In , despite the onset of the Great Depression, the government was still surfing on the popularity of the resource transfer agreement and the UFA was easily reelected to another majority government — although with a slightly reduced majority, with 39 seats out of 63 and 47 candidates against 11 for the Liberals, 6 for the Conservatives and 4 for Dominion Labor.
Banks denied credit to farmers, while Brownlee was unwilling to provide loan guarantees, concerned that such guarantees would encourage lenders to offer loans at high interest rates knowing that the province would repay them if the farmers did not. Provincial finances deteriorated, and Brownlee adopted severe austerity measures to cut spending — closing all but two of the agricultural colleges, disbanding the provincial police force, shrinking the civil service, cutting government spending and pay cuts for most government employees.
The government also increased taxes, and was reluctant to provide relief to unemployed men. Labour militancy and political radicalism increased during the Depression years, which worried the conservative Brownlee.
As if it was not enough, Brownlee was brought down by a sex scandal in MacMillan claimed that Brownlee had seduced her and told her that she must have sex with him for his sake and that of his invalid wife, and that she had relented after physical and emotional pressure. MacMillan and her father sued the Premier for seduction. However, as soon as the jury found that Brownlee had seduced Vivian MacMillan, he recognized that his political career was over and resigned as Premier. He was succeeded on July 10, by Richard Gavin Reid, the conservative provincial treasurer.
Although Reid did take some policy initiatives, the government was very weak. Aberhart was intensely religious, an evangelical Christian who believed in the literal meaning of the Bible. In Calgary, he began preaching at a Baptist church but by he had established an inter-denominational Bible study group which grew in size.
In , Aberhart agreed to do weekly religious radio broadcasts, which carried his voice across the Canadian Prairies and even into the United States. He took little interests in politics until , when he stumbled across the writings of Major C. Douglas, a British engineer who had written on the theory of social credit. Douglas saw that the sums paid out in salaries, wages and dividends were almost always less than the total costs of goods and services produced, and therefore wanted to bring purchasing power in line with production.
Originally, Aberhart claimed that his intention was not to enter politics but only to persuade existing parties to adopt social credit policies in their platforms. Social credit became quite popular in Alberta, forcing most politicians, even those from traditional parties, to at least pay lip service to the theory. For example, in the campaign, the Liberals pledged to set up a full investigation into the proposed scheme and submit a social credit plan to the legislature for its consideration.
However, the resolution was rejected by a wide margin, in a significant victory for Reid and other traditionalists in the movement.
He transformed his religious study groups into local social credit study groups, which became a key grassroots base for the movement and crucial to the SoCred victory in the election. The UFA attacked Aberhart for being so vague and evasive about how he would apply social credit in Alberta, but it was to no avail. Given that the UFA offered no alternative to social credit and the Liberals and Conservatives still so weak and, in the case of the Liberals, running a terrible campaign , the election resulted in a massive landslide victory for Social Credit and one of the worst defeats for a sitting government.
SoCred won In urban areas, SoCred obliterated the Labour party, which had been rather strong in both cities up until that point. SoCred came to power invested with high expectations, but found an empty treasury. In the election, Aberhart had told voters that he would implement social credit within 18 months of winning government.
All three bills were controversial, eliciting a storm of protest from opposition parties and SoCred backbenchers, so the government allowed them to die. In late , two ministers resigned from cabinet, officially for reasons unrelated to those of the dissident MLAs but still a troubling sign for the government. In the February speech from the throne, the government made only limited commitments to social credit and Aberhart later admitted during one of his radio programs that he had been unable to create the basic dividends within 18 months, and called on SoCred constituency branches to decide whether he should resign.
In March , after treasurer Solon Low introduced a budget which did not include even one time which resembled social credit, the SoCred backbench rebels began an open insurgency. They threatened to deny supply to the government which would force it to resign and considered introducing a motion of no confidence. In his constituency, Aberhart faced a recall effort, as citizens availed themselves of a new recall bill passed by SoCred in — faced with the recall threat, the government decided to repeal the Act.
After manoeuvring, Aberhart reached a deal with the rebels: they would back the supply bill, in exchange for which the government would allow MLAs to establish a board to implement social credit. It was designed to create prosperity by subsidizing consumption. The board tried to invite C. The Lieutenant Governor granted Royal Assent to the bills, but they were later disallowed by the federal government. The vast majority of the Albertan press was strongly critical of SoCred, pre- and post-election.
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Lieutenant Governor Bowen chose to reserve assent on the new bills i. However, Aberhart did established the Alberta Treasury Branches, which still exist today, originally for the government to gain a foothold in the financial sector. Early SoCred definitely had an unconventional, radical side to it — especially in its membership base.
By the time of the election, the political climate in Alberta was very polarized. The Liberal and Conservative opposition to Aberhart, eager to defeat him, formed a common front — the so-called United Movement or Independent party, whereby the Conservatives, non-socialist remnants of the UFA and some Liberals ran joint candidates as independents against the SoCreds. These independents were hurt by their close association with the old elites of Calgary and Edmonton and the vociferously anti-Aberhart press.
However, radical ideas for monetary reform were already absent from the SoCred manifesto.
The SoCreds and independents were evenly matched in terms of vote, winning In the s, SoCred was slowly turning into an institutionalized conservative party — the early radical enthusiasm died out some genuine radicals in SoCred went over to the CCF, which grew in size in Alberta and across Canada during the war and the social credit study groups dwindled in size as they became useless.
