Articles

How Social Credit Took B.C.

In B. C.'s strangest election a group of rank amateurs, who'd never been in politics before, suddenly found themselves forming a government. Here's the astonishing story of how they did it

MAC REYNOLDS September 1 1952
Articles

How Social Credit Took B.C.

In B. C.'s strangest election a group of rank amateurs, who'd never been in politics before, suddenly found themselves forming a government. Here's the astonishing story of how they did it

MAC REYNOLDS September 1 1952

How Social Credit Took B.C.

Articles

In B. C.'s strangest election a group of rank amateurs, who'd never been in politics before, suddenly found themselves forming a government. Here's the astonishing story of how they did it

MAC REYNOLDS

SHORTLY before the campaign drums began throbbing for British Columbia’s recent provincial election a new yellow Studebaker with a black-and-white Alberta license bowled westward over the Rocky Mountain passes as though its driver knew exactly where he was going and was wasting no time.

The driver was a short middle-aged man, with a loud tie, a mouth that creased down at the corners and u permanent five-o’clock shadow. Beside him on the seat were two pigskin bags, a small black Bible with a gold-plated lock on it and a stack of small pamphlets. He was Ernest George Hansell, onetime Calgary newspaper cartoonist, evangelical preacher, member of parliament for the Alberta riding of MacLeod and national president of the Social Credit Association of Canada.

The Reverend Ernie Hansell’s remarkable objective, toward which he was proceeding with serenity and confidence, was to install in Victoria’s lofty, gilt-doored legislative chamber the second Social Credit government in the world.

Social Credit had never rippled the deep waters of B. C. politics. It had never won a seat in the B. C. Legislature, although it had existed as a philosophical movement in the province as long as it had in Alberta and had been running candidates, fitfully and half-heartedly, since the mid-Thirties. It had never elected a federal MP from the province.

When Ernie Hansell began scattering politics along his new sawdust trail the old parties yawned and without any real malice dismissed him as a “Bible thumper from the prairies, a funnymoney man, a fanatic, a flaming evangelist, an anti-Semitic and a Fascist.”

Ernie Hansell rephed: “Politics doesn’t have to be dirty.

It’s only as dirty as the politicians make it. And it would help a lot if government would take Almighty God into their plans.” He said too, “You don’t get Social Credit; it gets you.”

By the time Ernie Hansell was pointing his yellow Studebaker back toward the Alberta foothills a bemused British Columbia had learned that it may not have got Social Credit, but Social Credit certainly had got it.

With a Chautauqua zest and a platform that read like the Ten Commandments, B. C. Social Credit had nosed out the CCF, administered the worst beating in provincial history to the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives, the dominant group in

WHY DID THEY VOTE FOR AH OHKHOWH PARTY?

Mrs. Grace Kelly

“I don’t trust the other parties. I like Social Credit’s Christian outlook. Social Credit isn’t so political as the others. I used to vote PC but I changed.”

William Rose

‘"In an age when humanity’s one problem is: are we going to survive, I believe the Social Credit creed is the answer. I’ve always been for it.”

Mrs. Marjory Siceet

“I didn’t know a thing about Social Credit before the campaign and I still don’t but I wanted to give a slap in the nose to the government.”

Victoria for over a decade, and headed for control of a legislature most of its candidates had seen only in snapshots.

It was a political phenomenon unequalled in Canadian history. Only two of the party’s fortyseven candidates had ever heard the legislature’s division bells, and they were recent rebels from Progressive Conservative ranks. Of the remainder, some had only the slightest knowledge of Social Credit philosophy. Some had simply jumped on the bandwagon. Some were old-timers coaxed into running to fill the slate. Some were Roman Catholics and some were Orangemen. Most had Alberta backgrounds, ^ sincere desire for good government and a distaste for liquor, tobacco and profanity.

The party went to the polls with no leader. Not

until after the election did Social Credit’s nineteen elected MLAs and its defeated candidates get around to choosing a premier-elect. The party did not have a lawyer on its slate but it elected three preachers for the first time in B. C. provincial history, and otherwise was well represented with schoolteachers, general-store keepers, farmers, a. Boy Scout leader, a shoe repair man, a hog grader, a railroad engineer and a naturopathic physician.

The party’s provincial president, who shared the national Social Credit ambition to take over the Bank of Canada, had never brushed closer to high finance than the coin box of the Vancouver trolley bus on which he tvas a driver.

