GENERAL ARTICLES

Alberta Bids—What?

SYD MATTHEWS April 1 1935
GENERAL ARTICLES

Alberta Bids—What?

SYD MATTHEWS April 1 1935

Alberta Bids—What?

SYD MATTHEWS

THERE’S nothing slow about Alberta. When she wants a new Government she trots out a couple of new decks, shuffles the cards and things begin to happen pronto. She did that in 1921, after sixteen years of Liberal rule, and what happened to Charlie Stewart’s team was nobody’s business. Charlie had only one tough hand against him. but he went down plenty.

Now it’s different. The present Government will have half-a-dozen political parties after its scalp, and at least three of them spell trouble.

Today no one knows exactly whether the Government at Edmonton is U.F.A., C.C.F., or just a common hybrid. Whatever it is. it will soon have to measure swords with Liberals, Social Creditors and Conservatives—to say nothing of Independents, Socialists and Communists on the sidelines—for a provincial election is due this summer.

For the first time in a decade, the outcome of an election in the Foothills province is in doubt. One thing is certain: Worry stalks through the camp of the farmers’ political machine like Hamlet’s ghost.

An ominous hum suggesting a hornets’ nest near by has the old politicians worried. They are not losing sight of the new “Social Credit” movement—Alberta’s fourth party— headed by Bennettish-looking William Aberhart, Calgary high school principal.

If nothing more, Mr. Aberhart’s candidates will do one thing. They will add a fourth name to most of the ballots, which heretofore have borne three. Anyone familiar with Proportional Representation, used in Alberta, realized the added surprises the extra “choice” may uncover when the score is totalled. (P.R.—Mark ballot 1, 2, 3, 4, etc., in order of preference, according to the number of names appearing on the ballot.)

The Social Credit Party

HOW MANY deep furrows on the brows of United Farmer leaders may be due to Social Credit is not being admitted. Overnight this socialistic hornet has appeared on the political horizon. Practically every rural

district in Alberta, where over fifty of the sixty-three seats in the Legislature are at stake, and the cities, too, have heard about it and have taken it up quite seriously.

No one is estimating how hard its sting may be—except, of course, the proponents themselves. They say it will at least capture a balance of power.

Fifty-four thousand residents signed a petition late in 1933, asking the Brownlee Government to investigate the principles prescribed by Mr. Aberhart, and to determine and report if the plan were applicable to Alberta. Then, again, .70,000 signed a “straw ballot” last summer approving Social Credit. The import of these figures can be gained from the knowledge that 74,187 U.F.A. votes gave the Government forty out of sixty-three seats in the I louse in 1930. The total poll then was 188,219.

What is Social Credit? Mr. Aberhart himself admits he has no definite plan, that one will have to be worked out after election. Vaguely, it would be a form of state-operated and controlled credit, guaranteeing every Alberta citizen twenty-one years or older the sum of $25 per month from Government coffers. It is this “audacious promise” that has the old boys worried. How, they demand, can the Government pay a dividend?

But Mr. Aberhart goes right ahead telling the public it can be done, and when he is cornered on the platform with a pertinent question, he has the ability to wriggle out gracefully—and satisfactorily to people who have seen nothing but relief slips for three years or more.

New Party’s Growth

WILLIAM ABERHART is the Hitler of Social Credit.

He came to Calgary in 1910 from Ontario to become principal of Crescent Heights High School. His début to the public came ten years ago when he started a Sundayschool-by-correspondence for rural dwellers. His idea filled a long-felt want, so he founded the Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute.

His teaching of the Gospel, economic-tinted, pleading for more Christianity in everyday life, was soon well known to radio audiences over a large area. Not only from Alberta, but from adjoining Saskatchewan and British Columbia, and the border state, Montana, came one and two-dollar bills, and in many cases larger amounts to help the Institute. His powerful voice was soon as familiar to everyone in those parts as the three letters NRA to any newspaper editor.

While marking examination papers in Edmonton a year ago last summer, Mr. Aberhart was asked by a fellow pedagogue to read Maurice Colbourne’s Unemployment or War, since reedited and retitled Economic Nationalism. From that book came the germ, but Social Credit was actually born of the exploration of the famous Douglas theories. Funds were raised for a broadcast in Calgary. Response was encouraging. Citizens formed study groups to delve into this thing. The idea spread from the city to rural districts, and they sponsored more broadcasts. Auto-organization gained pace, until today approximately forty Social Credit “groups” flourish in the City of Calgary. Mr Aberhart is the authority for the statement that there are 160 or more scattered over the

province.