William Aberhart unexpectedly died during a family trip to BC in Manning pledged to never give up the fight for social credit, but that was almost entirely for show though it did issue prosperity certificates from oil royalties in and The Act promised social and economic security for all with individual freedom, an offer of a social security pension and medical benefits to working-age unemployed or disabled persons, and contained descriptions of how social credit theories would allow the government to pay for those benefits.
Manning was reelected with a large majority in , an election much different from that four years prior. With Aberhart of the picture and with social credit disallowed by Ottawa, business leaders and the economic elite of Alberta understood that they had nothing to fear from Manning, and they largely embraced Social Credit as the conservative force against the socialist CCF. Indeed, in contrast to the Saskatchewan CCF, which ran on social programs, the Alberta CCF had a fairly radical socialist platform in , advocating public ownership of natural resources and industries.
In the election, SoCred won Populations of Alberta and Saskatchewan from to own graph, data from StatsCan. The SoCred government set a fairly low maximum royalty rate in , and Manning built alliances with American oil companies. In , SoCred won Second preferences from the CCF had split fairly heavily against the government. After the scare, Manning appointed a Royal Commission to investigate corruption as the Liberals had demanded and he took up other opposition proposals, like larger fiscal transfers to the municipalities.
In the election, Manning was rewarded by an easy landslide victory — taking The federal SoCreds had dominated federal politics in Alberta from to When SoCred returned 30 MPs in the federal election, all but 4 of its MPs now came from Quebec with only 2 elected in Alberta, where the PCs remained the new dominant force despite major loses. The legislature seldom met, assembling for only six or seven weeks a year, and even the SoCred caucus virtually never met when the legislature was not in session.
Instead, most decisions were taken by Manning and his cabinet. Manning was an important figure in federal politics as well. He played a key role in the disputed federal SoCred leadership convention, in which Manning supported Albertan candidate Robert N. The Progressive Conservatives were the main winners. The Liberals, divided after leadership conflict after the election and led by an unwilling leader, saw their vote tank to only Ernest Manning retired in , and the SoCreds held their first leadership contest. The favourite was Harry Strom, the agriculture minister who was supported by most senior SoCred ministers but also many young members who saw him as somebody opened to change.
He was victorious on the second ballot, his main rival being Gordon Taylor, the respected but bland long-time transportation minister. Nevertheless, he was an honest, humble and kind man. Strom did not call a snap election after winning the leadership in , against the advice of his chief of staff. He finally called an election for August , about a year early. Harry Strom led a poor campaign, performing poorly in TV advertisements which the SoCreds, tellingly, thought little of and his rallies drew less people than Lougheed.
Indeeed, in contrast to the ambitious and charismatic Lougheed, Strom was an ineffective leader who failed to inject new blood in his party and struggled to run a modern campaign. The Progressive Conservatives emerged victorious from the election, ending 36 years of unbroken Social Credit rule.
In the popular vote, however, the election was quite close and the SoCred result far from catastrophic: the PCs won The NDP won The Liberals had gone through leadership chaos since the last election, and some had even considered approaching the SoCreds for an alliance or a merger. The conventional view on the election is that Social Credit, at its roots a rural, small town and lower middle-class movement had little chance of surviving in an increasingly urban and professional middle-class society. Therefore, it was argued, the PC victory was the somewhat inevitable result of social change.
However, that view is based on an erroneous notion of social bases of party support.
Firstly, while SoCred was slightly stronger in the rural areas than in the cities, the party had received substantial urban support from the very beginning in and, after all, Ernest Manning had represented an Edmonton riding from to The PC government, in its first term, cut income taxes to the lowest levels in the country, presided over the creation of 96, new jobs in three years giving Alberta the highest percentage of employed working age population in Canada , provided generous benefits to seniors, provided substantial assistance to farmers, improved services and infrastructures in rural Alberta, provided the highest support for education on a per capita basis in Canada and passed the Alberta Bill of Rights which, among other things, meant the repeal of the Sexual Sterilization Act in Alberta was able to post large budget surpluses from the mids to the mids.
Lougheed needed to defend that prosperity in a series of bitter provincial-federal fights over energy policy following the first OPEC oil shock in With a federal Liberal government led by Pierre Trudeau in Ottawa, Lougheed had ample opportunity to project himself as the defender of Albertans against an overbearing and eastern-dominated federal government. Ottawa used the revenues to subsidize eastern refiners while reducing revenues available to the producing provinces and the oil industry. Lougheed called the decision the most discriminatory decision taken by Ottawa against a particular province in the entire history of Canadian Confederation.
The Albertan government, in response, announced that it would revise its royalty regime in favour of a system linked to international oil prices. Lougheed was a major player in the constitutional debates in the s and early s. Upon taking office in , Lougheed signaled his disapproval of the proposed Victoria Charter amending formula, which would have granted a veto to Quebec and Ontario. In the wake of the NEP, Alberta and other provinces successfully pushed for the inclusion of Section 92A which clarified and strengthened the areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction over nonrenewable natural resources.
During the Lougheed years, Alberta often found support from Quebec in the constitutional debates, because both sought an expansion in provincial control and a reduction in federal intervention. During the Lougheed years, the cabinet machinery was reorganized to make it run for effectively than during the SoCred years. The result was a strong cabinet and disciplined caucus, but a weak legislature — whose powers of oversight were render anemic by the PC dominance and the weakness of the opposition benches.