While Liberals and Progressive Conservatives were splurging on a drumfire of full-page newspaper ads, radio broadcasts, and high-paid organizers,

Social Credit fired back with one-column ads that generally got lost in the patent medicine pages, spot announcements on the radio, and volunteer workers who neglected their businesses and paid their own way. The old-line parties dipped into their campaign funds to the tune of nearly a million dollars to fight the election. Social Credit campaign managers walked through their meetings with hats and collection plates and won it, according to their own arithmetic, for ten thousand.

B. C.’s Social Crediters did not even call themselves a party. They were a movement. They refused to call their governing policies a platform. A platform consisted of promises and they did not believe in promises. So they had a program instead. They had no spellbinder like William Aberhart and no focal pulpit from which to cast a spell if they had had a spellbinder in stock. They opened their meetings with hymns but skirted the heavier Social Credit monetary theories and offered no twenty-five-dollar-a-month dividends. Their one commitment was that they would go to Victoria with a Bible in one hand and good government in the other.

British Columbia’s boom was the talk of the continent. The two veteran parties hammered relentlessly on the theme that the people of the province never had been so well off. Why did British Columbians buy a pig in a poke?

Post mortems provided pretty obvious reasons. No matter how the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives prettied themselves up, the people plain didn’t like them. The breakup of the LiberalProgressive Conservative coalition on the eve of election—with old cabinet friends suddenly calling each other names--didn’t help either. There were charges that the government bungled compulsory health insurance. There were the estimated half million Alberta émigrés in the province with memories of Aberhart. And there was the tricky new voting system, tailored by the coalition to keep the CCF out the front door, but which allowed Social Credit to plod in through the back.

But there were obviously deeper reasons than these that caused ten thousand British Columbians to join an almost unknown political movement,

TV. E. Brooke

“The Albertans were my only customers who didn’t beef about their government so I figured Social Credit must be a pretty good party to vote for.”

Mrs. Lillian Polischuk

“I’ve always been a Social Créditer. I thought Alberta, where I used to live, had good government. As for B. C.’s Coalition —it was stinky.”

Frank Baker

“We needed a good broom to sweep the government clean. There was an enthusiasm in Social Credit that was lacking in the old parties.”

mostly within the space of a few hectic election weeks. Metropolitan newsmen who sat in on jammed Social Credit election meetings noted a sort of electric current in the atmosphere and a crusading quality in the party hymns. In these election halls, where overflow crowds often brought their own apple boxes to sit on, it was a short memory-hop back to the days of the hungry Thirties when food wasted and men starved: when, for a healthy fee, an aristocratic yacht builder called Major C. H. Douglas came from Scotland to Alberta to tell about his new theory of monetary reform called Social Credit; and when, in Vancouver, an organized study group composed of modest students and intellectuals began delving into Douglas’ Social Credit on their own.

B. C. Social Credit, however, had been a poor foil for depression-bred socialism. It had been infiltrated by Communists and crackpots. It had clashed with the Social Credit secretariat, which operates out of Liverpool, and which condemns Social Credit entry into politics as a perversion of Major Douglas’ philosophy. Its ranks had been torn by internal jealousies which reached their peak in the early Forties when three of its original founders were drummed out of the party on an obscure charge that they were “agents of Moscow” — a matter of some embarrassment to party officials who were to streamline the movement in years to come.

The original movement puttered in politics. In an election in the mid-Thirties it ran fourteen candidates. They were like a horse with a bandaged leg—nobody would bet on them.

Although politically feeble, the movement did bring across Canada on national speaking tours both Major Douglas and the Reverend Hewlett Johnson, when he was a Social Créditer and not the “Red” Dean of Canterbury.

It was not until April 1949, when the present B. C. Social Credit League received its charter, that the movement showed signs of coming to life.

It rejected Douglas’ ban on political activity, retained his basic theory—that there is a chronic shortage of purchasing power in the hands of the people—and tempered it with a thread of religion. It was Alberta-style Social Credit.

The League contended that money was the root of all evil simply because people didn’t have enough of it. It theorized that people are not able to purchase all the goods they produce because of this

shortage. Surplus goods develop and eventually there is unemployment and depression. So to avoid depression, it would create and issue credit to the people in the form of dividends in an amount sufficient to make up for the lag in purchasing power.

In Oct. 1951 a by-election in the Vancouver Island constituency of Esquimalt indicated the strength of the people’s protest against the coalition government. In the headquarters of the B. C. Social Credit League, an unpretentious frame house beside a dirt lane in a workingman’s section of Vancouver, a plan began to take shape.

“If we can’t form a government the people won’t be interested,” League president Lyle Wicks said. “We’ve got to have a full slate.”