During the winter months, it was a common thing to listen to one of Mr. Aberhart’s regular broadcasts and to learn that it had been sponsored by some little outlying hamlet heretofore unheard of.

The Hitler of the movement expects every constituency in the province to be ready for the campaign in ample time to give Social Credit a fair chance in the coming battle.

“Will you contest every seat in the province?” the writer asked Mr. Aberhart.

“That will depend on the result of our second straw ballot,” he replied. He added the intimation that efforts would be directed to the stronger constituencies.

“Are you running as a candidate yourself?” was the next query.

“No,” he replied with a smile.

“Then, who will be your leader should your followers find themselves with a working majority or balance of power in the next House?” he was asked.

After answering one of his frequent telephone calls, the stocky-built principal answered with a sly grin:

“No doubt the Social Credit members would know where to find a leader.”

It is worthy of mention that many of Mr. Aberhart s meetings, held in the heart of old and well-organized U.F.A. communities, drew such large numbers that he found it necessary to repeat his address at the same spot to satisfy overflow crowds. And this in spite of stifling heat during summer months, to which he has sp far confined his cam-

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paigning. What significance these meetings may hold will no doubt be answered at the next poll.

Liberal Enthusiasm

LIBER ALS think they see the handwriting ' on the wall. After 1921, when the United Farmers were swept into office in numbers surprising even themselves, and until a few months ago. Liberal efforts had been halfhearted. However, the old political school has been inspired with new life this last year.

William R., “Bill” Howson, M.L.A., their fiery chieftain and self-styled “next Premier of this province,” is a living example of the new enthusiasm. Young people, particularly, flock to Liberal study club meetings in numbers unprecedented. The party is certainly alive today.

But. one may say, that is little wonder after the surprising victories chalked up at recent Saskatchewan and Ontario polls. The answer is that this new outburst of energy preceded the prophecy by Alberta Grits that such victories would be achieved in those provinces!

Leading the fight for a Grit comeback today is Charles E. Campbell, publisher of the Edmonton Bulletin. Traditionally a Liberal newspaper in the days of the late Hon. Frank Oliver, this red-headliner mouthpiece of Howson et al has been pushed into the fray with a vengeance. Monetary reform and progressive economic theories —many of them too far to the left for Liberals themselves—often push live routine news off page one.

As in Saskatchewan and Ontario, Alberta Liberals called in well-known G. G., “Gerry” McGeer, mayor of Vancouver, and British Columbia M.L.A. His fund of monetary knowledge has enabled him to do a fair job of combatting the Social Credit menace to the Liberal cause. His Irish wit, plus his ready answers to all money and credit problems, have drawn consistently large audiences, and he will likely be back on the job for the campaign this summer.

The local big guns of the old camp are not idle. John J. Bowlen, M.L.A., who succeeded the late George Webster as Liberal chief in Southern Alberta, is rarely found at home in Calgary. During his travels from one ranch to another, he is spreading the gospel along the way.

Mr. Howson plans to contest unmercifully virtually every seat in the province. Every nominating convention for months has been the excuse for a tirade of propaganda. Early nominations have given voters the opportunity to become well acquainted with their Liberal candidate.

While most campaigners have fired negative ammunition so far, the Howson crowd will voice very decided, positive views on the important issues in this campaign. Interest rates and credit machinery have already come in for plenty of platform abuse, and a comprehensive monetary plank will be hammered down hard before election day. Relief, debts, farm problems, and the other issues won’t be overlooked either. After fourteen years of rest, the old party with the new spirit should go far if not to victory this summer.

Often accused of being brutally sensational, Mr. Campbell’s Bulletin is credited with furnishing verbatim accounts of the proceedings at both the Brownlee seduction and the McPherson divorce trials.

U.F.A. Prospects

EVENTS following these trials are history.

But the United Farmer organization well realizes the loss in leadership of both ex-Premier J. E. Brownlee and ex-Minister of Public Works O. L. McPherson.

