“Farmers may not be ready to take over government, but they are going to do it anyway” – Henry Wise Wood, July 8, 1921
A lot of Albertans might recognize the United Farmers of Alberta as a farm-supply retail cooperative with gas stations, fertilizer plants and retail outlets scattered across Alberta, BC and Saskatchewan. But 100 years ago today, the UFA won its first election in Alberta and formed a majority government by shattering the Liberal Party and breaking the mould of provincial politics in the prairies.
The 1921 election marked the first of only five times Albertans have voted to changes parties in government. The results of that election marked the start of Alberta becoming an electoral testing ground for anti-establishment ideologies and political projects.
It would not be until 1971 that a nationally-mainstream and nationally-affiliated party would again form government in Alberta.
Founded in 1909, the UFA was an influential farmers’ lobby group that reluctantly entered electoral politics after years of frustration with the establishment Liberal Party that had governed Alberta since the province was formed in 1905.
Until 1921, the Liberal Party had dominated elections in the three prairie provinces, with the Conservative Party only occasionally forming government. A 16-year old Alberta Liberal Party government already damaged by years of internal power struggles and still reeling from the conscription crisis was shocked to be swept out of office.
Thirty-eight UFA MLAs were elected, with 15 Liberal MLAs, 4 Dominion Labour MLAs, 3 Independents and 1 Conservative forming the opposition (one Dominion Labour MLA, Alex Ross, was invited to join the UFA cabinet and served as Minister of Public Works).
Despite the incumbent Liberals winning 34 per cent of the vote compared to 28 per cent for the UFA, the UFA won 38 seats compared to 15 for the Liberals. The lopsided popular vote was due to a new electoral system which gave voters in Calgary and Edmonton the ability to cast votes for five candidates and voters in Medicine Hat the ability to vote for two candidates. The UFA did not run any candidates in the two largest cities.
Being new to electoral politics, the UFA did not actually have an official party leader at the time they won the election (this would become a trend in Alberta politics, as neither did the Social Credit Party when it won in 1935).
Wanting to do politics differently, the newly elected UFA is said to have approached defeated Liberal Premier Charles Stewart to ask if he would remain in the job. Stewart, who had been a member and supporter of the UFA before they became his political opponent, declined.
UFA President Henry Wise Wood also declined, wanting to stay out of the partisan political side of the organization.
UFA Vice-President Percival Baker was next in line, but died one day after being elected as the MLA for Ponoka from injuries caused by a falling tree.
George Hoadley was considered a potential premier due to his previous experience as leader of the Conservative Party, but it was likely his pre-floor crossing connections that cost him the job.
Herbert Greenfield was named interim vice-president after Baker’s death and was selected by the UFA Caucus to become the next Premier. Without a seat in the Legislative Assembly, Greenfield ran in a December 1921 by-election to become the MLA for Peace River.
The UFA’s election also marked the beginning of a political wave that would sweep over Alberta and the prairies, with the UFA-allied Progressive Party electing 8 Members of Parliament in the December 1921 election and forming official opposition in Ottawa.
It’s record as government in Alberta was mixed. It ended prohibition, formed the Alberta Wheat Pool, founded the first provincial parks, and introduced elements of proportional representation into the provincial electoral system. But it was also responsible for the formation of the Alberta Eugenics Board, marking the start of a dark period in our province’s history.
The UFA’s political fortunes would also suffer from the Great Depression and number of high-profile sex scandals that would dog it until the party’s defeat in 1935 and subsequent retreat from politics.
I will be sharing more thoughts over the next few days about the election of the UFA in 1921 and how it reshaped politics in Alberta for decades to come.
Andrea Hasenbank joins the Daveberta Podcast to discuss radical politics and propaganda in 1930s Alberta, one of Dave Cournoyer’s favourite periods in Alberta politics. From the rise of Communist organizations and publications to the election of William Aberhart‘s Social Credit Party, the 1930s was a wild period in Alberta politics as our province became a testing ground for radical political, social and economic theories.
Andrea Hasenbank holds a PhD in English from the University of Alberta, focusing on the circulation of print and the reading publics that formed the leftist pamphleteering culture of 1930s Canada. Between 2015 and 2019, she worked as a political advisor within the Notley government in Alberta. She teaches courses on media history and the news and consults on learning design. Her new research continues to examine the intersection of print, readers, propaganda, and the state in interwar Canada.
You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.
This is our last podcast of the season, so we will be taking a break over the next few months to enjoy the Alberta summer. We may pop in with an odd episode or two if there are any big developments over the summer, but otherwise we will return to our regular podcast schedule in the fall.