The house was Wicks’ house. In 1951 it was

quite sufficient for the few hundred members who made up the party. Wicks had been born in Alberta in. 1912 but had come to the Fraser Valley as a boy. While living in the valley town of Haney, he had his only brush with high government: he

was elected a member of the B. C. Boy’s Parliament. During the depression he struggled for jobs. He went to socialist meetings but emerged unconvinced. He liked to say that he was “not a Bible thumper,” but he found a parallel between Social Credit and the Biblical “I come that you might have life, and that you might have it more abundantly.” He was married and had one child and a lame cocker spaniel called Buster. His snub-nosed face was boyish and he combed his hair straight sideways. He knew his limitations.

He had become a

Continued on page 54

How Social Credit Took B. C.

Continued from page 9

Social Credit convert •while working as a conductor on a Vancouver streetcar. An operator who worked the same car gave him the lowdown one night at the end of the line. Wicks didn't sleep for weeks. He an aimed Social Credit along the lines that he knew best. “There is no reason why a man should have to stand fifteen minim*; waiting foi a bus,” he said. “Why can’t we have more buses?”

After Wicks and his directorate had decided to run a full slate in the provincial election that lay ahead, the only problem that remained was where to get the candidates. Wicks knew where he could put his hands on twenty. But it took forty-eight to compose a full slate. (Social Credit actually ran only forty-seven. It liked the CCF's Indian candidate, Frank Calder. too much to run against him >

Messages went out to Social Credit organizations throughout the province to rustle up some potential members of the provincial legislature. Speakers who hadn’t faced an audience in years were rooted into action. The time was ripe. There was a political vacuum in British Columbia. The people were trapped between two free-enterprise parties, which almost seventy percent of them did not like, and socialism, which seventy percent of them didn't like either. Even a full slate of Orientals, one Social Créditer noted, would grab a good share of the vote. Wicks saw it. And over the bills in Alberta veteran Alberta Social Crediters saw

But to rank-and-file British Columbians. Social Credit was still funny money. It took an insurrection on the government benches, and the flight of two popular and colorful Progressive Conservatives to the Social Credit fold to give the movement respectability.

One of the rebels was W. A. C. Bennett, MLA for South Okanagan: the other was Mrs. Tilly J. Rolston. MLA for Vancouver-Point Grey.

William Andrew Cecil Bennett was known as Cece to his friends and Wacky to his detractors. He was a prosperous operator of a chain of Okanagan hardware stores and he had been a thorn in the side of the coalition government since his election in 1941.

Twice he had tried to grab the provincial leadership of the Progressive Conservatives and twice he failed. On the grounds that he was fed up with government policy he quit the government in 1951 and joined the Opposition as an independent. However, he did not go through the physical gesture of crossing the floor of the house. The coalition majority was so hefty that Bennett already was sitting on the left side of the speaker. In Dec. 1951 Bennett—a former volley-ball and track man who doesn’t smoke, doesn't drink and doesn’t stumble over hymns— joined Social Credit, to nobody’s surprise.

Mrs. Tilly Rolston wasn’t far behind him. She had entered the legislature at the same time as Cece Bennett and had backed his tries for party leadership. She had made herself a public favorite by waging and winning a stubborn fight to make colored margarine legal in B. C. Unlike Bennett, who had boned up on Social Credit, Tilly only found time to browse through a few party pamphlets. Among the Cromwellian-shaded Social Crediters, Tilly, an ebullient grandmother, stood out like a red sail. She liked a' cocktail, smoked (and once set fire to her hat

Continued on page 56

while lighting a cigarette at a civic meeting , administered her Vancouver home according to the tenets of an Esquire Handbook for Hosts, loved bridge, costume jewelry and making annual tours to just about every part of the world except Alberta.

With Cece Bennett and Tilly Rolston lending color to the bandwagon, B. C. Social Credit began to roll. On April 26, exactly a month after British Columbia’s twenty-second legislature called the session quits in a pall of gloom, the B. C. Social Credit League held a provincial convention in a high-school auditorium in New Westminster.

It was the most unorthodox convention ever held by a political party in British Columbia.

It was attended by seven hundred and forty registered delegates and three hundred visitors. (Fifty party members all told had shown up for the 1949 convention. Delegates, paying their own way. made it a picnic. Many had never attended a convention before. A few had never even been to a big city. So many Alberta émigrés were in evidence some reporters called the convention the Calgary Stampede.

They Argued Five Hours

The convention opened with the singing of the Social Crediters’ favorite hymn. O God. Our Help in Ages Past, and then the top blew off. A communication from Alberta Social Credit officials, later called an ultimatum by the west coast press, suggested B. C. select a campaign leader from outside the province “who has a solid background of Social Credit knowledge and experience.” It added slyly, “If the above course of procedure is adopted, we are prepared to give what support we can to the B. C. campaign."

