Tag Archives: William Aberhart

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall

Nothing new under the Prairie Sun: Brad Wall isn’t the first Saskatchewan politician to get his orders from Calgary

The recent news that Premier Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party is flush with cash from Calgary-based corporations is both noteworthy and concerning. Due to that province’s lax political finance laws, the Saskatchewan Party is reported to have received at least $2 million in donations from Alberta-based energy companies since 2006. This is notable considering the Premier’s fierce opposition to the federal government’s plans to fight climate change and his frequent criticisms of Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government (a government that has banned corporate donations to political parties).

William Aberhart

William Aberhart

Mr. Wall is not the first Saskatchewan politician to get his financial backing from Calgary. There was a time when the people of Saskatchewan faced another, more literal, political invasion from Alberta.

Seventy-eight years ago, Alberta Premier William Aberhart staged an invasion of Saskatchewan politics.

Mr. Aberhart’s Social Credit Party had swept the 1935 Alberta election, going from zero to 56 seats and forming a majority government during the height of the Great Depression. Upon learning of the election victory, the Social Credit Greenshirts in London were reported to have marched around the Bank of England Building holding torches and blowing their trumpets (no doubt inspired by the Battle of Jericho).

During its first decade in government, Mr. Aberhart’s radical administration tried to print its own currency, legislate control over the media, nationalize the banking system and ban alcohol sales.

Major C.H. Douglas

Major C.H. Douglas

Eager to spread the gospel of Major C.H. Douglas and Social Credit theory, Mr. Aberhart’s party propped up a Socred Party in Saskatchewan to contest the June 8, 1938 provincial election. The Alberta Premier viewed Saskatchewan as a beachhead for his party’s expansion across Canada and, eventually, to Ottawa.

While The Battlefords Member of Parliament Joseph Needham was party leader by default, the Saskatchewan Social Credit Party organization in that election was manufactured by Albertans. It was run by Alberta MLA and Provincial Secretary Ernest Manning, who would succeed Mr. Aberhart as Premier in 1943 and serve until his retirement 1968.

Ernest Manning

Ernest Manning

Nearly all of Alberta’s Social Credit MLAs and cabinet ministers hit the hustings in Saskatchewan, spending weeks campaigning for local candidates. Mr. Aberhart spent two weeks on the campaign trail, speaking to rallies across Saskatchewan along with a band of experts in Social Credit theory.

“The outlook in Saskatchewan is very encouraging,” Mr. Aberhart was reported to have said upon a brief return to Alberta in May 1938. “It would appear from the definite interest manifested by the people who gathered in such large numbers that they realize a change is absolutely necessary,” Mr. Aberhart said.

The “troupe from Alberta invading Saskatchewan,” as one Saskatchewan newspaper described them, did not go unnoticed and faced fierce opposition from local political establishment and opponents on both sides of the provincial border.

A political cartoon in The Leader-Post in May 1938.

A political cartoon in The Leader-Post in May 1938.

The intentions of Social Credit candidates on the ballot were called into question by The Leader-Post, whose editors asked in a June 6 editorial who they would be loyal to if elected. “Will their loyalty be given to the Alberta Premier or to the people of Saskatchewan?,” the editorial asked.

Saskatchewan’s Liberal Minister of Natural Resources, William Franklin Kerr, called Social Credit a disease and claimed that if its candidates were elected those MLAs would represent the Premier of Alberta in the Saskatchewan Legislature.

John Hugill, a former Social Credit Attorney General who had become an outspoken critic of Mr. Aberhart, said in May 1938 that the Alberta Premier “visualizes being the dominant force in the political life of Western Canada as a stepping stone to becoming the Hitler of Canada.”

On the eve of the election, Mr. Aberhart is reported to have spoken to a rally of 5,000 people in the Town of Melville. The rally was policed by party activists, wearing official Social Credit armbands, who tossed out protesters from the event. It is unclear if the armbands were accompanied by official party uniforms. This was 1938 after all.

“Mr. Aberhart and his government are a peril to the people of Alberta. Not only is he a threat to Alberta, but his actions coming into Saskatchewan and disrupting the affairs of neighbouring province has been a menace to Canadian unity,” J.T. Shaw told The Leader-Post in June 1938. Mr. Shaw was a Knight of Columbus who traveled from Calgary to campaign against the spread of the Social Credit menace in Saskatchewan.

