take over the rural electric companies. Then, he told the companies to put in place a rural electrification program to provide service to at least 21,500 farms within the areas they service. Among the public, there was a demand for the government to take over the power companies.
“The government proposes to ascertain and implement the wishes of the people themselves in this important matter.”
Overall, few expected the Liberal Party do accomplish anything in the election, but the Liberals hoped to gain some of the votes going to the CCF.
Overall, things did not go well for the CCF despite their support of public ownership of electricity. City councilors in Edmonton and Calgary were deeply critical of the CCF and the public electricity plan, leading to Roper defending himself against not only rival parties, but city officials as well.
So, voters would also choose in the election if they wanted public power, something the CCF wanted and hoped to put into place.
In the Aug. 17, 1948 election, Ernest Manning and the Social Credit Party easily won the election with 55 per cent of the vote. The party picked up one more seat in the election to finish with 51 and a massive majority once again.
“I am particularly pleased to note their emphatic repudiation of the socialist threat to our free democratic way of life. Now that the election is over, I hope that all our people will forget their political differences and that we may unitedly go forward together to ensure to all our people in full benefits of the great era of economic and industrial development.”
The CCF didn’t see a seat change, going into the election with two seats and finishing with two.
As for the Liberals, they went from one seat to two, and now sat tied with the CCF in the Legislature.
“We have gained experience. We now have the nucleus of an organization on which we will build. We will begin, as of this moment, to prepare ourselves so that we can do a better job in the contests which lie ahead of us.”
The Manning government would make fun of the results of the CCF and Liberals, commenting that they should buy tandem bicycles.
Regarding the plebiscite, the final results were 139,991 for private power versus 139,840 for public ownership. The result was so close it had to be counted three times but the end result was the same, Albertans wanted private power, not public. In total, 34 of 47 seats outside Calgary and Edmonton supported public power, but it was the cities that carried the day.
CCF leader Roper said,
“The people have obviously chosen rural electrification and then turned around and voted against the only party that has advocated it. There is no dissatisfaction among the people. Times are still fairly prosperous, therefore it is natural the vote went the way it did.”
One last point about this election.
While Alberta did not have prohibition in the 1940s, and had not since the 1910s and 1920s, there would be no liquor for many in the election. The Alberta Liquor Control Board denied dispensing privileges to all clubs and service messes, as well as hotel beer parlors and government liquor stores on election day.
Since 1935, the Social Credit Party had been the ruling party in Alberta and had won majority after majority to continue that trend. As the 1950s dawned, the economy was booming, Alberta was enjoying newfound oil wealth and Premier Ernest Manning remained incredibly popular.
All signs were pointing to the 1952 election being another big win for the Social Credits.
In 1949, after the party’s last election win, the oil wealth that was streaming in allowed the government to pay off the provincial debt for the first time.
Manning continued to lead the Social Credit Party.
The Liberals were once again led by James Prowse, while the CCF had Elmer Roper at the helm again. The Conservative Party, mostly dormant for the past few elections, had no leader. Neither the CCF or the Conservatives ran candidates in all ridings, and the Conservatives for their part ran no candidates in rural ridings.
The Liberals and the CCF criticized Manning during the campaign, stating he was not diversifying the economy enough and relying too much on the oil and gas industry. They also believed that rather than using oil money for paying off its own debts, the province should help residents and municipalities. Between 1945 and 1952, the municipalities in Alberta had seen the debt they carried triple from $42 million to $116 million.
Of course, for most this didn’t matter because everyone was doing well it seemed. City dwellers and rural residents were both earning more money than ever before, and the government was increasing spending everywhere. Expenditures were expected to be $74 million in 1950, while revenue was $77 million. It turned out though that revenues totaled $118 million. In 1951, the government sent $93 million and provided an astonishing $25 million for municipalities, schools and hospitals. They also gave $13 million for the development of major highways.
The increase of spending between 1950 and 1951 was $2 million more than the entire first Social Credit budget in 1936.
The election was relatively quiet, and it was believed it would be a foregone conclusion. In all, 181 candidates were seeking a seat in the Legislature, which had 61 seats at that time. The total cost for the election would be upwards of $500,000.