Delegates argued, booed and roared for nearly five hours. One delegate wanted to know, “If we do not elect an outsider will Alberta cut off aid?" Speakers, overwhelmed, cried: “Is there a dictionary in the house?” and, “Is there a lawyer in the house?” There wasn’t.) Reluctantly they salaamed toward Edmonton. Ernie Hansell got the job.

There were reasons other than territorial ambitions why the national Social Credit party wanted a tight rein on the B. C. campaign. It had learned from the debacle of Quebec's Socredtype Union of Electors in 1949 that loose alliances did not pay.

And the handling of the convention showed that B. C.’s Social Crediters. fresh out of their philosophical cocoon, could do worse than accept the sagacity of the little minister from Vulcan, Alta., Press relations were one example. Prior to the presentation of the ultimatum, reporters were ejected from the auditorium and kept out by guards stationed at the doors. The newsmen retired to the principal's office, tuned in the monitor panel of the public address system, and got their copy.

The party program had been printed in advance. It was presented to the delegates in a pamphlet that said, “It contains no empty promises, no glamorous illusions." The program skirted monetary reforms—long ago ruled unconstitutional within provincial government framework in the case of Alberta —but it did say the B. C. party would press for monetary reforms “in accordance with the fundamental Social Credit belief that the creation of money is a right of government alone which should not be delegated to private j monopoly.”

It called for abolition of B. C.’s compulsory and contentious hospital insurance, replacing it with a voluntary

system. It promised to get a fairer return for the people of B. C. from their natural resources. It would encourage free enterprise and discourage monopolies and reduce debts and institute a pay-as-you-go plan in provincial expenditures.

With the convention wrapped up and Ernie Hansell in the saddle, the campaign began in earnest. Over the hills from Alberta came a shirt-sleeved invasion of Social Credit MPs, MLAs and organizers, led by Premier E. C. Manning and federal leader Solon Low. Five thousand piled into Vancouver’s Forum to make the Manning rally the largest of the B. C. campaign. And nearly every hand went up when the chairman asked, “How many listen to Mr. Manning’s Sunday morning broadcasts?”

And they raised the roof with the B. C. Social Credit League's marching song:

B. C. Social Crediters will never, ¡ never stop.

Till B. C.'s Social Credit from the bottom to the top.

No more CCFers, no more Liberal lollipop.

And the Tories are all gone.

Chorus:

You have seen the light so shed it.

You have learned the truth so spread

Raise your voice for Social Credit.

And B. C. shall march on.

While other parties were luring in customers with variety shows, stumpers for Social Credit headed for the hinterlands and the grass roots and, with volunteer women pumping the organ for the hymns, consistently outdrew other speakers.

In the Okanagan town of Peachland, which has one hundred and ten names listed in the telephone book, ninetyseven turned out in a rainstorm to hear Cece Bennett.

Speakers proclaimed that the relationship of Social Credit to the people resembled the relationship of the Divine Creator to all mankind. Social Credit , was i way of life. It was a great crusade. Legislating should be giving the people what they want, not what the legislators want.

Few British Columbians seemed to have a clue as to the meaning of Social Credit monetary reform; few seemed to care. Alberta was doing all right —that was the general reaction.

In the meantime Ernie Hansell was setting the pace in sewing up the B. C. hinterland with a twisted thread of religion and red-hot electioneering. At Salmon Arm, where he had held a pastorate thirty-five years before, he took time off one Sunday to preach a sermon. He had left his car in a garage and hitchhiked with loyal Social Crediters from one speaking engagement to the next. One of the cars in

which he got a ride belonged to the Reverend Harry Denver Francis, Similkameen candidate. It had a great sign on the back announcing, “Eternity Ahead.”

With the exception of W. A. C. Bennett and Tilly Rolston, who had learned their way around B. C. politics in a more machine-age school, the folksy approach came natural to the Social Credit candidates. Leagues in each constituency had chosen their own candidates. At the last minute before nomination filing time one candidate was discovered to be ineligible because he had forgotten to get his name on the voters’ list. Another did not have proper residential qualifications. Others, like sixty-year-old George Churchill Moxham, were picked so suddenly they didn’t know what hit

Moxham was an ex-Albertan and a longtime Social Créditer, but he had spent the winter in California and had not heard about the Social Credit revival. Since the days when he was reeve of an Alberta town, he had grown a little rusty, too, in the technique of politics. He turned down the nomination when it was first offered to him. Only the day before the deadline, reluctantly and as a favor to the movement he believed in, did Moxham agree to fill the gap in the party slate and run for election.