This marks the third quarter in the last year that Rachel Notley’s NDP have out-fundraised the governing UCP. Not only have Albertans been showing their unhappiness with Jason Kenney’s UCP in the polls, they are clearly showing it by voting with their pocketbooks and credit cards.
Here is what Alberta’s political parties raised during the first quarter of 2021:
Alberta Party: $48,194
Wildrose Independence Party: $36,883
Pro-Life Political Association: $33,261
Alberta Liberal Party: $31,798
Green Party: $5,010.00
Independence Party: $1,559.25
Notley’s NDP are on a roll, leading in the polls and continuing to dominate in fundraising. Despite losing government two years ago, the NDP appear to have solidified a larger base of donors who contribute donations in smaller amounts. Sixty-eight per cent of individual donations received by the NDP in the first quarter were in denominations of less than $250, compared to 39 per cent for the UCP.
At first glance, it would appear as though many of the UCP’s wealthier donors, who in previous years contributed a maximum annual donation in the first quarter, have not yet donated this year. This could be a big indication with a growing unhappiness in the direction of the UCP and Kenney’s leadership over the course of the past year.
The Pro-Life Political Association, which was known as the Social Credit Party before it was taken over by anti-abortion activists in 2016, went from raising nothing for the past few quarters to raising more than $33,261 in the last three months. It is unclear why the effectively dormant party that ran only one candidate in the last election and whose previous leader resigned to become a monk is now active.
The Alberta Advantage Party, Communist Party and the Reform Party raised no funds during this period.
The maximum annual donation to political parties was increased to $4,243 from $4.000 as of January 1, 2020.
The Battle of Alberta is a term usually reserved for competitions on the hockey rink or football field, but the rivalry between Calgary and Edmonton probably predates our professional sports clubs. While the animosity felt by some sports fans might not be felt the same way among voters, the politics and political divides between the two cities have helped defined Alberta politics since the province was created in 1905. From the decision of where to place Alberta’s capital city to where the province’s first university should be located, the roles played by the two major cities have been a periodic point of tension in provincial politics.
There are many reasons that explain the current political differences between the two cities, from the backgrounds of the settlers who founded the cities to the most recent round of economic convulsions.
As a friend of mine once put it, Calgary is where business decisions get made, Edmonton is where government decisions get made.
Calgary sees itself as the business capital, heavily influenced by connections to the American oil industry in Texas and the home of the braintrust of the federal Conservative movement. Edmonton is the government capital, heavily influenced by a combination of public servants and University employees as well as a base of blue-collar and trades workers with connections to Fort McMurray and northern Alberta.
These are obviously big generalizations that don’t reflect the diversity and complexity of the two cities but it does help explain some of the political differences between the two municipalities.
While I think the political differences between two two cities can sometimes be overstated, a troubling political narrative that has developed over the past six years has been that because Calgary is perceived to have felt the brunt of the economic fallout caused by the drop in the international price of oil, it is now Edmonton’s turn to feel the economic pain (translation: public sector wage rollbacks and job cuts).
There is an old saying in Alberta politics that a party has to win most of the seats in two of the three political regions of the province in order to form government – Calgary, Edmonton or rural Alberta. The “rural Alberta” in this calculation includes the small and medium size cities, which, with the exception of Lethbridge, have in the past four decades mostly voted in sync with the rest of rural Alberta – conservative.
But the calculation is generally correct. With a combined 46 seats in the Legislature, the two large cities represent the majority of Alberta voters (I hope to write more about voting patterns in “rural Alberta” in a future article).
This year marks one year since the United Conservative Party won the 2019 election and five years since the New Democratic Party won the 2015 election, undeniably two of the most important elections in Alberta’s recent political history. The two votes marked the first changes in government in Alberta since 1971, and both highlighted the political differences between Calgary and Edmonton.
The Progressive Conservatives had dominated Calgary since 1971 but in 2015 a combination of a surge of votes and the first-past-the-post electoral system allowed the NDP to elect 15 MLAs with 34 percent of the vote. The PCs earned 31 percent and the Wildrose placed third with 23 percent in Alberta’s largest city.
The 2015 election marked the first time since 1989 that the NDP had elected an MLA in Calgary and the first time since 1967 that a party other than the PCs won a majority of seats in the city.
While many prominent conservative pundits and politicians claimed the NDP breakthrough in Calgary, and much of the rest of Alberta, was a result of a vote-split on the political right, a closer look at that election would support the argument that the vote split was actually between the NDP and Wildrose among voters unhappy with the 43-year governing PC Party dynasty.