Liberal Leader Harper Prowse contended that the Minister of Economic Affairs, A.J. Hooke, misused public funds for campaign material. He referred to a booklet titled The Alberta Story, along with a movie of the same name, that was distributed through the publicity branch of the department of economic affairs. The movie cost $25,000 of taxpayer money, Prowse stated.
Hugh John MacDonald, a candidate with the Liberal party, contended that the Social Credit Party was wasting tax revenue and the financial wealth of the province. He cited the Banff Highway, which cost $50,000 a mile to build, was already breaking down after only two years. He said,
“The government speaks of enough gas for 75 years. They are counting their chickens before they are hatched. Their own conservation board told them there would be no gas surplus.”
Yet, with all this, the election was a foregone conclusion. The Calgary Albertan stated,
“The one central all-important issue is who will form the next government. It won’t be the Conservatives, because they aren’t contesting any rural seats. It won’t be the CCF, because it has pulled out of many constituencies and is putting up only token candidates in many others. It could be the Liberals with their program of irresponsible promises on the one hand, and their goal of stagnation on the other. Or, it could, once more, be Social Credit.”
As election day arrived, it was a beautiful sunny day and by all accounts, it was believed there would be a great turnout for voting.
In the Aug. 5, 1952 election, the Social Credit Party gained another four seats to finish with 53 and another massive majority. The party picked up 56 per cent of the popular vote, over 30 per cent more than the next closest party, the Liberals.
Manning said on election night,
“Now that the election is over, let us all forget our differences and apply ourselves in a united effort to work together.”
The Liberals gained one seat, finishing with three to form the Official Opposition. That title, with a government so powerful and popular, was essentially meaningless though.
“We must remember that our purpose was not to throw out the Social Credit government but to work for and lead the people until they realize how they have been misled and betrayed by the Social Credit Party.”
The CCF won no more seats, but lost none, to finish with two, which tied them with the Conservatives who won two seats as well.
“It just looks like the same story. I am sure Mr. Manning must be very happy at what looks like another overwhelming endorsement of his government.”
The election saw 298,335 voters turnout, an increase of 4,000 from the 1948 election with a total voter turnout of over 59 per cent.
While the 1952 election was a foregone conclusion, things would not be so cut and dry as the province moved towards its next election in 1955.
In fact, no one was expecting an election in 1955 as it was not scheduled for another two years, but that all changed due to some angry exchanges in the Legislature.
When Liberal Leader James Prowse questioned the confidence of the government during question period regarding the dealings of the Social Credit caucus with the Alberta Treasury Branch. The issue was related to the fact that the Legislative Assembly Act exempted the Treasury Branch transactions from the prohibitions of the Act. This allowed MLAs to take out loans and make deposits into Treasury Branches without disqualification.
Prowse determine that every member of the Social Credit party had dealings with the Treasury Branch before the amendment was passed, therefore all of them were disqualified and the amendment itself was not legal.
Premier Ernest Manning immediately suspended the session and told reporters that the implications were serious. The following day, he called a snap election and blamed Prowse for creating,
“in the public mind unwarranted suspicion and doubt.”
Alberta was now heading to an election.
Manning said later during the campaign,
“The true reason the election was called was not because of imaginary reasons as the opposition has insinuated but rather a simple reason. The right of elected members to sit in the house had been challenged.”
The issue was a big one in Alberta, and the Edmonton Journal stated that if the claims were unfounded, then why was the government going to election rather than face the music in the legislature?
The Edmonton Journal attacked the Social Credit Party heavily, even advising that the Liberals and Conservatives make each other’s candidates their second choice. It stated in one editorial,
“The future of Alberta is at stake.”
Even the Calgary Herald was harsh, calling the entire affair,
“an intolerable and inexcusable situation which demonstrated the utmost contempt for established parliamentary principles.”
Overall, the campaign was far more exciting since any election dating back to the days of Bible Bill Aberhart. Manning, throughout the campaign, insisted that his MLAs had done nothing wrong. At the same time, he stated he would prohibit members from borrowing from the Treasury Branch.
He was also forced to constantly defend himself. At one point in Grande Prairie he said,
“Confused, slanderous and misinformed opposition members, with their destructive criticisms, would have you believe that persons borrowing money from the treasury branches were doing so out of the public treasury. This is not so. The money in the treasury branches is not from the public treasury. It is money deposited by persons using the facilities of the treasury branches.”
