The crowning of a new Messiah for the party of Alma, Ezra and Alf

Allan Fotheringham May 29 1978

The crowning of a new Messiah for the party of Alma, Ezra and Alf

Allan Fotheringham May 29 1978

The crowning of a new Messiah for the party of Alma, Ezra and Alf

Allan Fotheringham

The salvation of Canada is its innocence. Where sophisticated corruption marks other states, our corruption is only of the soul. Where debauchery and lechery mar other scenes, our sins start at banal and end at bathos.

To encompass the two, we venture to Winnipeg, the garlic capital of the world, to witness—full-frontal—a reunion of that strange fundamentalist breed of downhome politicians: the freak show of the national scene. Social Credit. There is nothing in Canada like a Social Credit revival hour. There is nothing anywhere like Social Credit. They are unique, they are unabashed, they are true believers and they are all our own. We have the patent and the copyright. They are willed to us alone.

It is a belief of tormented psyches, humorless small people who go to their pillows content in the knowledge the system is rigged against them, secure in the faith that if only their economic mumbo jumbo were imposed on the international monetary system, birds would sing and unemployment, inflation, crabgrass and athlete’s foot would be banished from the universe. They are the Holy Rollers of the political scene, believers in incantations, rain dances, wax dolls and redemption. Only the Lord understands Major Douglas, inventor of the A -IB Theorem—and vice versa. The simplicity of the dogma is almost seductive.

Winnipeg struggles out of winter like a hibernating she-bear shaking the dust from her cave. Old women, their faces still squinting from the onslaught of nature, stand on street corners huddled under babushkas. The silt and debris of winter still festoon the streets. Small boys squirt about on bicycles as if released from the tomb. Beside each Gideon Bible in the Holiday Inn rooms is a plastic flyswatter. In the bowels of the Winnipeg Convention Centre the tattered remnants of the Socred faith gather for their suicidal pact in blood.

These are pale winter faces, uplifted to the opening chorus of Onward, Christian Soldiers. The international bankers must be put to rout. Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, high-rise haircuts, a woman in a pink straw hat. A thin man with a pipe, wearing a white pith helmet that reads: “Every Canadian Is A Social Créditer At Heart. I Will Never Really Own This Hat Until Our National Debt Has Been Paid

Off.’’ Faces make up conventions.These are earnest, suffering faces. There is none of the backslapping, fat-cat Liberal ambiance, none of the aloof Tory intellectualizing, none of the sanctimonious NDP belief in solutions. This is serious business. The noon meal is “dinner.” The evening meal is “supper.” There are many references to the meals from the podium. No one at a Liberal convention ever talks about food. Only power. Says one speaker: “For God so loved the world and it don’t

matter...

The Ma and Pa Kettle atmosphere of the gathering, the homespun frontier touch, is reflected in the names. A man called Alma Hancock, who has written The Road to Monetary Reform (only $1) is prominent. New leader Lome Reznowski, a professor of English literature, is an expert—you could have guessed—on Ezra Pound. Ezra is a very Social Credit kind of name. This is the party once headed by Solon Low. The man who gives the invocation is Joe Stonehocker. Reznowski learned his Socred scripture “at the feet of Alf Hook.” When he makes a reference to Ralph Waldo Emerson, he omits the Ralph. Waldo is such a Socred name.

There is the amiable, even touching, overlay of incompetence. At a testimonial dinner for three party veterans, the cake goes missing. At the prayer breakfast, the preacher goes AWOL. A piano player for O Canada can’t be found. The party president, Bruce Arnold, rules the empire from Wasaga Beach, Ontario. A CBC producer spots one delegate’s tie, so outrageous, so Picasso-touched-with-neon, that he offers $50 for it. The puzzled Socred of course refuses. The convention across the corridor is “Silva Mind Control.”

The fascination of an observer with these rural believers in myth is that for dec-

ades the Bible thumpers confounded the pollsters. In 1962, they actually elected 30 MPS. In 1965 a claim can be made that they held the balance of power in the Pearson minority. (Solon Low exercised the balance of power with 19 MPS in 1957 in the Diefenbaker minority stretch.) They have never been understood by the Canadian public but in fact have legitimate roots, yet another of the protest parties of the plains, born as a result of Western Canadian disgust with rule by Central Canada.

Those still retaining their Rudy Vallee buttons will recall that the United Farmers’ Movement combined to elect 64 MPS for the Progressive party in 1921 and could have been the official Opposition if so inclined. Instead, the farm protest movement was drawn into the amalgam of labor and intellectual groups that formed the CCF in Calgary in 1932. Social Credit, forming an Alberta government in 1935 under Bible Bill Aberhart, the hot-gospelling radio evangelist.was merely a third attempt at a solution to burrow into the stout underbelly of a Canada-ruled-by-Ontario. Reform movements do not start at King and Bay. They form in barns and on tractors.

Whether alas or alack, the lovable Socred loonies have come to their end under Reznowski. He is a highly educated fool, someone who is articulate in eight languages and nonsensical in English. The Socreds have not elected an MP in Western Canada since 1965 and the 11 disciples of the late Réal Caouette who made it to the Commons in 1974 have now shrunk to eight. The thought that a passionate Ukrainian from Winnipeg—whose eyes and lungs vault into incandescent heat at the mention of homosexuals, abortion or bankers—can rescue a rump party cowering now in rural Quebec is a miracle that even Bible Bill could not manufacture, with or without the Supreme Court on his side.

Behind Reznowski (the fourth leader in less than two years), beneath the hymns, one can hear the death rattle. The party that was born 43 years ago and has stubbornly survived, the party of Alf Hook, Joe Stonehocker and Alma Hancock, has deserted its birthplace and has no reason for existence. These days the inhabitants of the Prairie provinces have their own method of expressing their protest movement against Ottawa. They vote Tory.