What of Social Credit?
H. NAPIER MOORE
Impartial notes on the progress of Alberta’s New Prophet
IN VICTORIA’S Empress Hotel, meeting place of the Far Eastern and Western worlds. I met an American newsreel man, just landed from the Empress of Russia. He had spent months in China, Japan and Russia. His first question was: “What about Social Credit in Alberta? They’re talking about it wherever I’ve been.”
In Vancouver, Moose Jaw, Regina. Saskatoon, W innipeg. The Twin Cities and Toronto, not a man or woman of the hundreds I have met during and following a tour of the West has neglected to ask: “How’s Social Credit? Did you meet Mr. Aberhart?”
In Edmonton and Calgary, newspaper men told me: “You’re behind the procession. We’ve had a stream of American correspondents here investigating Social Credit, and some British newspapers have called up on the transatlantic phone.”
I said that I had been waiting till Mr. Aberhart got sort of settled in the premier’s chair before trying to put two and two together. They intimated that I was something of an optimist. They said wo one could figure out a Social Credit dividend by putting two and two together.
Undaunted, I started to investigate. Day after day I talked with and cross-examined Albertans of all shades of thought, in all walks of life. I talked with Premier Aberhart and members of his Cabinet: with people on relief; with farmers who manage to make a go of it and with farmers who don’t: with bankers and business men. shopkeepers and travellers: with land and mortgage inspectors and coal miners: with politicians who were snowed under: with university principals, professors and students.
The results were rather confusing.
I was told that Social Credit could be made to work; that even Premier Aberhart himself knew it couldn’t work. I was told that Mr. Aberhart was a religious fanatic; that he was an evangelical racketeer who had made a fortune; that he was an intellectually dishonest man. I was told that he was an honest, Christian gentleman, sincerely moved by the plight of his people and capable of achieving what he had promised.
I was told that, sternly Puritan, he had forbidden girl clerks and stenographers in the Legislative buildings to use powder or lipstick; that frightened maidens had been sent home to more modestly cover their bosoms; that he had ruthlessly fired faithful employees with an hour’s notice; that he was filling their jobs with his own hopelessly inefficient henchmen; that he was bludgeoning the press.
I was told that he had done none of these things.
In Edmonton I dined with a family all agog over the fact that the maid next door had walked out. 11er girl friend and she had decided that with $50 in Social Credit dividends between them, they could take an apartment and live at ease. The girls were Finns and either ignored or didn’t understand even Aberhart’s warning that at least eighteen months must elapse before the dividends could be paid.
Railway and steamship office officials said that since the Social Credit Government had been elected, an unusually large number of enquiries had been received as to the cost of trips to European countries. This, it was explained, was because certain Social Credit candidates had intimated that they knew dividends would be paid by Christmas.
I just had to get organized. I said to myself: First, let us find how this thing came about. Second, what is the situation today? Third, what is likely to happen?
Back to Bryan !
T REMEMBERED that many years ago a keen student A of Western affairs had said: “Alberta will always be five years closer to revolution than any other province. So I went to see a well-known business man who has covered every part of the province, who knows its people, who is broad-minded and an honest thinker. I said to him: What
made a Social Credit Government possible?”
He knocked me flat. He said: “The late William Jennings Bryan.” ...
Then he went on to explain. In effect, he said this: Away back, at the time Bryan was expounding his free silver policy, there were moving out to the Northwest States of the Union groups of people who might almost be termed agricultural gypsies. They were impatient w ith conventional farming and conventional economics. They hailed Bryan as a reformer, and the farther West they got, the more receptive to change they became.
Then came the opening up of Alberta. Attracted by cheap land and what was considered to be easy farming, they crossed the border in droves. They settled. Unlike the pioneers from Ontario and from the Maritimes, they had had little or no contact with the traditions of constitutional and conservative government as the East knew it. Their progeny grew up in the same spirit—fertile soil for experiment, for new ideas, for change.
Add to that the influx of Poles, Ukrainians and Slavic peoples to a free country, a country in which they were at liberty to think as they wished, to organize in societies and associations.
Add to these a leavening of the Clydebank and Cockney types of Britisher who are convinced that the world owes them a living.
Apply to all this a changeable climate which breeds a feeling of insecurity. One year, drought. Another year, hail. A third year, fine crops frozen to uselessness in August. The very essentials of life depend upon the weather.
And then consider the influences of the depression. The decrease of markets; the failure of crops in large areas; the families on relief.