He also claimed that the opposition was spending tremendous amounts of money to defeat the Social Credit Party.
Knowing his party was against the wall, Manning actually allowed questions from the audience at rallies, something he had never done before.
That was not always a good idea, as it also brought heckles. At one point just before election day, one man asked a question and the premier responded,
“Sit down. I am here to talk and you can ask questions later.”
The Social Credit Party slogan was Take A Look At The Rest of Canada, as a means of showing how good Alberta was doing with a Social Credit Party leading.
W.J.C Kirby, a Conservative candidate, said to that,
“If you take a look at Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and I urge you to, you will not vote for Social Credit in this election.”
Prowse continued to attack the Social Credit Party throughout the election campaign but also called for more money for municipalities and more restrictions on oil and gas exporting.
He also brought to light that Manning had done a land swap with the government on the edge of his farm, which allowed for eight oil wells rather than five, while also leasing the land rights to an Alberta oil company.
Elmer Roper and the CCF were not seen as a major threat to any party in the election, but Roper would promise to give electrification to every part of the province without any cost to the farmer. He also criticized the current system that saw the farmers of Alberta go $16 million into debt.
By the time election day came along, 200 candidates were running but two were removed from the Social Credit ballots.
On the last day of the campaign, Manning barred two candidates, Roy Lee and John Landeryou, from running as candidates due to renting a building to the provincial government. This violated the Legislative Assembly Act. However, the ballots were already printed and both men were still listed under the Social Credit name.
“They received no support from me. They received no support from the Social Credit League.”
Just before residents went to the ballots, criticizing the tactics of the opposition parties. Manning said,
“There is something wrong when the opposition parties have to get down to that type of criticism to achieve the election.
In the June 29, 1955 election, the Social Credit Party won 37 seats, a drop of 16 seats. This was the lowest amount of seats the party had won since 1940 when it picked up 36. The party also lost 10 per cent more of the popular vote.
“The returns leave no doubt the Social Credit government will have a substantial majority, enabling us to carry on in the future the fine type of administration of the past 20 years.”
The Liberal Party surged ahead with a gain of 12 seats, finishing with 15 and a much stronger Opposition in the Legislature even though it was still a majority government. This was the highest seat total for the party since it ruled the province, and the party would not exceed it until 1993.
The Conservative party won one extra seat, finishing with three, while the CCF Party won no more seats, finishing with two again but the party leader Elmer Roper lost his seat, ending his time as leader of the party.
“I think you could say the election has taken the steam out of the Social Credit steamroller. This election was a two-sided affair. There were many persons who wanted to see the present government changed, and many of their votes went to the Liberals.”
The voter turnout was high, sitting at 68 per cent.
This election was the last time that Alberta used the Alternative Vote Instant-Runoff voting system, which was used in rural constituencies, and the single transferable vote system in Edmonton and Calgary. This was used since 1924. After this election, the first past the post system would be used.
After the 1955 election that saw the support for the Social Credit Party to fall to its lowest level in years, Manning was hoping for a different result as he approached the 1959 election.
For the 1959 budget, he announced a five-year plan and he blamed John Diefenbaker for shutting Alberta out of American oil markets. The five year plan put forward by Manning would be a major feature of the election. It was featured in all election material, along with many pictures of Manning himself.
This five year plan included 50 modern homes for 4,100 senior citizens, $350 million for a scholarship fund to students in the province, a new provincial hospital and an expansion of health care in the province, a highway and bridge program, and more municipal assistance from the government.
Prowse was gone as leader of the Liberal Party, now replaced with the popular, and future Lt. Governor of Alberta, Grant MacEwan. McEwan had first been elected to the Legislature in 1955, and was relatively new to politicians and had spent most of his life as an academic to this point.
Floyd Johnson was now the leader of the CCF, replacing Elmer Roper who had resigned in 1957. He did not have a seat in the Legislature but had been a member of the CCF since its founding in 1932.
The Progressive Conservatives, who were hoping for a breakthrough thanks to the massive federal election win by the federal party under John Diefenbaker the previous year. The party was led by Cam Kirby, who was first elected to the Legislature in 1954. Throughout the election campaign, Kirby would have the backing of the popular Diefenbaker.
