Social Credit Party of Alberta

Social Credit Party of Alberta

party_name = Alberta Social Credit Party
party_wikicolourid = Social Credit
status = active
class = prov
leader = Len Skowronski
president = Earl Solberg
foundation = 1935
dissolution =
ideology = Conservatism, Populism, Social credit, social conservatism, Christian right
headquarters = Box 40111
Calgary AB
T2G 5G5
int_alignment = none
colours = Green
seats_house = 0
website = []

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

The Canadian social credit movement was largely an out-growth of the Alberta Social Credit Party. The Social Credit Party of Canada was originally strongest in Alberta, before developing a base in Quebec when Réal Caouette agreed to merge his "Ralliement créditiste" movement into the federal party. The British Columbia Social Credit Party formed the government for many years in neighbouring British Columbia, although this was effectively a coalition of centre-right forces in the province that had no interest in social credit monetary policies. The party was a powerful political movement in Alberta from the 1930s through the 1970s, but has had no seats since 1982, and today has little public support.


William Aberhart, a Baptist pastor and evangelist in Calgary, was attracted to social credit theory while Alberta was in the depths of the Great Depression. He soon began promoting it via his radio program on CFCN in Calgary, adding a heavy dose of fundamentalist Christianity to C.H. Douglas' original ideology. The basic premise of social credit--that all citizens have the right to the wealth they jointly produce--was especially attractive to farmers sinking under the weight of the Depression. Several 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 to adopt social credit. When UFA Premier Richard Reid rejected his overtures as unconstitutional, Aberhart entered Social Credit candidates in the that year's provincial election. He reaped an unexpected windfall from widespread discontent with the overly cautious direction of the UFA government, which was also reeling from a scandal that had forced Reid's predecessor, John Brownlee, to resign a year earlier. The latter, in particular, caused socially conservative Albertans to flock to Social Credit. In some cases, local UFA chapters openly supported Social Credit candidates.

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 opposition came from five Liberals and two Conservatives. This accomplishment is considered outstanding for a debut party in Canadian politics.

The victory came as such a surprise that Social Credit found itself scrambling for a leader who would become the province's new premier. Aberhart, the obvious choice, did not want the office, but was finally prevailed upon to take power. He entered the Legislative Assembly a year later in a by-election.

"Funny money"

Initially, the party attempted to implement its radical populist policies, such as the issuance of prosperity certificates to Alberta residents (dubbed "funny money" by detractors) in accordance with the theories of Silvio Gesell. Douglas, the originator of the Social Credit movement, did not like the idea of prosperity certificates which depreciated in value the longer they were held, and openly criticized Gessel's theories. [cite web |url= |title=The Approach to Reality |accessdate=2008-02-27 |author=C.H. Douglas |publisher=The Australian League of Rights ] Three government bills were refused Royal Assent by Lieutenant-Governor John C. Bowen. The Supreme Court of Canada subsequently ruled the legislation unconstitutional because banking and fiscal policy is a responsibility of the federal government.

Bowen also refused Royal Assent to the "Accurate News and Information Act", would have forced newspapers to print government rebuttals to stories the Executive Council (cabinet) objected to. The government also repealed legislation allowing for the recall of members of the Legislative Assembly by petition when Aberhart himself became the target of recall efforts.

The government's relationship with Bowen became so acrimonious that in 1938, Bowen even threatened to use his reserve powers to dismiss it. In the end, Bowen chose not to take this extraordinary action, in part because this would have forced a new election in which Social Credit would have almost certainly been reelected. Even without this consideration, no other party could possibly form a government.

Other policies

Thwarted in their attempt to gain complete control of Alberta's banks, Aberhart's government eventually succeeded in gaining a foothold in the province's financial sector by creating the Alberta Treasury Branches in 1938. ATB has become a lasting legacy of Social Credit Party policies in Alberta, operating as of 2004 as an orthodox financial institution and crown corporation. It also enacted several socially conservative laws, notably one restricting the sale and serving of alcohol. It was one of the strictest such laws in Canada. For many years, commercial airlines could not serve alcohol while flying over Alberta.

Manning era

Social Credit was elected with a slightly reduced mandate in 1940. "Bible Bill" Aberhart died in 1943 and was replaced by his Provincial Secretary and Minister of Trade and Industry, Ernest Manning. Manning's government was more pragmatic. Under his leadership, the party abandoned social credit monetary theories, and turned into one of the most conservative provincial governments in Canada. Manning moved to purge the party of anti-Semitism, which had been an element of its Christian populist rhetoric for years, but had become far less fashionable after World War II. Several socially conservative laws remained in place, such as the ban on airlines serving alcohol over provincial airspace.

Under Manning, Alberta became a virtual one-party state, usually winning with 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. This led to rumours that Caouette actually defeated Robert Thompson for the federal party's leadership in 1961, only to be vetoed by Manning and the Alberta Socreds.