A political cartoon in The Leader-Post in May 1938.

A political cartoon in The Leader-Post in May 1938.

On June 6, the Kerrobert League for Democracy, based in the town of Kerrobert, sent a telegram to the chairman of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation asking him to stop Mr. Aberhart’s radio broadcasts into Saskatchewan. “The law prohibits radio broadcasting of political propaganda for certain periods before election days,” the League wrote. “…Premier Aberhart of Alberta took unsportsmanlike advantage of situation by broadcasting his propaganda against Saskatchewan opponents from Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute Sunday…”

Mr. Aberhart earned his nickname, “Bible Bill” from his weekly Christian radio sermons broadcast from the Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute in downtown Calgary.

Despite his best efforts, Mr. Aberhart’s Social Credit invasion of Saskatchewan was repelled. The Liberal Party led by Premier William Patterson was re-elected with a reduced majority of 38 seats and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation formed official opposition with 10 seats. The Social Credit Party earned only 15.9 percent of the vote and elected two MLAs.

“The Alberta-run Social Credit election effort in Saskatchewan provided only two Social Credit seats in a fifty-five-seat house… The Social Credit revolution had been stopped at the Alberta-Saskatchewan border,” wrote historian Alvin Finkel in his 1989 book The Social Credit Phenomenon.

The Leader-Post editorial on the day following the election read: “The result is also satisfactory because it means the repulse of an outside government that threw itself into the domestic affairs of a neighboring province and attempted to lure Saskatchewan into adopting a plan of government and economics that has failed signally in Alberta. Mr. Aberhart and his men can now go home and attend to the business of running the province of Alberta, where they will find plenty of work to do. Mr. Aberhart may now cease from his extravagant claims that the people of the west are clamouring for Social Credit.”

Social Credit introduced recall laws in Alberta in 1936 and repealed them in 1937 when Premier William Aberhart faced a recall challenge in his own riding.

Wildrose Recall Bill would let 20% of voters overturn a fair and democratic election

A private members bill proposed by Chestermere-Rockyview Wildrose Party MLA Leela Aheer would allow 20 percent of eligible voters – a significant minority of eligible voters – the ability to overturn the results of a previously held fair and democratic election.

Leela Aheer Wildrose MLA Chestermere Rockyview

Leela Aheer

Bill 206: Recall Act, which passed first reading on Nov. 26, 2015, would create an MLA recall mechanism that could force a by-election in a provincial constituency if 20 percent of eligible voters from the previous election sign a petition demanding so.

If we were to have recall laws in Alberta, the threshold for overturning the results of a general election should be much higher than the 20 percent of eligible voters proposed in Ms. Aheer’s private members bill. A small minority of eligible voters should not have the power to overturn the results of a fair and democratic election.

The 20 percent requirement proposed in Bill 206 is also much lower compared to any previous recall proposals in Alberta.

Private members bills proposing the creation of recall laws in Alberta’s recent history have all come from opposition MLAs and all called for a significantly higher percentage of voters to sign the recall petition. Three private members bills introduced by Liberal MLAs in the 1990s called for recall to be triggered with the signatures of 40 percent of voters. A private members bill introduced by a Wildrose MLA in 2010 lowered the bar to 33.3 percent.

The only province with recall laws, British Columbia, requires signatures from more than 40 percent of eligible voters. B.C. adopted recall laws after it was approved through a province-wide referendum in 1991.

Even when Alberta briefly had MLA recall laws, from 1936 to 1937, signatures were required from 66.6 percent of voters to trigger a by-election.

One reason behind the low percentage in this bill is that it could make it easier for the conservative opposition to target and trigger by-elections in rural constituencies represented by NDP MLAs. In rural ridings where NDP candidates were elected in tight races, the low 20 percent threshold in Ms. Aheer’s Bill 206 would equal almost the same amount of votes received by Wildrose candidates in the recent election.

  • In Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley, only 3,278 signatures would be needed to trigger a recall by-election under Bill 206. The Wildrose Party candidate earned 3,147 votes in that riding and NDP candidate Marg McCuaig-Boyd earned 3,692 votes.
  • In Lesser Slave Lake, NDP candidate Danielle Larivee was elected with 3,915 votes compared to the Wildrose candidate’s 3,198 votes. Twenty per cent of eligible voters would equal 3,812 votes.