This election didn’t have the scandals of the previous one. The biggest scandal appeared to be when Manning used the same speech in Medicine Hat as he did in Lethbridge.
As a result, the election was called quiet. The Montreal Gazette wrote on June 17, 1959,
“The campaign by Liberal, Progressive Conservative and CCF parties to unseat the Social Credit administration has been calm. Interest in the last election in 1955 was sparked by opposition charges of maladministration against the government.”
In all, 216 nominees were vying for 65 seats in the legislature.
This election was notable for the fact that a record ten women were running in the election. The Social Credit had four women, the Progressive Conservatives had one woman, the Liberals had three women and the CCF had two.
The Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald both opposed the government, calling it old, dispirited and unimagined. Instead, they put their support behind the Progressive Conservatives.
In this election, the Social Credit Party did not use instant-runoff voting or the single-transferable vote, which had been in place since 1924. Manning stated that this was to prevent a wasting of votes due to poor ballot marking. It also brought Alberta in line with the rest of Canada that used the first past the post system.
This change in the style of voting in the cities also resulted in an increase of seats for the province, especially in Edmonton and Calgary.
Many criticized the Social Credit Party for these changes as it was believed the party was changing the rules to help itself. The public was not consulted but in the polls, there seemed to be no negative impact.
The previous election had most of the opponents to the Social Credit Party united behind the Liberal Party, allowing that party to sweep ahead to become the Official Opposition. This time, the parties were not united, and that would be good news for the Social Credit Party.
For the most part, Manning simply campaigned on his governments record and stated that his political opponents would promise anything to buy political support.
The campaign of Kirby and the Progressive Conservatives was described as original, but confusing. The Saskatoon Star Phoenix said on June 2, 1959,
“Not only is he unveiling the Progressive Conservative platform in installments, with the undisclosed planks wrapped in such secrecy that even Tory candidates apparently do not know what is written on them, he is also waging a constituency war on the Social Credit government in his travels about the province.”
In the June 18, 1959 election, the Social Credit Party won 61 seats, increasing its total by 24 from the 1955 election. This was the most seats won by the party to that point, and it was the most seats the party would ever win. The party also increased its share of the popular vote to 55 per cent, an increase of nearly 10 per cent. This also represented 61 of 63 seats in the Legislature.
“I feel the tremendous burden of responsibility that is ours in the light of the confidence you have expressed.
The win was so overwhelming that Majorie Fairley with the Calgary Herald made light of the fact that if the election happened in Russia, Canadians would have said it was fixed.
The Progressive Conservatives became the Official Opposition by winning one seat, a decrease of two from the previous election. The party captured 24 per cent of the vote.
The Liberal Party collapsed in the election, losing 14 seats to finish with only one. The party also lost an astounding 17 per cent of the popular vote.
As for the CCF, they lost their only two seats, and were shut out of the Legislature for the first time in 17 years.
MacEwan lost his own seat in the election, but he would be okay, and became a celebrated figure in Alberta after this election. He would serve as the mayor of Calgary from 1963 to 1965, and the Lt. Governor of Alberta from 1966 to 1974.
Unfortunately for Kirby, he lost his own seat by 3,000 votes and was out of politics and out as leader the following year.
In all, 59 per cent of voters came out for the election. This election was also notable for the fact that it was the first time in the history of the province that no opposition MLA was elected in Edmonton. Four women were also elected in the election.
As Alberta moved towards its next election in 1963, the Social Credit Party was so confident in winning that they had the unofficial slogan of 63 in 63.
The goal was to win every single seat in the legislature, 63 in all, in the election.
The previous years had been good for Manning who was as popular as ever in the province. In 1962, he oversaw the creation of the first commercial oil sands project in Canada, which would fundamentally change the economy of Alberta as much as the Leduc No. 1 oil discovery did 16 years previous.
After the last election win, Manning implemented his five year plan that was a keystone of the last election platform for him. Work began on new hospitals, a program for handicapped children and a provincial museum. Most would be delayed though, with some coming after the next election. Nonetheless, nine of 36 auxiliary hospitals and 29 of the 54 hospitals were completed within the five years. The highway budget increased 9,700 kilometres of highway were built, along with 2,094 bridges.