Consider, outside the cities, a scattered population unable to participate in community life; largely out of reach of the church. Then,
Sunday after Sunday, there comes to them out of the air the voice of a man who makes the Bible exciting; a man who understands their psychology; a man who tells them they ought to be shareholders in the wealth of the province; who promises them a dividend of at least $25 a month.
To the average man, the U.F.A.
Government hadn’t done very much in fifteen years except run the province into debt. The newspapers had been full of unsavory lawsuits and divorce cases involving some of
its members. And here was a man who led them in prayer ".ffering his services as Premier.
That explains why A'berta was ripe for a government.
XTOW WHAT of the man to whom fifty-four per cent of T^ the population turned last August—William Aberhart?
Aberhart is fifty-seven. A massive man, yet agile. He used to be something of a rugby pllyer. His head is large; of the shape and type that houses brains. Full lips. Penetrating eyes of rather cold blue. His smile is catching. When lie laughs, he does so from his equator up.
" Like Aimee Semple MacPherson and Father Coughlin, he came from Ontario. He was born at Seaforth. The B.A. he uses on his pamphlets was obtained extra-murally at Queen’s University. As a youth he wanted to be a preacher, but circumstances led him into school-teaching. For ten years he taught at Brantford.
Twenty-five years ago he moved to Calgary. For twentyyears pp to his election he was principal of Crescent Heights High School. And his bitterest enemies will tell you that Aberhart was an exceedingly able teacher and a highly efficient principal.
Throughout these years, Aberhart never forgot his ambitions in the matter of religious service. He worked for years in the Westborne Baptist Church. There are stories that he secured such a control of its affairs that when it was reorganized under a Board, a sizeable sum of money went to Aberhart. There are stories, too, that out of ïiis Bible Institute and its radio station he has made a fortune.
Difficult stories to probe, these, because church officials are tight-lipped and the Institute does not apparently publish yearly balance sheets. But from what information I was able to gather, my estimate would be that he is comfortablyfixed, not wealthy.
Three or four years ago, Aberhart led a bible class of sixtymembers. From that has grown the Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute, housed in its own $65,000 building, owning its own radio station, CFCN.
The Sunday afternoon evangelical services broadcast throughout the province had become an institution long before Aberhart, coming under the spell of Major Douglas, produced his Social Credit Manual and injected these teachings into his Sabbath talks.
But once he had decided to enter politics, the Prophetic Bible Institute and CFCN became vigorous election campaigners. Today, with Aberhart premier of the province, they remain his Department of Public Relations.
The Radio Aberhart
"pVERY Sunday afternoon, in its auditorium on Eighth
Avenue West, the Prophetic Bible Institute holds service. As many as 1,006 people have attended. The average now, I am told, is 500 to 700. But throughout Alberta sits an unseen audience of much greater magnitude.
For, from three to five o’clock the Institute is on the air.
Affiliated with the Institute is a Radio Sunday School boasting a membership of 5,000 young people. In all sorts of meeting places all over the province they gather together under leaders trained under Aberhart’s direction, to join in the singing of the hymns coming over the loud speaker and to listen to the address of their prophet. And, in addition, in city and farm homes thousands more, men and women, are tuned in. In the cities and towns you will find many who will tell you: “Oh. I used to listeen in, but I don’t any more.” But the farm-district followers stick.
Let us listen in.
A hymn has*concluded. Comes the voice of Aberhart: “I wonder if we couldn't have ‘Fishers of Men’—that’s what you re here for.” That, too, is sung. Then two or three Bible Class members testify as to how they have found salvation. Aberhart interjects comments. Ilis tone is conversational, homely. He knows the psychology of radio; all the tricks of voice; how to project his personality.
Then he launches into his address. This Sunday he is to
answer his critics. But his beginning is softly earnest.
“There is only one thing that will prevent a successful demonstration of Social Credit,’ he says. “That is loss of confidence on the part of our own people. I ask you to exercise patience. Remember
that we have only been in power two months. When we took over the treasury we found it empty. The credit of the province was exhausted. Now we are engaged in surveying the Government machinery; eliminating overlapping and duplication. We are determined to put the province on a solid financial basis. Mr. Magor, who has come here to investigate our position, confirms that it can be done.”
There is a burst of applause. Then Aberhart warms up. He addresses himself to his critics. And his tone is alternately facetious and biting. He says that his critics continue to spread falsehoods about him. He dismisses the rumor that employees of the former Government are being dismissed with a few minutes notice as “piffle.”