The U.F.A. has been further weakened by the hesitancy of lion. George Hoadley, Minister of Health, and Railways and Telephones (until last June, Minister of Agriculture). Dmg regarded as the “handy man” of the Cabinet and the second strongest man in it, he has apparently been quietly flirting with the Dominion Conservatives. At one time he was even expected by many to cross over to Mr. Bennett’s side of the

fence—before the writs were issued for the next provincial election.

In the ordinary course of political events, the loss of the Brownlee-McPherson-Hoadley trio as active leaders would be enough to spell certain defeat for the Alberta Government. Whether the new Premier, Hon. Richard G. Reid, and his Cabinet will be able to enlist the support this trio formerly enjoyed, remains to be seen.

Another of the old guard that will be sorely missed this time is the late Hon. Vemor Smith, Minister of Railways and Telephones, who collapsed on the street in front of his car in July, 1932.

Taking over the third party reins late in 1925 after the first “farmer Premier,” Hon. Herbert Greenfield, stepped out, Mr. Brownlee led the U.F.A. forces to greater victory in 1926 than that of 1921. Again in 1930 he repeated the triumph, a month before Mr. Mackenzie King went down to unanimous defeat at the hands of a public “looking for a change.”

Today public temper is more merciless than ever. Despite editorial efforts of the official United Farmer, a respected weekly religiously read in 20,000 Alberta rural homes, there is still an odorous haze hovering over the horizon as a result of the decidedly unpleasant atmosphere created by the Brownlee and McPherson trials. Unfortunate for Mr. Brownlee personally perhaps, but also not the sort of publicity the public would have its Premier give its province.

Within the confines of the U.F.A. temple, too, there is discontent and rumblings of division, created three years ago by the left wing leaders pushing the heretofore solid farmer organization into the pinkish Cooperative Commonwealth Federation. Smoldering doubt of right wingers, generally considered well in the majority in the U.F.A. membership at large, burst into open loss of confidence when the C.C.F. failed to elect more than a mere six members in Saskatchewan last summer. IrvineGardiner-Garland stock fell with a sickening thud.

So serious has this division become over the fusion with the C.C.F. that the “father” of the U.F.A. movement, Dr. Henry Wise Wood, now an outsider looking in, personally holds little hope for the organization, even as an educational body.

The Loss of President Wood

LEFT WINGERS, of course, must assume • responsibility for the loss of President Wood four years ago. This sturdy, timebalanced old philosopher and leader had carried his “class” through many a dangerous wave in years gone by; but the breakers came too high for him at the 1931 annual convention in Calgary. Officially, he bade the organization farewell. Robert Gardiner, M.P., and leader of the Progressive bloc in the Federal House during the unearthing of the Beauhamois scandal, succeeded him as the head of the U.F.A.

Not many will forget the tense moment in the evening on the closing day of that meeting in Central United Church—from which beautiful chimes, donated byRt. Hon. R. B. Bennett, toll the hour to Calgary citizens—when the stoop-shouldered Mr. Wood stepped to the platform to give his farewell address.

Those who understood could feel a disappointed man talking to his people, with all their historic nobility, in the language so many of them knew but failed to understand —then. Would their leader speak his mind,

or would he realize the futility of warnings which might have been misconstrued as vindictive, and retire gracefully? He did the latter. A few minutes and it was over. Although he saw that evening the “giant” for which he had slaved and sweated, and from which he had taken abuse during his younger years, going the dangerous road, he concealed his thoughts. His slow, careful manner of speech carried the deeper meaning of his philosophy.

Today, Dr. Wood would assert in no uncertain words that the farmer cannot align with the laborer until “the humanizing process in evolution has gone farther with the human race,” and certainly not until the working man is brought closer to the tiller of the soil by the former obtaining full control and ownership of secondary production machinery. Then and only then, he believes, their objectives wifi become so nearly parallel that they may push ahead side by side for the betterment of mankind.

But let us go back for a glimpse at this “sleeping giant” before he became the power behind the Alberta Government.

Beginning with the wave that swept agricultural intellects at the dawn of the new century, the U.F.A. struggled along as an educational and social organization. Growing problems of agriculture gave it strength. It grew in numbers. Mr. Wood appeared as its leader, and started teaching co-operative marketing and purchasing.

This brought a general demand for a farmer voice in politics. Something new, but the farmer felt that if he could but get to Edmonton and Ottawa, all would be solved. Again Mr. Wood came into the picture, but this time to stop them heading into active politics. “Not so fast!” he warned.

