ON PAPER they sound like identical twins. Both are Baptist ministers who went into politics as an extension of their church work. Both are gifted public speakers with large personal followings, and therefore both are regarded as indispensable props of the parties and governments they lead. The parties themselves have a common ancestry—both are heirs of a prairie radicalism that goes back to the days when the west was all one Northwest Territory, and felt itself neglected, dominated and exploited by a distant and arrogant east.
It’s a puzzle, indeed, how any two men could seem so much alike and be so diametrically different as Thomas Clement Douglas and Ernest Charles Manning, respectively CCF premier of Saskatchewan and Social Credit premier of Alberta.
Douglas is “Tommy” to most people in Saskatchewan, friend or foe. Manning is “Mister” even to many of his Social Credit MLAs, and the few who use his first name call him Ernest, not Ernie. Douglas is short, stocky and quick on his feet, a champion boxer in his youth. Manning is tall and thin, with slender, delicate hands; one of his private relaxations is playing the violin. Both are formidable campaigners, but in opposite ways— Douglas is a droll fellow who can charm even a hostile crowd into roars of laughter, whereas Manning’s strength is an earnest solemnity and an impression of pious rectitude. “His righteous indignation is the Social Credit Government ’s strongest weapon as it fights for its life in the current election campaign.”
But a greater paradox than any personal comparison is the contrast between their parties—the Social Credit movement which has ruled Alberta for twenty years, and the CCF which has run Saskatchewan for ten.
In origin the two are identical. Each was a gesture of protest by resentful prairie farmers against eastern “vested interests”—the mortgage holders who evicted them, the manufacturers who sold them tariff-protected goods at high prices, the grain dealers who bought their wheat at low prices. Also, both were a protest against the Depression, which hit the west harder than any other part of Canada.
Far from being allies today, though, the two are at opposite extremes. Social Credit, in spite of its radical roots, has become the darling of big business —oil men in Alberta and timber men in British Columbia speak of it warmly and give generously to its campaign funds. The CCF, though its socialism in Saskatchewan has been far too mild to please its own doctrinaires, is still regarded by businessmen with an implacable dislike. Each party thinks the other is its most dangerous enemy, worse even than the old parties which still symbolize the hated “interests” in both provinces. Probably they are both right in this opinion. From their common source Social Credit and the CCF have grown about as far apart as they can go.
One reason may be that Alberta, unlike Saskatchewan, kicked out the old parties thirty-four years ago at the first chance that offered after World War I, and has had a government radical in doctrine ever since.
Both provinces had been under continuous Liberal rule since they entered Confederation in 1905, and by 1921 both were fed up with it. As wholly agricultural communities they had organized to fight against the various economic interests— the railways, the elevator companies, the big grain dealers, the mortgage holder's-—which they regarded as the farmer’s natural enemies. By the end of World War I these farmers’ organizations were ready to enter politics directly instead of trying to exert pressure from within the old parties. The Progressive Party was born, and captured sixty-five seats in the prairies and rural Ontario in the federal election of 1921.
But in Saskatchewan, Premier W. M. Martin was shrewd enough to act while the farmers’ organization was still debating whether or not to enter provincial politics. Martin proclaimed himself neutral between the Liberals and Progressives in the federal field; he took the president of the Saskatchewan Grain Growers Association into his cabinet, then called a snap election in which he lost some seats but stayed in power. By the time of the next election the Progressive party’s glory had already departed, and the collapse of the Liberal party in Saskatchewan was deferred for two more decades. Even the Conservatives had one brief term in office, 1929-34.
In Alberta, even though the 1921 election was only a month later than in Saskatchewan, the United Farmers were in the field betimes. They won two thirds of all seats in the legislature and gave the Liberal party a drubbing from which it has not recovered to this day. The Conservatives’ fate was even worse—some of them joined with the United Farmers “to beat the Grits,” and thus started a tradition that still bedevils them in all the western provinces.
Bypassing the Middleman
The United Farmers of Alberta reigned for fourteen years. They were agrarian radicals, led and inspired by Henry Wise Wood, the founder and philosopher of the Progressive movement in Alberta. They believed with him in “group government” whereby all classes would organize for mutual co-operation. They set up co-operatives that would, they hoped, bypass “the middleman” and give the farmer a better return for his production.