He lambasts the “financially-controlled press” and thunders, “What we want is democratic, not bureaucratic, government for the benefit of the people.”
Alberta’s bonds, he says, are two points higher; that it is his intention to make Alberta’s bonds gilt-edged.
Babson is his next target. Babson who said, “Social creditors think they have discovered peri>etual motion.” “Credit,” says Aberhart, “needs the applied energy of governments to keep it going.” Applause.
“I’ve been told I should have my head examined,” he continues. Laughter. “I shouldn’t mind a bit.” More laughter, in which he joins. He has heard that a magistrate said that about him. Well, he can’t believe it. But if any
magistrate did say that, that magistrate certainly ought to have his head examined.
The laughter hasn’t subsided before Aberhart is attacking interest. Interest rates are too high. They must be brought down to compare more favorably with wages and the cost of goods.
“It’s the intention of this Government to balance its budget and put its house in order. I’m sure we can refund our debts at a saving of three to four millions. We don’t desire to repudiate our debts. But if we strengthen the security of the mortgage holders we must have fair interest rates.”
T_TE ANNOUNCES that he has received a threatening letter. The audience laughs. He reads it: “If you don’t pay the first Social Credit dividend by Christmas, you’ll suffer the consequences.”
“I always have declared that we would need eighteen months. We can’t introduce a new system on a rotten foundation. (Loud applause.) We can’t begin Social Credit for a while yet.”
Next: “They say we have had a difference with Major Douglas. There has been no difference with Douglas. Douglas will be sent for when we’re ready. No steps can be taken to establish Social Credit until the financial mess is cleaned up.”
And then Aberhart turns to T. Kelly Dickinson. Mr. Dickinson had written a scathing attack on Social Credit. The Calgary Herald had published it. Why, he couldn’t
fathom. But here is what Mr. Dickinson says. He reads snatches. And laughs. “Such piffle. Such piffle.” The audience laughs.
“I’ve never said that the people in Canada will be without food and shelter. There’ll always be plenty who will have it—at the top.”
Mr. Dickinson, it seems, has questioned Aberhart’s loyalty to British traditions. “What right has this man to question my loyalty?” he demands. “I am more loyal to the British Empire than Dickinson could ever hope to be.”
This Sunday he doesn’t venture into the realm of Biblical prophecy. The previous Sunday he did. He opined that Ethiopia would be obliterated because it represents the Biblical children of Ham. He forecast that in seven years time, according to his reading of the Scriptures, the world would undergo a revolutionary change.
Some of the newspapers got a slightly different slant on that prophecy. They had Aberhart forecasting the end of the world seven years from now.
BEFORE we proceed farther, let us consider the economic philosophy which, translated into a political platform, put Aberhart in power. It is best set forth in the now famous Social Credit Manual, the pocket-size, blue-
Conlinued on page 35
What of Social Credit?
Continued from page 15—Starts on page If------
jacketed book which, issued in June last, moved off counters with a rapidity that startled the most hardened newsdealers.
Critics may scoff at Aberhart’s theories on money and credit, but as an editor I take off my hat to his acumen as a publisher. The booklet has sixty-four pages and cover. And there are thirty-five pages of paid advertising—everything from artificial legs to grand pianos.
The Social Credit Manual announces at Hie outset that it is not a detailed plan for the Province of Alberta, merely an outline. Its basic premise holds that “it is the duty of the State through its Government to organize its economic structure in such a way that no bona fide citizen, man. woman or child, shall be allowed to suffer for lack of the bare necessities of food, clothing and shelter in the midst of plenty or abundance.”
It states that Social Credit is not based on any confiscation scheme “by which we take the wealth of the rich or well-to-do to give to the poor.” Social Credit, it continues, “recognizes individual enterprise and individual ownership, but it prevents wildcat exploitation of the consumer through the medium of enormously exorbitant spreads in price for the purpose of giving exorbitant profits.
“Social Credit claims that each of these consumers has a right to a share in the production from the natural resources of the province. At the present time this great wealth is being selfishly manipulated and controlled by one or more men known as the ‘Fifty Big Shots of Canada.’ ”
To spread what Aberhart terms the “cultural heritage.” Social Credit offers to enable each citizen to secure food, clothing
and shelter by means of basic dividends. These dividends, says the Manual, should be $25 a month for every bona fide citizen, male or female, twenty-one years or more. Children of bona fide citizens sixteen years old will receive $5 a month. Those seventeen and eighteen years old will receive $10 a month. Those nineteen, $15, and those twenty, $20 a month.