Of course, Wildrose and Progressive Conservative MLAs could also become targets of the recall laws, though it is unlikely the NDP majority – like the previous Conservative majority – would ever support this bill.

In my opinion, Albertans had an opportunity to vote in a general election seven months ago and cast their ballots for candidates with the understanding they would serve as MLAs for the next four to five years. As the results of the 2015 election proved, when we are motivated by tired and arrogant governments, Albertans can be trusted to elect a new government. In 2019, Albertans will once again have an opportunity to cast their ballots and choose who will represent their individual constituencies.

A brief history of recall laws in Alberta

1936: Bill No. 76 of 1936: A Bill Providing for the Recall of Members of the Legislative Assembly was introduced by the Social Credit government and passed after their surprising win in the 1935 election. The bill required 66.6 percent of voters to sign a petition to trigger a recall by-election.

1937: The law was repealed by the Social Credit government after a group of disgruntled Albertans was thought to have collected enough signatures to recall Premier William Aberhart in his Okotoks-High River constituency.

1993: Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Gary Dickson introduced Bill 203: Recall Act, which would have trigged a recall by-election if 40 percent of eligible voters signed a petition demanding one. The bill was defeated in a 42-34 vote in the Legislature.

1995: Edmonton-Meadowlark Liberal MLA Karen Leibovici introduced Bill 224: Parliamentary Reform and Electoral Review Commission Act, which would have created a commission to study a handful of issues, including recall. The bill passed first reading but was never debated.

1996: Lethbridge-East Liberal MLA Ken Nicol introduced Bill 206: Recall Act, which would have trigged a recall by-election if 40 percent of eligible voters signed a petition demanding one. This bill was defeated in a 37-24 vote in the Legislature.

1997Bill 216, Recall Act was introduced by Edmonton-Manning Liberal MLA Ed Gibbons but was never debated in the Legislature. If passed into law, the bill would have trigged a recall by-election if 40 percent of eligible voters signed a petition demanding one

2010Calgary-Glenmore Wildrose MLA Paul Hinman introduced Bill 208: Recall Act, which would have trigged a recall by-election if 33 percent of eligible voters signed a petition demanding one. Reached second reading but was not debated further.

2015: Chestermere-Rockyview Wildrose MLA Leela Aheer introduces Bill 206: Recall Act, which would trigger a recall by-election if 20 percent of eligible voters signed a petition demanding one

Notley’s NDP can’t afford to ignore Wildrose attacks

‘Risky,’ ‘ideological,’ ‘experimental,’ and ‘uncertain’ are all words that the conservative Wildrose Party opposition is using to describe Alberta’s New Democratic Party government.

Sarah Hoffman NDP MLA Edmonton-Glenora

Sarah Hoffman

Responding to Health Minister Sarah Hoffman‘s decision to cancel a $3 billion laboratory services contract with the Australian-based Sonic corporation, the Wildrose claimed the New Democratic Party government was imposing an “ideological” agenda.

The Wildrose appear to have succeeded in turning the tables on the NDP, who, while in opposition criticized the old conservative government of an ideological obsession with privatization of laboratory services. All of a sudden, the government is being accused of being too ideological for protecting Alberta’s public health care system.

Like the old Progressive Conservative government, I am sure the Wildrose would like to increase privatization of the health care system. The NDP could have framed this debate as one of protecting Alberta jobs and an Alberta-based company, rather than just about cancelling a contract with a giant Australian company (it was later announced that an appeal panel determined that Alberta Health Services breached its duty of procedural fairness in the RFP process in a substantive manner).

Vitor Marciano Wildrose

Vitor Marciano

Premier Rachel Notley‘s three-month old NDP government need to understand that the Wildrose Party is running a permanent negative campaign, and their track record as an attack-based opposition is impressive. The Wildrose Party can lay claim to playing a central role in ending the careers of PC Party premiers Ed Stelmach, Alison Redford and Jim Prentice.

And while the Wildrose Party’s purpose for existence was momentarily questioned during the infamous MLA floor crossings, the demise of the PC government and rise of the Alberta NDP has given the party a new lease on life and a new target to attack. And the conservative opposition has many right-wing allies in its fight against the new government spanning from the editorial pages of the Financial Post to the far corners of the internet.