In short the UFA had an approach to the farmer’s problem that was radical but rational. Like all political movements it grew more conservative in office than it had been in opposition, but so long as prosperity lasted it did very well, and satisfied the farmers whose delegates the ministers and MLAs felt themselves to be.
But the UFA had no cure for the Great Depression, any more than the old parties had, and Alberta was harder hit by depression than any other province except Saskatchewan. Cities and towns faced bankruptcy, thousands of farmers were ruined and thousands more expected to be.
As a last straw the United Farmers Government was smitten by the gamiest scandal in Canadian political history. In 1934 Premier J. E. Brownlee was sued for damages by his young and pretty confidential secretary, who accused him of seducing her. After a sensational trial she lost her case in the Alberta court, later won it in appeal and meanwhile permanently blasted the political career of the UFA premier. To make matters worse one of his cabinet ministers, Hon. O. L. McPherson, was involved in a divorce case at about the same time which further deepened the UFA’s embarrassment.
This alone might have toppled the UFA Government, but in 1935 it was hardly needed. By 1935 Albertans had cause to feel that the rational radicalism of Henry Wise Wood and his movement had failed. They harkened to a different voice, one with all the eloquence and divine self-assurance of an Old Testament prophet.
William Aberhart was a schoolteacher by profession, a preacher by avocation. Like some other great spellbinders of the Thirties he was among the first to discover the impact of radio, and to develop its techniques to the full. By the middle 1920s he had built up a huge audience for his weekly broadcasts from the Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute. One of the tens of thousands who listened to him was a Saskatchewan farm boy named Ernest Manning.
Manning was then seventeen, a quiet, studious, thoughtful boy going to high school and helping his father on the farm near Carnduff, Sask., where his parents had settled when they came from England. He had saved up his money to buy a radio set and he gave it to himself for a Christmas present that year—he and his brother spent Christmas afternoon putting up an aerial on their father’s roof.
“A Trumpet From the Grave”
One of the first programs he heard, and the one that made by far the deepest impression, was Aberhart’s fundamentalist, “back - to - the - Bible” sermon from Calgary. Before long young Manning reached one of the great decisions of his life. In 1926, when he was eighteen, he left the family farm with his father’s blessing, went to Calgary and enrolled as a student under Aberhart at the Prophetic Bible Institute. He became its first graduate and Aberhart’s leading disciple. In a sense, that’s what he has been ever since.
At first he was solely a preacher and Bible lecturer at the institute—where, incidentally, he married the organist, Muriel Aileen Preston. Today, as Premier of Alberta, Manning still preaches most Sundays at the Prophetic Bible Institute, with a radio audience that has been estimated as high as two millions. His voice in these sermons is said to be so much like Aberhart’s that to some older people it seems like a trumpet from beyond the grave, though in private conversation Manning speaks very quietly. He has said repeatedly that he regards preaching as his true vocation, and that if he had to choose he would drop politics without hesitation. But he has never felt the two to be incompatible—quite the contrary. To Manning as to Aberhart before him Social Credit has always been a kind of secular gospel, a way of advancing toward the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, though Manning has long been reconciled to the realization that its fulfillment is yet afar off.
Aberhart and Manning first met the doctrine of Social Credit in the summer of 1932. It was not then new in Alberta. Many seekers after economic truth had run across and been impressed by the writings of Major C. H. Douglas, the English engineer who is the father of Social Credit. One of these was William Irvine, who has been a stalwart of the CCF ever since it was founded.
But in Aberhart the Social Credit philosophy found a convert equipped to be an apostle, at a moment when a dismayed and bewildered people were ripe to listen. Aberhart made Social Credit part of his message to the faithful, and gave it some of the moral sanction and emotional force of his evangelical preaching.
Actually it fitted in very well. Major Douglas’ root-and-branch denunciations of the existing economic order might have come right out of the Book of Jonah. Social Credit’s cure for these evils brought the sweet by-and-by here and now. Aberhart’s fundamentalist audience lapped it up.