It was Moxham’s fortune that the gap was in tough, tightly organized Vancouver Centre, long the Tammany of B. C. politics.

He set up a committee room in the store of a decorator who was a Social Créditer. He put banners across the buildings which bore the campaign slogan, “Social Credit, You Said It." He found a woman volunteer to handle the telephone and handed out party pamphlets to anybody who came in. He then opened another committee room in Chinatown but it flopped because he could not find any Chinese, some of whom were getting ten dollars a day in the Liberal committee room across the road, to work for him for nothing. At the height of his campaign Moxham inserted a one-column ad in the evening newspapers, made a fiveminute radio speech over a local station, got some volunteers to distribute pamphlets to houses in his constituency, arranged for two cars (they were quite old cars) to take voters to the polls, and sat tight.

Fake Election Returns

President Lyle Wicks, meanwhile, had been forced out of his house-office by the pressure of business and moved his headquarters into a fifty-five-dollara-month, three-room suite in a rather old building. To go to a washroom in the building candidates and party workers first had to ask Lyle Wicks for the key—it was that sort of a headquarters.

On election night three hundred ardent Social Crediters piled into Vancouver’s White Rose ballroom and went home in premature jubilation when false election returns were erroneously marked on the blackboard. Such fumbling was not restricted to Social Credit in British Columbia’s comic-opera election, in w'hich eight parties and two hundred and twelve candidates competed.

Under a record seven hundred and forty-four thousand vote and because of the new alternative ballot system, the election machinery creaked, groa ned and broke down. Ballot boxes fell apart in the hands of returning officers. Counts were jumbled. Some returning officers took ballot boxes home to bed with them. Others locked count sheets

in ballot boxes. In some centres the only election night count was made by reporters equipped with adding machines.

Four weeks later British Columbia learned that it had elected a Social Credit minority government of nineteen members (subject to recount upsets—and recounts would take another month) with w'hat, under the old X system of balloting, would have been twenty-six percent of the popular vote (as compared, how'ever, with one percent in 1949). The CCF trailed with ¡ eighteen seats but got thirty percent ! of the popular vote.

Liberals, who had elected twentysix members in 1949, emerged with six members in the new' legislature: Progressive Conservatives, who had had thirteen members, had only four.

Liberal leader Premier Byron ( Boss) Johnson, wealthy onetime teamster, and Conservative leader Herbert Anscomb, onetime pick-and-shovel man, were both defeated. Only CCF party leader Harold Winch, an electrician before he entered the legislature nineteen years ago, survived among the party leaders.

Ernie Hansell said: “I expected

we would do better than this.” Lyle Wicks crossed the road from his headquarters and tried on a new suit, off the rack. He was an MLA now, and so again were Cece Bennett and Tilly Rolston. but not George Moxham. He had lost.

There was talk of Social Credit hiring a lawyer to act as attorney-general. And there was speculation that the party might conduct classes in legislative deportment.

As a tenuous minority government the Social Crediters inherited other severe problems—crippling industrial strikes and falling markets. But greenhorns or not, they were undaunted. )

They went into office facing two of B. C.’s knottiest controversies: hospital insurance and liquor legislation. I The Socred’s unequivocal stand on the former has been to abolish compulsory | hospital insurance and replace it with a voluntary system. But it looks as if they will have to wait until they gain legislative strength in a new election (forecast for next year) to achieve this. At present they are at the mercy of six Liberals and four Conservatives who hold the balance of power in the Legislature and are unlikely to condone j changes in the insurance scheme.

One of the paradoxes of a paradoxical | election was that B. C. voted three to two “in favor of the sale of spirituous liquor and wane by the glass in establishments licensed for such purposes.” Yet while endorsing liquor reform with one hand, the province voted in a party that seems, on the surface, as teetotal as they come. Premier-elect Bennett has been vague about what Social Credit intends to do with the plebiscite results. He said after the election that the plebiscite question “was not clear” and added that “we hope in due course with the help of many people in different districts of the province to find some better solution for the liquor problem.”

Thirty-four days after British Columbia’s most astounding election W. A C. Bennett—whose crossing of the floor j had evoked hoots of laughter in the twenty-second Legislature—finally was declared the party’s premier-elect. “With God’s help we will do our best,” Bennett said.

To the Reverend Ernest Hansell, back in Vulcan, Alta., the B. C. Social Credit victory had been "missionary work . a skirmish,” preparatory to invading the federal field as a fullfledged national party to be reckoned with. Sooner or later there would be another political vacuum to fill. ★