The figures, it is pointed out, are merely suggested for illustration purposes. But be it noted that in the election that followed they were taken literally, not only by the voters but by Social Credit candidates.
The recipient of a basic dividend is not required to pay it back or work it out. The only stipulation is that he mast “co-operate in every way possible.”
Basic dividend credit is to be issued by means of non-negotiable certificates issued in blank to each consumer. The Manual presents a sample certificate. It reads:
............193.. . .
STATE CREDIT HOUSE BRANCH
This is to certify that I am in debt to
for the sum of................dollars !
Please credit him and charge to my j account.
Being non-negotiable. the idea is that the recipient will deposit the certificate in the
bank or Provincial Credit House. The issuer is debited and the recipient credited, so that the latter may issue another certificate of his own to pay his debts. Thus, says Social Credit, is circulation of credit made possible.
The second phase is an automatic price control system to fix a Just Price at which goods and services will be available.
And the third, that “provision will be made for a continuous flow of credit.” There will be no new money issued.
The Magic Hat
THE BIG question is, of course, where will all the credit come from to pay the basic dividends?
This is the way the Manual answers it:
“The scientific system of recovery through the cycle of credit will have to be introduced at the same time that the Basic Dividends are issued. This must not be a gigantic scheme of taxation. It has been called (o the attention of the public that there is an enormous spread in price between the producer’s cost and the consumer’s price. It is the intention under the Social Credit system to reduce this spread, increasing the producer’s cost so that he may have a fair turnover if it is not at present adequate, or reducing it if it is too high.
“The same procedure will be followed all the way through in the marketing or processing of the goods. On account of the increased turnover that will be produced by the augmented purchasing power through dividends, salaries, commissions and so forth, it is felt that the producer and distributor will be able to carry on their business with a closer margin of profit or commission on turnover. Thus the province will be able to collect a levy that will provide the basic dividends to distribute to the various citizens.
“To illustrate this, let us take a bushel of wheat, say at a just price of sixty cents. Fifty-five cents of this are to go to the farmer and will provide a fair commission on his turnover. Five cents will be set aside for the Government Levy. The wheat is sold to the miller, who grinds it into flour. The cost of grinding will be covered by the shorts and bran and other by-products of the process. This will produce about forty pounds of flour. We will suppose that the flour sells for $1.10, ten cents of which are again given to the Government as its levy. The flour is next turned to the baker, who makes it into bread which he sells at seven cents a loaf. The forty pounds of flour with the water and other ingredients would make fifty loaves of bread. Suppose the Government Levy on this bread was a cent a loaf. That would give an additional fifty cents levy.
“Thus from a bushel of wheat, processing it to flour, the Government would be able to collect possibly sixtyfive cents.”
Mr. Aberhart had been told that the town of Vermilion did $8,000 worth of business with $1.000 of post-dated cheques in four months. So he figures out his provincial problem on the same basis. He says that to issue $25 a month to 400,(XX) joepie would cost $120,000,000 a year. So that if the cycle was once a month, $10,000,000 worth of credit would handle it.
He says that the Alberta Government has the legal right to fix prices because the Dominion Marketing Act required the consent of the provincial governments; that the just price of im¡x)rted goods can be fixed by taking the price on the incoming invoice and adding commission, overhead, unearned increment “and so forth.”
The Social Credit System being applied only to Alberta, external accounts would be paid this way: The debtor would buy at the post-office or State Credit House a money order on the external place from which the goods came. He would pay for that money
order by issuing a non-negotiable certificate. The money order would then be cashed by the creditor and the debt would thus be transferred by the Government and become a part of their actual Balance of Trade.
I cannot quote the whole Manual, but two more questions and answers before we leave it.
Q. Is it the intention under Social Credit to limit the income of the citizens to a certain maximum?
A. Yes, it is, for no one should be allowed to have an income that is greater than he himself and his loved ones can possibly enjoy, to the privation of his fellow citizens.
Q. How would we get the Dominion money to use when we wish it?
A. Our exports and the services oí men living in the province working for the C.P.R., the insurance companies, the post-offices and so forth, would constantly give us a claim upon the banks which would bring the Dominion currency into our coffers.
Later on we may come back to the questions raised by the answers. For the moment we are concerned with the promises that put Aberhart in. Those promises, some lawyers will assert, really contravened the Dominion Election Act, which provides that votes may not be secured by promise of monetary reward. Which raises rather a delicate jxñnt. because all parties have the habit of promising things that can only be secured by expenditure of money.