He didn’t at first intend to found a new political party. First he tried to persuade the United Farmers Government to adopt Social Credit, and apparently he made some impression. In 1934 the UFA held a formal enquiry to which Major Douglas was brought as an expert witness, and he was questioned at great length. But it was soon apparent that the UFA was sceptical of Douglas’ theories, if not actually hostile to them. Aberhart prepared to launch his own political “movement”—he insisted it was not a party, and Social Crediters still so insist, but it did and does behave uncommonly like one.
It does well at the game, too. In the 1935 election in Alberta, Aberhart and his followers swept the province. The United Farmers didn’t win a single seat. Five Liberals were returned and two Conservatives; the other fifty-six legislature seats all went to Social Credit.
Ernest Manning was then only twenty-seven, which for a politician is mere infancy. But Aberhart took him into the cabinet immediately as provincial secretary. So long as Aberhart lived Manning remained an obscure figure to the outside world— Aberhart completely filled the public stage, tilting at the banks and the Press, ruling his own party with an iron hand, appearing to his followers as a divinely inspired prophet and to his enemies as a charlatan with the skill of the devil. But in the inner councils of Social Credit Manning became a highly respected figure.
When Aberhart died in 1943 it took the Social Credit caucus only ten minutes to choose Manning as his successor. The only rival in sight was Solon Low, who as provincial treasurer had shared with Manning the position of Aberhart’s lieutenant. Low was named national leader of the party and shunted off into the federal field—a promotion widely interpreted at the time as a kick upstairs, since the national leader is a mere MB leading a splinter group in the southeast corner of the House of Commons, whereas the provincial leader became automatically premier of Alberta.
It was a good moment for the change. With the vast majority of Albertans who were not dedicated Social Crediters but mere ordinary voters Aberhart had been losing ground steadily almost ever since his first election. He was an autocrat who paid little attention to his own MLAs and none to the Opposition. In line with the theory of Social Credit he had told the electors at the outset that they must trust him to find the “methods” of bringing the Social Credit paradise to earth, hut if he failed they could recall him. One of his government’s first acts was to pass a bill providing machinery for recall of elected members. But when a petition for Aberhart’s own recall was circulated in 1937 Aberhart had the act repealed. When his government came up for re-election in 1940 the old parties were so disorganized and self-distrusting that they ran most of their candidates under the label “independent,” but even at that they won twenty-two seats and reduced Social Credit to thirty-five.
“If Aberhart had lived another two years, Social Credit would have been defeated,” a veteran parliamentarian in Edmonton told me recently.
Manning gave Social Credit a new lease of life. He was as different from Aberhart as a devoted disciple could well be—quiet as Aberhart had been flamboyant, courteous as Aberhart had been arrogant, and seemingly conservative as Aberhart had been radical.
Federal disallowances and Supreme Court decisions had already made it plain that Social Credit could not be put into practice by a provincial government. The famous promise of twenty-five dollars a month in “social dividends” had depended on control of the banks, and Aberhart’s legislation to license the banks in Alberta had thoughtfully forbidden the victims to attack his law in the courts. Fortunately or unfortunately for Aberhart, the federal government disallowed this and all similar Social Credit legislation. Other measures such as the notorious Alberta Press Act, which would have compelled newspapers to publish in full the provincial government’s rejoinder to any reports they disliked, were declared by the Supreme Court to be beyond the powers of a provincial legislature.
Evidently the monetary doctrines of Social Credit would have to await the party’s triumph in the federal field. Manning concentrated public attention on his government’s record for plain ordinary competence, and especially on its belief in free enterprise as contrasted with the socialist doctrines of the CCF.
Socred’s Smashing Victory
To businessmen in 1943 and 1944 this had a reassuring sound. The CCF in 1935 had appeared as an empty threat, compared to the triumphant and thundering Social Credit party in Alberta. But it had grown in strength before and during the war, and unlike Social Credit it had not yet subjected its radical doctrines to the moderating influence of office. In 1943 the Gallup Poll showed the CCF strength among electors to be almost equal that of the old parties. The CCF came within a few seats of winning the 1943 provincial election in Ontario, and did win the 1944 provincial election in Saskatchewan.