The Liberals were now led by Dave Hunter, a Second World War veteran who had won the leadership convention on Jan. 16, 1962.
The Progressive Conservatives were led by Milt Harradence, a lawyer, Second World War veteran and pilot. After serving in Calgary City Council, he became the leader of the party. Known for his flamboyant personality, he would make headlines throughout the campaign and would begin to change the fortunes of the party.
Manning announced a free-enterprise working version of medicare that served as an alternative to the universal medicare introduced by Tommy Douglas in Saskatchewan was unveiled in the campaign. It relied on private health insurance plans, and provided subsidies to enable the poor to meet their premiums. Doctors could set their own fees, which saved the province from a doctor’s strike like Saskatchewan had.
Manning also unveiled the next five year plan, which he called Alberta’s Next Big Step Forward. It featured the new version of medicare, a northern development council, a provincial police force and more money for schools, hospitals and roads.
In the campaign, Harradence flew his red P-51 Mustang across the province to reach campaign stops.
At this point, it was generally felt that people were voting for Manning, not the Social Credit Party. The Calgary Herald said,
“More people will vote for Mr. Manning than will vote for Social Credit.”
Overall, the election attracted very little interest in the province and most expected that the Social Credit Party would easily win.
The Red Deer Advocate wrote,
“The Social Credit government has campaigned on its record after doing a concerted grass roots rebuilding job in the last eight months.”
Manning spoke on the lack of interest in the election, stating that the only thing that concerned him about the election was that nobody seemed to care.
Manning used his own experience as an election platform, stating that the other opposition leaders lacked experience to lead the province. He also laid claims that the opposition was in the gutter for claiming there was corruption and wasteful spending in the highways department.
“The opposition has sunk to the gutter in an attempt to gain votes. Such charges are the oldest of dodges in the cheap party politics.”
The election saw 226 candidates enter the race for the 63 seats in the legislature.
In the June 17, 1963 election, the Social Credit Party won 60 seats, just short of its goal of winning every seat in the election. The majority was massive, and it was not only the greatest height the Social Credit Party would ever reach and it was the greatest share of seats ever won by the party.
“The work of government will resume as usual. Once every four years we take a day off. It is the people’s day.”
This election also saw the last acclamation for an MLA to date in Alberta election history. Leonard Halmrast won his seat of Taber-Warner by acclamation. He had been in the Legislature since 1945, and would retire in 1967.
The Liberal Party under Hunter won one extra seat, reaching two seats total. With those two seats, the party formed the Official Opposition.
The Progressives lost their seats and finished with zero, while an independent candidate won one seat in the election.
“Wait ‘till next time. Then we will have something to really shout and celebrate about.”
Harradence went down to the Liberal headquarters of Bill Dickie nearby after losing his bid for a seat. He stated,
“Congratulations Bill, I’m sorry I won’t be going to be up there with you.”
While the Progressive Conservatives lost the election, the campaign of Harradence laid the foundation that the Progressive Conservative Party would build on, and it would inspire a man by the name of Peter Lougheed.
Since 1935, the Social Credit Party had dominated Alberta politics. They seemed invincible but things were about to change and it began with this election.
Ernest Manning still led the Social Credit Party, as he had since 1943, and he remained incredibly popular. In 1966, he began the process to have Alberta gain its own specific flag. Various flag designs were submitted before the current flag was chosen. It would be approved by the Legislature on June 1, 1968.
The Progressive Conservatives were led by a new man, a young and dynamic lawyer from Edmonton named Peter Lougheed. He had taken over as leader in 1965 and begun to reform the party and build its base. The party was considered a non-player in the Legislature at the time, and little was expected of them.
Meanwhile, the Liberals were led by Michael Maccagno, who took over as leader on Jan. 28, 1967. He had served in the Legislature since 1955, and became the first Italian Canadian to head a major political party in Canada.
This election was notable in that it was the first time Indigenous Albertans could vote in a provincial election.
The Social Credit party was well-prepared for the 1967 election and had a lot of money sitting in their election account. This election campaign was not going to be as smooth as the last one for the party though. The party was being criticized for the low royalty rates on oil and gas compared to other oil-rich nations. The campaign for the party mostly focused on their government record, rather than any policy commitments. One of the few promises the party made was to study rising car insurance rates.