HOWEVER, there was more to the Aberhart campaign than promises. When it came to organization, the Social Credit party had every other group licked to a frazzle. Its organizers knew that throughout the province were thousands of people who for long, dreary years had had little or no social amusement. They took a leaf out of the book of Big Tim Sullivan, the New York Tammany ruler. They staged monster picnics, outings and demonstrations. In
places such as Wainwright and Camrose, they got four and five thousand people to turn out. There were bands and games and amusements. The fair price on the hot-dog stands was the same price as hot dogs sell for any place. And when the proper fever had been attained, Leader Aberhart would make his appearance to the tune of a martial hymn.
There were whist and euchre drives. And anyone who wanted to be anybody was on a committee. The women were all set to work —baking cakes and spreading the tidings of a Promised Land. The men were put on committees to solicit contributions from storekeepers. They got plenty. The youth of the neighborhood, about to cast their first vote, were organized. The foreign societies, such as the Ukrainian Association were completely canvassed and sold on the idea of Social Credit. They threw their organized weight into the fray.
And from platform and pulpit and into the radio mike, Aberhart himself projected himself into every corner. He published a weekly paper, The Social Credit Chronicle, and circulated it everywhere.
Nothing like that sort of organization has been seen in Alberta before.
There was money in the chest, too. The congregation of the Prophetic Bible Institute and listeners-in chipped in with their fifty-cent pieces and one, two and five-dollar bills. There’s an authentic case of a farmer who came in to Calgary with $20 to buy a hat and shoes for his wife and something for his youngsters, heard Aberhart preach and contributed the whole $20.
There was a candidate in every constituency, backed by an astute leader, energetic workers and the prophetic scriptures.
On the eve of the campaign there were shrewd political observers who sensed which way the wind was going to blow. They went to the United Farmers’ leaders and they called on Liberal Leader Howson, and they said: “The only way Social Credit can be beaten is for all other parties to unite.” They got more attention from the former than from the latter. Mr. Howson believed he was going in, and he wasn’t going to share the honors with anyone.
Two or three defeated U.F.A. Cabinet Ministers have told me they knew what was coming. But every Howson disciple I talked with said: “We just never dreamed it could happen.”
That, too, was the case with ninety-nine out of every hundred business men in Calgary and Edmonton. I talked with more than thirty representative ones and that is exactly what they said: “We laughed at it. We just never dreamed it could happen.”
Well, it happened all right.
When the result of the poll on August 22 was announced it was:
Social Creditors, 56; Liberals, 5; Conservatives, 2.
XJOW MR. ABERHART was not a candidate himself, but he had intimated that were his party elected he would accept the premiership. He took office the day after Labor Day, and summoned the most extraordinary Cabinet ever seen in office in Canada.
Taking the Ministry of Education himself, Aberhart called on twenty-six-year-old E. C. Manning to be his Provincial Secretary. The Honorable Mr. Manning, known as the Chief’s Right Bower, is a product of the Bible Institute who, on the air, served as the Leader’s “stooge.” He has had no business or administrative experience, with the exception of that secured in the running of the affairs of the Prophetic Bible Institute.
As Minister of Public Works came W. A. Fallow, a railway station agent.
For the Provincial Treasury, Aberhart called Charles Cockroft, a country storekeeper who, be it said, has the reputation of having kept his books excellently and made a profit during the depression. This in Alberta is considered a miracle.
William N. Chant, Minister of Agriculture, Trade and Industry, is a farmer. Dr. W. W. Cross, a medical man, is Minister of Health; and John W. Hugill, K.C., welleducated, English-born Calgary lawyer, is Attorney-General.
In picking his Minister of Lands and Mines, Premier Aberhart did an unusual thing. He went to C. C. Ross, ex-civil servant under the Dominion Department of the Interior, and a Liberal who had fought Social Credit with all his might. He said“This Government wants your help and co-operation in the matter of administrating lands and mines.” Mr. Ross, whom the confident Mr Howson had in mind for his Minister of Lands and Mines, said: “That depends on who is to be in charge of the department.”
“You are,” said Aberhart.
That made a good impression. But the Cabinet is inexperienced and untried. Business men shut their eyes and shiver. Others say: “Give them a chance.”
What has happened since Aberhart took office? Does he still think he can apply Social Credit? Is he going to put on a thumping big income tax? How is he going to get along with Ottawa, with Eastern business, with his own people?
What is going to happen if he fails?
These questions I shall attempt to answer in the second article of this series.
To be Continued