Thus the old parties were thrown on the defensive even in their strongholds in eastern and central Canada, and in Alberta they hadn’t been strong for a quarter of a century. The conservatives of the business world swung their support to the moderate Ernest Manning, and Social Credit won all but five of the civilian seats (three were reserved for the armed services and one for veterans).
This smashing victory for Social Credit in Alberta, which left the CCF there with only the one seat it had held for several years, came only two months after an election in the neighbouring province of Saskatchewan where results were very different. There it was the CCF that won all but five civilian seats. The Liberals, who with one brief interval had ruled Saskatchewan ever since it became a province, were reduced to a ragged and disheartened remnant. The man who led the CCF’s triumphant onslaught was the other political preacher of the prairies, Tommy Douglas.
Douglas is not only unlike his earnest colleague Ernest Manning, he is strikingly unlike most Baptist ministers of all political persuasions. Douglas is famous for his irreverent wit and his endless fund of funny stories. The anecdotes as he tells them are always relevant to the political point he is making, but they are often distinctly unclerical in tone.
Once, at a campaign meeting also attended by CCF national leader M. J. Coldwell, Douglas was deriding the two old parties— they fought sham battles, he said, to conceal the fact that they really represented the same “big interests.”
“They remind me of a story about Noah’s ark,” Douglas went on. “You know when the ark set out nobody knew how long the voyage would be, and it occurred to Noah that unless they were careful, the population of the ark might grow too big for the food supply. So Noah appointed the giraffe as censor, to keep an eye on the other animals and make sure the population didn’t increase.
“The giraffe took his duties very seriously, and for forty days and forty nights he never closed an eye. When the ark grounded on Mount Ararat he was able to assure Captain Noah that the animal population was still the same—he'd seen to that, and he took his place beside Noah at the gangplank to check the animals as they came ashore. Two lions, two tigers, two sheep, two goats, but then two cats— and eight kittens.
“As the tomcat went by, he turned to sneer at the giraffe. ‘Yah,’ he said. ‘Thought we were fighting, didn't you?’
“Exactly like the two old parties,” Tommy Douglas concluded. M. J. Coldwell, an eminently respectable Anglican, said to him later: “Tommy, if you ever tell that story again when I am on the platform, I’ll get up and walk off.”
But political crowds love Douglas’ stories, which never seem to be dragged in but always neatly illustrate his point. He is probably the most effective stump speaker in all Canada, one who can win even his enemies to a reluctant admiration.
One of his government’s first acts when he became Premier of Saskatchewan in 1944 was to raise the license fee for commercial trucks in the province from a very low figure to a range of very high ones. The truckers were furious. About a thousand of them converged on Regina for a protest meeting which they invited, or rather commanded, the Premier to attend.
“When Tommy walked out on the platform they were howling at him, hissing and booing,” said a man who was there. “I honestly think that if they’d got their hands on him they’d have lynched him. But Tommy just stood there smiling until the noise quieted down and then he started to talk.
“He told them how much he sympathized with them, all the trouble they’d had trying to do business on Saskatchewan’s roads, the worst in all Canada. He told them how the government was going to fix things for them, give them decent roads and a chance to do business with the same advantages as other provinces. He told them about the cheap insurance his government was going to bring in. He told them some funny stories, too.
“At the end of it they were laughing and applauding him. I drove away with a bunch of them, and halfway home we were talking about what a great speech he’d made and what a wonderful guy he was. Then somebody interrupted to say: ‘Yes, but what about the licenses that we came here to squawk about? The little son-of-a-gun never even mentioned them.’ ”
Underneath the flippancy and the glib eloquence, though, Douglas has the same kind of concern for humanity as drove Manning first into the church and then into politics. The two men set out on their oddly similar careers for similar reasons.
Douglas, too, is the son of British immigrants. His father was an iron molder who came to Winnipeg from Falkirk, Scotland, in 1910 when Tommy was six years old. The elder Douglas returned to Scotland when war broke out, though, vainly trying to get into the army, and young Tommy got all his elementary schooling there. When the family came back to Winnipeg in 1919 he had finished the equivalent of grade ten and was apprenticed to a printer.