While Brian Jean is party leader, one of the real brains behind the operation is the venerable press secretary Vitor Marciano. Perhaps the largest mistake that Mr. Prentice and Danielle Smith made during the floor crossings was not to secure Mr. Marciano in a government job where the PCs could keep a close eye on him.

Joe Ceci Calgary NDP

Joe Ceci

After retreating into political exile for a few months, the veteran political operator returned with a vengeance to lead the Wildrose election campaign that brought the party from the depths of the abyss to 21 MLAs, more than they won in 2012.

But despite the Wildrose’s part in destroying the PC dynasty, they lost 81,814 votes in the recent election, while the NDP gained an astonishing 477,441 and formed government.

The Wildrose is attempting to tie the new government to economic conditions caused by the decline of the international price of oil, but the Alberta NDP was elected on a moderate progressive platform and have moved swiftly to implement it. Funding was returned to health care, education and human services, two panels studying climate change and natural resource royalties were struck, corporate taxes were increased, a 3-year minimum wage increase was implemented, and a provincial budget is expected to be tabled in the fall.

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

There is no doubt the new government faces challenging economic and revenue challenges but after a summer of reading briefing binders and moving into new offices, the NDP need to reengage in the political debate.

The recent verbal skirmish between federal Conservative leader Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Joe Ceci shows the new government does have cabinet ministers who can articulately respond to the partisan barbs of critics. Along with Ms. Notley and Mr. Ceci, I would also add Environment Minister Shannon Phillips, Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley , Education Minister David Eggen and Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason in this category.

When the legislature returns on October 26, the twenty-one Wildrose MLAs will have a daily platform in Question Period to target government ministers. The NDP can learn from some of the major communications mistakes made by the PC Party and respond promptly to the Wildrose attacks, otherwise the opposition and its conservative allies will set the agenda.

Here are a few examples of Wildrose attacks in recent press releases:

  • August 20, 2015 “Bad economic policies from the NDP continue to harm Alberta’s economy…”
  • August 19, 2015: “…the NDP government must move away from their risky, ideological experiments that will drive jobs out of Alberta…
  • August 18, 2015: “…Ms. Hoffman wants Albertans to believe she made the decision based on a lack of information, but it’s clear she made it based on ideology.
  • August 14, 2015: “…the actions this government decides to take cannot keep kicking our economy while it is down.”
  • August 13, 2015: “While Albertans are losing jobs by the thousands with the NDP piling on with damaging economic policies…”
  • August 13, 2015: “…driven by ideology and not evidence-based decision making…”
  • August 13, 2015: “…NDP government has contributed directly to uncertainty and job losses…“
  • August 13, 2015: “…more ideologically driven experiments from the NDP and career politicians…”
Social Credit was risky and ideological
William Aberhart

William Aberhart

August 22, 2015 marks eighty years since the Social Credit League formed government in Alberta. In the 1935 election, the party went from zero to fifty-six MLAs and did not even have a leader during the election campaign (William Aberhart was chosen as Premier on September 3, 1935).

During its first decade in government, Mr. Aberhart’s administration tried to print its own currency, legislate control over the media, tried to nationalize the banking system and banned alcohol sales.

Once upon a time Alberta had a Provincial Sales Tax

William Aberhart Alberta Provincial Sales Tax

Radio evangelist and Social Credit leader William Aberhart was Premier of Alberta from 1935 to 1943.

Alberta’s Provincial Sales Tax free status is almost mythological in this province. But for a short period of time in Alberta’s history, our province did collect funds through a sales tax.

Solon Earl Low Alberta Provincial Sales Tax

Solon Low

Alberta’s PST existed for two years until September 1, 1937, when the Social Credit government revoked the sales tax as part of a controversial Great Depression-era Banking bill. The bill would allow the Social Credit Board to revoke the license of any banker, who, for instance foreclosed a mortgage or otherwise disturbed the “property or civil rights” of any citizen of Alberta.

The sales tax, which had a fairly wide range of exemptions such as food, laundry and toilet soap, lumber, bricks and cement, was implemented shortly after William Aberhart‘s Social Credit Party won the 1935 election. The sales tax netted the government an average of $80,000 monthly.