His efforts were like a straw in a cyclone, so he did the next best thing. He forced the organization to enter politics under its own name, to use the machinery of organization already set up. This would protect the parent body, he believed. Shortly after, the death of Hon. W. C. Fisher, Liberal speaker of the House since 1905, offered the opportunity to contest a by-election. It was a dangerous trial. Mr. Fisher had been a popular man, and the Liberals had no fear when they nominated Edward V. Thomson to carry on. Alex Moore, a real dirt farmer, stepped boldly into the ring and announced his candidature on the first United Farmer of Alberta ticket. He defeated Thomson in a straight two-way fight by a vote of 835 to 708.

(It is interesting to note here that the official Parliamentary Guide recorded Mr. Moore the following year as a “Farmers’ Candidate;” not correctly “U.F.A.”) This was in November, 1919.

Strength of U.E'.A.

THE GIANT had stirred. He tensed his muscles. When the 1921 general provincial election rolled around, he had girded himself for the fray. U.F.A. locals, long entrenched at the very root of rural community life through social activity, conducted their own campaigns pretty much on their own steam. A few speakers made a brave attempt to enunciate a general provincial policy, vague but new, and found themselves the victors when the ballots were tallied.

Another angle. Unlike most political organizations, the U.F.A. was able to keep its annual conventions alive year after year by the very fact that politics was an after-

thought to the organization. When power was attained, the annual gatherings actually became more enlivened, because the delegates pushed their general democratic policy into practice by making definite requests to their Government at Edmonton.

What is more pertinent, the Government heeded the opinions of its parent organization and, if and when possible, acted directly on those demands.

The closing scene of the farmer picture is Class Rule. This has been the heavy artillery of the two old-line parties since 1921. The two larger cities, particularly, felt they were being penalized at the expense of the rural communities. This has proved quite true in the case of Calgary’s telephone rates.

However, impartial observers credit the U.F.A. with having given “fairly honest administration of affairs of the province” these fourteen years.

Late in February the U.F.A. sprang a surprise on the Aberhart radicals by announcing the appointment of Major C. H. Douglas, apostle of “Social Credit”, as adviser to the Alberta Government on financial reform. Just what the ultimate effect of this move will be remains to be seen, but whatever the result, it is obvious that the social credit faction is a house divided against itself.

The Conservative View

COME what may, the Conservatives should be able to retain at least one or two seats in Calgary and in Edmonton. D. M. Duggan, M.L.A., and leader of his party in the province, and his supporters, have gone quietly about their business of organizing the province, and are goaded on by the hope that this election may give them their big chance. Liberals for sixteen years, then U.F.A. for fourteen. Time for a change?

In the rural districts, too, they know they stand a good chance of electing the odd Member, on personality if not on policy. In any case, they are not quitters. They plan to contest most seats in the province.

Economic conditions will, as always, be a headliner in the list of factors in this election. The farmers, once in power, soon learned what they had not known before— limits of governmental action. Prices fell just the same. Expenses mounted after the crash of ’29, taxes dwindled, utilities lost revenue, and Alberta found herself in much the same predicament as any other province.

The Government borrowed to keep services going. Interest charges mounted. The rulers of the present government, U.F.A. delegates in annual convention, demanded lower interest to relieve tax burdens. The province either found it impossible to lower interest on her bonded indebtedness and still maintain her credit in the borrowing world, or was hampered by unpublished “obligations,” unwritten agreements, etc. Lukewarm supporters turned critics, and critics turned deserters.

The United Farmers face internal and external crises; division, uncertainty and shattered hopes within, and loss of leadership and combination of circumstances without.

Barnacles of office have accumulated to the point of becoming a burden to themselves and potent ammunition for the Opposition.

Net result: They will be lucky if they don’t find themselves tossed out of office, possibly high and dry, after the march to the polls this summer.

Liberal nobles already have vivid dreams of stepping into the control rooms on the banks of the North Saskatchewan, after having been on the outside for fourteen long years. Their new life and the times may make their dreams come true.

Both Liberals and the U.F.A. are wondering if Social Credit’s sting will be as serious as its buzz. Only time will tell how far the bold promise of $25 per month will go in these days, especially with debt-ridden farmers, unemployed, under-employed and near-unemployed.

Alberta has always made her bid, but this time she’s out for game.