He had finished his training and was a journeyman printer when he decided in 1924 to enter the ministry. He completed his high-school course; then he went on to take his BA and theology at Brandon College, his MA at McMaster University in Hamilton, and most but not all of the work required for a PhD at the University of Chicago. He didn’t complete his formal education until 1933 when he was twenty-nine.
A Commotion in the Church
Meanwhile, though, he had become an ordained minister and a married man. He met his wife, Irma Dempsey, when he was a student preacher at Carberry, Man. they were married in 1930, the year Douglas became minister of the Baptist church at Weyburn, Sask. For the first three years of his ministry he spent about half his time in his pastorate and half at university; he had no more than finished with university when he plunged into politics.
It wasn’t an easy thing to do. Saskatchewan was in the depths of depression by then, and at the start of a drought cycle that did almost as much damage; it seemed a natural development for a young Baptist minister to try to do something to mend the economic breakdown that was causing such misery. But many of his parishioners thought it a scandal, and some left the church when their pastor ran for the new CCF party in the provincial election of 1934. He lost. The commotion in his church had been such that he hesitated a long time before deciding to enter the federal campaign the following year.
But he did enter, and this time he won—he and M. J. Coldwell were the only CCF candidates elected in the twenty - one Saskatchewan ridings. Since then Douglas has never been defeated at any election, provincial or federal.
At Ottawa he made a name for himself as a keen aggressive debater. J. S. Woodsworth was CCF leader with Coldwell as his chief lieutenant, but most people ranked Douglas as Number Three, and he became Number Two when Woodsworth handed over active leadership to Coldwell after war broke out.
Meanwhile in Saskatchewan the CCF had been prospering. At the provincial election of 1938 it took eleven seats, routed the new and hopeful Social Credit party and established itself as the official Opposition. In 1940 the CCF was split three ways on the war issue—one faction held to the outright pacifism of national leader J. & Woodsworth, who opposed the war. another agreed with M. J. Coldwell and the majority of CCF members of parliament in supporting the war but opposing the dispatch of men overseas; a third, eventually followed by the vast majority of the party, supported all-out participation. Rut in spite of this internal division the CCF managed to elect five Saskatchewan MPs, including Tommy Douglas, at the 1940 federal election, and in the rural ridings of the province had a popular vote almost equal to that of the victorious Liberals. During the year after that election the CCF was the only political party to give all-out support to the farmers’ fight for a higher wheat price, so that by the end of 1941 it was obvious that the CCF had an excellent chance to be the next Saskatchewan government.
This chance was increased by a change of leadership. George Williams, a veteran of the United Farmers movement who had made a lot of enemies in the Saskatchewan CCF, resigned as provincial leader to join the army. At the 1941 convention Tommy Douglas was chosen provincial leader in Williams’ place. Although Douglas continued to sit as MP for Weyburn until shortly before the Saskatchewan election of 1944 (it was his livelihood, after all) and continued to play a very active role at Ottawa, his main job became the provincial affairs of Saskatchewan.
Socialism and radicalism in general are supposed to thrive in hard times, but the CCF’s growth in Saskatchewan was an apparent exception to this rule. Saskatchewan in 1942 had the largest wheat crop in its history up to that date. As a result of the Wheat Pool’s determined campaign, prices were considerably higher than in previous years and the farmers were well off. But one result of this new prosperity was that contributions poured into the CCF treasury; the party was able to put full-time organizers into almost every constituency, publish its own weekly newspaper, and enlist the public support of many leading citizens who had wanted no part of it when it was a struggling little party of the far left.
Partly this paradox was due to resentment against the Liberal Government’s failures to deal with the Depression, and subsequent attempts to hold down the price of wheat. Partly, though, it reflected the fact that the CCF in Saskatchewan has never been an extremely radical party. S. M. Lipset of the University of California, in a penetrating study called Agrarian Socialism, has pointed out that the CCF leaders there are the same men who head the rural co-operatives, the school boards, the municipal organizations of all kinds—not a mere fringe group of intellectuals but the natural leaders of their community.