Alberta treasurer Solon Low declared the tax would be cancelled in 1937 as part of the government’s bankers bill. With illusions to the strange Social Credit era economic theory, here were Mr. Low’s comments to the media in response to the end of the sales tax and economic literacy in Alberta in 1937:

“The remission of the sales tax only removed something which, under pressure from finance, this government itself imposed. Nevertheless those instructed in the technique of Douglas social dynamics will immediately recognize signs of its inauguration. In its simpler aspect, of course, tax remission represents the first step necessary to the issue of a dividend – is, in fact the issue of a dividend: for a tax is a dividend in reverse. That is why it would be foolish to begin issuing money as dividends only to pull it in by a graduated an universally applied tax such as a sales tax.” 

“As Premier Aberhart has truly said Albertans are the best instructed community in the whole world with regard to economics and if any one desires more detailed explanation of these remarks there are plenty of Albertans everywhere fully qualified to give it and to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that whether the banks furnish the money willingly or otherwise, it will cost them nothing.”

(Quotes from The Ottawa Citizen, August 4, 1937)

When is the next Alberta election?

Alberta Legislature 2014

With the governing Progressive Conservatives selecting their new leader in September 2014, there is growing suspicion that Albertans could be going to polls sooner than expected. While Alberta’s next strange “three-month fixed election period” is not until 2016, a loosely written law may allow the next premier to trigger an early election.

According to Section 38.01(2) of the Elections Act, the next election should take place between March 1 and May 31, 2016, but under 38.01(1), the Lieutenant Governor retains the authority to dissolve the assembly and call an election when he sees fit. This would typically occur when a government loses confidence of the Assembly or when the leader of the government asks him to do so (it would be highly irregular for the Lieutenant Governor to deny this request).

By my reading, what the Elections Act really says is that the next election must be held by May 31, 2016, but it could easily be held before that date. And I bet it will be.

An election in 2015

An early election would allow the next PC Party leader to seek a new mandate from Albertans, highlight new candidates and purge his caucus of deadwood and troublesome MLAs. With expected growth in resource revenues next year, it will be very tempting for the PCs to call an election after tabling a cash-rich provincial budget in Spring 2015.

An early provincial election could also conveniently rid the PCs of three potentially embarrassing by-elections in constituencies soon-to-be vacated by MLAs seeking federal party nominations (these MLAs are Len Webber in Calgary-Foothills, David Xiao in Edmonton-McClung, and Darshan Kang in Calgary-McCall).

A Jim Prentice By-Election

If the next PC leader is Jim Prentice, who currently has endorsements from 45 of 58 PC MLAs, a by-election would need to be held to provide the new Premier with a seat in the Assembly. In the past, when a party leader does not have a seat in the Assembly, a sitting MLA has resigned in order to trigger a by-election.

When Premier Don Getty was chosen as PC leader in October 1985, Edmonton-Whitemud PC MLA Robert Alexander resigned so that the new premier would win a by-election in December 1985. Mr. Getty later won a May 1989 by-election after he was unseated in the March 1989 General Election.

The Social Credit Party formed government in August 1935 without its leader on any ballot. Seatless Premier William Aberhart ran and won a by-election in November 1935.

Wild rumours suggest that Mr. Prentice could wait until the next election to win a seat, perhaps running against popular Liberal MLA David Swann in Calgary-Mountain View (where Mr. Prentice was defeated in the 1986 election). But it is unlikely that he would wait that long or risk challenging a popular incumbent.

It is more likely that Mr. Prentice would follow tradition and quickly seek to run in a by-election. It is plausible that former Premier Alison Redford would resign as MLA to trigger a by-election in Calgary-Elbow.

Opposition Parties gearing up

The Wildrose Party already has candidates preparing to contest nominations across the province. The party has attracted an early high profile candidate in Sherwood Park, where former Strathcona County mayor Linda Osinchuk has announced she will seek the Wildrose nomination. In anticipation of an upcoming by-election, retired Colonel John Fletcher is seeking the Wildrose nomination in Calgary-Elbow.

The NDP will nominate candidates Shannon Phillips in Lethbridge-West and Chris Nielsen in Edmonton-Decore on June 17, 2014. The NDP was the first party to nominate a candidate for the next election months ago when Lori Sigurdson was chosen in Edmonton-Riverview.

While no Liberal candidates have been officially nominated, MLAs Laurie Blakeman, Kent Hehr and Mr. Swann have all indicated they plan on running in the next election.

To keep track of party nominations, I have compiled a list of official and unofficial candidates planning to stand in Alberta’s next provincial election. Please feel free to contact me if there are additions to the list.