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


Manning led the Socreds to seven consecutive election victories. However, the last one, in 1967, proved ominous for the party. Despite winning 55 of the 65 seats in the legislature, it won less than 45% of the popular vote--its lowest share of the popular vote since 1940. More importantly, the once-moribund Progressive Conservatives, led by young lawyer Peter Lougheed, won six seats, mostly in Calgary and Edmonton. The rural-based Social Credit was slow to adapt to the changes in Alberta as its two largest cities gained increasing influence.

Manning retired in 1968 and was replaced by Harry Strom. But after over three decades in office, the Social Credit Party had become tired and complacent. In the 1971 election, Loughheed's PCs ended Social Credit's 36-year hold on power--the second-longest unbroken run in government at the provincial level in Canada. The Socreds saw their share of the popular vote decrease slightly, finishing only five points behind the PCs. However, they lost all of their seats in Edmonton and all but five seats in Calgary. Due to a quirk in the first past the post system, this decimated the Social Credit caucus. They finished with only 25 seats to the PCs' 49, consigning them to the opposition benches for the first time in party history. Strom resigned as party leader in 1973 and was succeeded by Werner Schmidt, a teacher and principal who didn't hold a seat in the Legislative Assembly.

Social Credit sank into near-paralysis in opposition. Its grassroots organization had atrophied over the years, and the party was ill-prepared for a role outside government after being the governing party for virtually all of its history prior to 1971. The party's support collapsed in the 1975 election, when it fell to four seats--just barely holding onto official party status--and lost half of its popular vote from 1971. Schmidt was unable to win a seat and resigned as party leader. The party managed to stave off total collapse in the 1979 election, holding onto its four seats.

Dormancy in the 1980s

On March 31, 1982, Raymond Speaker, the official opposition leader, announced that there would be no Social Credit candidates running in that year's election. In his press release, he said it would be useless for Social Credit to fight the next election since there were not enough Social Credit voters left in the province.

The Social Credit council quickly distanced itself from Speaker's statement. This led to Social Credit Leader Rod Sykes resigning. There was wide speculation at the time that Speaker would cross the floor to the 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, Walt Buck and Raymond Speaker left the party to become independent candidates for the legislature. Fred Manderville decided not to run. Social Credit went into the 1982 election without a full time leader, and for the first time since 1935, no incumbents. The party was shut out of the Legislative Assembly for the first time since 1935, and has never elected another MLA.

In 1986, Social Credit, Western Canada Concept and the Heritage Party of Alberta joined together to form the Alberta Alliance Political Association. The Alliance fell apart when the WCC left, followed by Social Credit. The AAPA became the present day Alberta Party. Most of the Social Credit supporters joined and ran for the Representative Party led by Ray Speaker.

Rebirth in the 1990s

Interim Leadership of the party was given to Martin Hattersley, an Edmonton lawyer, and later to Harvey Yuill of Barrhead. Six candidates constituted the party's election effort 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. It failed to have any of its members elected.

After the 1997 election, polling revealed that the Social Credit Party was poised for a break-through: an estimated 150,000 Albertans would have been ready to once again support Social Credit as an alternative. This would have meant up to eight seats or more in the legislature. 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 the involvement of the Mormons within the party. The fortunes of the Social Credit party quickly faded.

In November 1999, James Albers was elected over Jon Dykstra and Norm Racine to lead the party in a hotly-contested race. Wiebo Ludwig was disqualified. During the election of 2001, the right wing vote fractured between the newly formed Alberta First Party and Social Credit, and 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 has 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, 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 [] )

It has been argued by some that parties such as Social Credit and Alberta Alliance could, with sufficient support, possibly threaten the now-traditional Progressive Conservative dominance in the province despite the much greater levels of support currently attained by parties such as the Liberal and New Democratic parties. The basis for such an argument is that both Social Credit and Alberta Alliance would most likely to compete for the "rural vote" — traditionally PC heartland. However, this has so far failed to materialize despite the promising showings by both parties in a number of ridings in recent elections.

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

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

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

Election results

Party leaders

*William Aberhart 1935-1943
*Ernest Manning 1943-1968
*Harry E. Strom 1968-1972
*Werner Schmidt 1973-1975
*Robert Curtis Clark 1975-1980
*Rod Sykes 1980-1982
*Raymond Speaker Parliamentary Leader 1980 - 1982
*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-

ee also

* List of Alberta general elections
* List of Alberta political parties


External links

* [ The Alberta Social Credit Party]
* [ The William Aberhart Historical Foundation]
* [ Social Discredit: Anti-Semitism, Social Credit and the Jewish Response]
* [ The Prairie Roots of Canada's Political 'Third Parties']

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