The natural leader of these natural leaders is Tommy Douglas. He has brought in barely enough “socialism” to annoy and alarm the merchants and some white-collar groups in the cities and towns—a provincial insurance system that is compulsory up to a point, then offers additional benefits for a low premium; publicly owned power lines and bus routes; a tax-supported hospital scheme that gives “free” hospitalization to all and is paid for partly by direct compulsory premiums and partly from general revenue. He has also conducted a few small-scale experiments in other government enterprises such as a tannery and boot factory, a salt plant, a woolen mill.
Some of these lost money and have been abandoned, but taken as a whole Saskatchewan’s crown corporations reported a total net surplus of seven million dollars in 1954. This included some enterprises such as the Saskatchewan telephone system which were publicly owned before the CCF came to power, but even the CCF’s own “socialist” innovations have reported an accumulated net. surplus of about five million dollars in the CCF’s ten years of office.
Douglas’ provincial treasurer, Clarence Fines, is a former school principal who has made himself a rich man by the orthodox capitalist method of shrewd investments. From the point of view of a Liberal or a Conservative Fines’ prowess in the stock market is not only irreproachable but enviable.
Doctrinaire socialists, however, squirm with embarrassment that a CCF cabinet minister should be thus adept in the arts and crafts of St. James Street.
Douglas himself is no investor, but he says he has no objection to private enterprise. He just thinks there are some things public enterprise can do better and more cheaply. But in its own sphere — such, for instance, as prospecting for oil — he says private enterprise is more than welcome in Saskatchewan.
Private enterprise no longer disagrees, apparently. Oil investment in Saskatchewan still runs far behind Alberta’s, where the oil companies are spending around three hundred millions a year. But in Saskatchewan, where investment seven years ago was virtually nil, it has now reached a cumulative total of about three hundred and fifty millions, lately at a stable rate of around seventy millions a year. Twelve hundred wells are producing about five million barrels a year—a small fraction of Alberta’s output, but still a considerable item.
“We get along fine with the CCF Government,” an American oilman said. “In general the leases we get in Saskatchewan are just as good from our point of view as the ones we get in Alberta—the systems are much the same in both provinces. The only thing is we feel a little uncertain about the CCF. It still favors the co-operatives as much as it can, and some of the Saskatchewan people admit there is a radical wing in their party that prevents them from giving us as good a deal as they otherwise would.”
Oil-company executives have no such reservations about the Social Credit Government in Alberta. About it, and about Premier Ernest Manning in particular, they speak in the warmest possible terms. His personal co-operation with the industry, they say, is about as close as it can be.
“About once every month or six weeks,” said one, “Manning will ask a group of us to lunch. No speeches, no formal program, just a personal talk about any mutual problems that may have come up. He doesn’t always take our advice, and we wouldn’t expect him to, but the thing we like is that he never does anything affecting the oil industry without letting us know and giving us a chance to state our views about it.”
Until this past year, the oil industry’s satisfaction with the Social Credit Government was echoed by most people in Alberta. Three or four years ago, in private conversation in Edmonton, a Conservative lamented that there wasn’t any ground for attack on the Social Crediters—“they’re giving good government, and we have to admit it.”
Lately this unanimous chorus of approbation has been rudely interrupted. Ostensibly the snap election in Alberta was provoked by the Opposition’s charge that Social Credit MLAs should not have dealings with the Government’s treasury branches — a sort of provincial savings bank which makes loans to Alberta citizens. But underlying this charge of rather technical impropriety is a general charge of more serious import—at best, mismanagement, at worst, misconduct in the handling of public business.
Four land deals were investigated by the Public Accounts Committee at the last session of the Alberta legislature. The committee had been enlarged to make it a committee of the whole, and its Social Credit majority of fifty-two to nine brought in a report declaring everybody free of any fault, but the deals themselves still looked odd to many people:
1. A government building which had cost $75,000 was sold for $64,000 and the Government continued to rent it from the purchasers for approximately $15,000, nearly a quarter of the purchase price. The buyers turned out to be a couple of Social Credit MLAs, who resigned. (The Government was able to show, however, that their bid was the highest of five; they resigned only because they were rendered ineligible to sit by having had dealings with the Crown, and both are running again at the general election.)