Throughout the campaign, Manning attacked the opposition, stating they were guilty of political dishonesty.
There was an internal controversy when Albert Bourcier, who was a Social Credit MLA from 1935 to 1952, filed papers to contest the Edmonton-Jasper Place election. The problem was he was going against the incumbent Social Credit MLA John Horan. Bourcier had been ejected from the party prior to the election, the second time this had happened.
The Progressive Conservative election campaign differed heavily from that of the Social Credit Party. Lougheed and his candidates worked constantly to get the word out in every riding in the province. Even though the party only had 47 candidates, they still visited all 65 ridings.
Lougheed had been preparing for the election for some time, and chose candidates who had public profiles in their riding in order to improve the chances of winning. This included newspaper editors, mayors and board of trade presidents. Knowing that the party could not form government yet, Lougheed focused on forming the Official Opposition. The party used vibrant red, white and blue promotional materials with the slogan of “Alberta Needs an Alternative”
Alberta had never had a major public debate, and Lougheed pressed all four party leaders to debate but Manning stated he would not. For Manning, he didn’t feel a debate would benefit him. He changed his opinion when Edmonton church leaders decided to host a leaders’ debate and Manning accepted at this point.
Lougheed had an excellent debate, which was praised by the Edmonton Journal and many consider it the point where the Progressive Conservatives began to make gains in the city. Lougheed was raising his profile enough that Macleans stated he was the only candidate with a chance of challenging Manning.
In their campaign, the Progressive Conservatives called for the sale of Alberta Government Telephones. In order to appeal to rural voters, he also campaigned on providing Canada Pension Plan contributions to farmers and self-employed persons. He stated it would cost about $250,000 and provide a measure of relief to farmers.
Manning didn’t see the Progressive Conservatives as any sort of challenge, and it was his belief the main challenge was from the NDP. This was likely because only the NDP and Social Credit had a full slate of candidates running.
The NDP meanwhile campaigned on an open society, meaning a government open to its internal dealings, that was not secretive.
Overall, the election was not an interesting one. The Brandon Sun wrote of it on May 9,
“Provincial elections generally are less exciting than federal elections. It is not because they are less important, but because the issue discussed are closer to home and therefore a bit less glamorous and a bit more complicated. The Alberta election campaign, with some two weeks to go, is no exception.”
The Calgary Herald agreed with this writing,
“Dullness has been the prime characteristic of the Alberta election campaign so far. The parties have announced their platforms. Their politicians have enunciated what they consider to be the basic issues at stake. Unfortunately, what a political candidate may consider to be an issue frequently does not succeed in wooing any thoughtful response from the voter.”
In the May 23, 1967 election, Manning won another majority government as the Social Credit Party won its ninth consecutive election. The party won 55 seats, down from 60 the previous election. This was the party’s lowest seat total since they won 37 in 1955. The party also lost 10 per cent of the popular vote compared to the previous election.
“People are responsible and demonstrated they are believers in the dignity of the individual.”
This proved to be an ominous sign for the party and the heyday of the Social Credit Party was coming to an end.
The Progressive Conservatives won six seats, finishing with six and becoming the Official Opposition. The party also picked up 13 per cent more of the popular vote to finish with 26 per cent. Most of the party’s seats were won in Calgary and Edmonton, as the Social Credit Party was slow to adapt to the changes happening in those cities.
“We were in an excellent position. The prospects that we will form the government in the next four years are very favourable. It shows that the people have been looking for a new force. They don’t like the one-party legislature and they prefer the new force to be Conservative.”
Manning said of the surge by the Progressive Conservatives,
“I think they will be a constructive opposition. I know Peter Lougheed and I am sure he will add to the proceedings of the House.”
The Liberals didn’t win any more seats, but lost none, maintaining three in the Legislature. However, they did lose nine per cent of the vote. Maccagno said,
“I have no apologies to offer. I’m not crying.”
He also praised Lougheed, saying,
“They started off with a good leader and had two years to get ready.”
This election also had a Daylight Saving Time plebiscite, which looked at if residents wanted to adopt daylight saving time across the province. In the plebiscite, 485,235 people cast a ballot and No won with 51.25 per cent of the vote.
The next election was going to be a big one in Alberta.