2. Another building, offered to the Government for $175,000 in 1948, was bought in 1952 for $225,000. In fact, a price of $250,000 was first recommended, and was scaled down only when the provincial auditor held up the transaction. It turned out that the building had been sold to two men for $175,000 only two months before the Government finally bought it. Profit to the two men for their two months’ ownership, fifty thousand—less their outlays on the building, which one of them said came to thirteen thousand dollars, spent “largely on intangibles.”
3. A Calgary lot was purchased for $46,000 as the site for a new liquor store. It was bought from a man who himself had purchased it only six days before for $35,700. (He testified, though, that he had been leasing the property for some time with an option to buy and that the profit was small compensation for giving up his business there.)
4. A farm near Calgary was bought for $127,000—the site for a new jail. Enquiry showed that the farm had been optioned to a third party for $81,000. In view of the imminent resale the men who held the option actually paid $89,000 to the original owner, but their profit was still $38,000.
The Opposition did not prove, or even allege, any actual wrongdoing in these curiously profitable transactions they contented themselves with charging “waste, extravagance, inefficiency.” But the Government, for its part, made no attempt to explain (nor apparently even to find out) how these lucky fellows had happened to buy the properties just as the Government was planning to acquire them. Hon. A. J. Hooke, Minister of Public Works, told me he didn’t know who had signed the recommendation to pay $250,000 for the building that had cost $175,000—he hadn’t thought to enquire.
No one suggested, of course, that any of these deals was known to Premier Manning personally. He could quite properly have declined responsibility for them and turned the whole matter over to judicial enquiry. Instead he took the line that there was nothing wrong with any of the transactions and that anyone who suggested such a thing was playing “gutter politics” and “character assassination.”
In a broadcast on March 28 he devoted his whole script to what he called “political tactics” of the Opposition—“these vicious attempts to shake your confidence in your government.” He spoke of “this vicious form of attack which is a concerted attempt to cast reflections on the honesty and integrity of your government,” and looked forward confidently to the time “when those guilty of such tactics are exposed and rebuked.” At no time in the broadcast did he even mention what the charges were, much less answer them.
Will They go to Ottawa?
How much effect all this will have on the Social Credit party in Alberta the coming election will show. Scandal has not yet turned the betting odds against the Government. But it has reduced to a conspicuous degree the odor of sanctity that formerly hung about the Social Credit administration.
“The reason why Alberta oil lay undiscovered in the ground for all these centuries and why it’s been found now,” said an Edmonton clergyman to a friend of mine some years ago, “is that God was waiting until we had a government of righteous men.” Less of that sort of thing is heard in Alberta now.
However, this change in the general attitude has not yet detracted from Ernest Manning’s personal fame, any more than a similar outburst in Saskatchewan a few years ago hurt Tommy Douglas. (He had invested some money in a drive-in theatre; the Opposition discovered that the principal owner had borrowed some money from the Saskatchewan Government Insurance Office in connection with another property. The two deals were not related, but Douglas sold out his interest in the drive-in theatre anyway.)
Both men are often mentioned as future national leaders of their respective parties. Both are young enough—Douglas is fifty, Manning will be forty-seven in September. Douglas is a possible successor to M. J. Coldwell when Coldwell retires, an event that seemed imminent a year or so ago when Coldwell’s health was poor, but which now appeals unlikely for some years to come. Manning is touted as the rival not so much of Solon Low, the present national leader, as of W. A. C. Bennett, the ambitious ex-Conservative who now is Social Credit Premier of British Columbia.
Both men pooh-pooh such talk for precisely similar reasons: “There’s too much to do here.”
They and their parties are both inclined to prefer the bird in hand to any number in the bush. Neither the CCF nor Social Credit has any immediate prospect of taking power in the federal field, and both premiers know it. Meanwhile, each man is the keystone of his party’s arch of power in their respective provinces. Without their present leaders both governments would be in considerable jeopardy; with them, both feel secure.