Edmonton has earned the nickname Redmonton for its reputation for electing more Liberals and NDP MLAs than anywhere else in the province. But despite the nickname, the capital city is historically more electorally competitive than it is an opposition bastion. Voters in the capital city have swung between parties more frequently than any other region in Alberta, making it one of the few consistently competitive areas of the province.
Led by Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley, the NDP swept the city in 2015, earning 65 percent of the total vote and winning every seat. The PCs earned 20 percent and the Wildrose finished with 8 percent in the capital city.
As one local PC Party campaign manager described to me after the 2015 election, their candidate faced “a giant impenetrable wall of orange.”
Four years later in 2019, the NDP maintained its vote share in Calgary but were only able to elect three MLAs as the UCP succeeded in consolidating the large base of PC and Wildrose voters, though a number of UCP candidates earned below the combined totals from the previous election. The NDP earned 34 percent of the vote and the UCP, led by Calgary-Lougheed MLA Jason Kenney, amassed 53 percent and elected 23 MLAs.
The seats won by Calgary NDP MLAs in the 2019 election have a tradition of electing non-conservative MLAs. Calgary-Buffalo and Calgary-Mountain View elected Liberals and NDP MLAs in the 1980s and 1990s, and Calgary-McCall swung to the Liberals in the 2000s.
Although the NDP lost all but one of the suburban surrounding the city, the party maintained its dominance in Edmonton in 2019, winning 53 percent of the vote and holding all but one seat. The UCP elected 1 MLA and earned 35 percent of the vote in the capital city.
The only viable third party in the 2019 election, the Alberta Party, earned 10 percent of the vote in both cities but failed to elect any MLAs. Party leader Stephen Mandel was unsuccessful in his bid for election in Edmonton-McClung and its two Calgary incumbents were defeated.
Past elections in the two cities
The results of these two elections, and how they have shaped Alberta politics in the most recent two election prompted me to take a broader look at voting results in Calgary and Edmonton over the past four decades.
1986: The departure of Peter Lougheed as Premier of Alberta in 1985 clearly had a big impact on Alberta politics, as the economic recession that followed allowed NDP led by Edmonton-Norwood MLA Ray Martin breakthrough in the capital city in the 1986 election.
Calgary remained a PC Party stronghold following Lougheed’s departure, with the NDP and Liberals electing a handful of MLAs between 1986 and 1997, and 2004 and 2012.
The election of Liberal Sheldon Chumir in Calgary-Buffalo in 1986 marked the beginning of a long-line of non-conservative MLAs representing that district. Non-conservative candidates would win in Calgary-Buffalo in nine of the next eleven elections (the district is currently represented by NDP MLA Joe Ceci).
Edmonton became the competitive hotbed of Alberta politics and a deep rivalry developed between Liberal Party and NDP partisans in the capital city.
The competition between the Liberals and NDP in Edmonton during this period generated much discussion around a “unite the left” movement to defeat the PCs, though this perennial debate largely became mute when the NDP formed government in 2015.
1993: In 1993, Premier Ralph Klein further consolidated his party’s electoral grip on Calgary while the Liberals led by former mayor Laurence Decore executed a clean sweep of the capital city. The Liberals were the beneficiaries of a collapsing NDP vote and also a burgeoning group of Reform Party voters wanting change on the provincial and federal levels.
The Liberals would again dominate Edmonton in the 1997 and 2004 elections, though the party began to resemble a group of independents more than the cohesive political organization created by Decore.
Competition between Decore’s Liberals and former Calgary mayor Klein’s PCs led to obvious descriptions of provincial politics as the battle of Alberta.
2001: The 2001 election marked a turn back toward the PC Party in Edmonton, which would then lose most of its seats when the Liberals and NDP rebounded in 2004 before regaining ground in the city in 2008 and 2012. This period marked the beginning of a decline of the Liberal Party in Edmonton after almost two decades as the official opposition party.
The 2001 election also marked the first time since 1982 that the PCs won every seat in Calgary.
2004: The 2004 election marked a breakthrough for the opposition Liberals in Calgary where the party elected three MLAs, the most since 1993. The Liberals would expand its voter base in Calgary and elect four MLAs in 2008 as the party’s fortunes in Edmonton sharply declined after it regained much of its seats in the 2004 election.
2012: The 2012 election marked a significant shift in the political environment in Alberta with the two large cities coalescing behind the PC Party. The opposition Wildrose Party swept much of rural Alberta, forming the first rural based official opposition party since the Social Credit Party in the 1970s. This trend would continue in the 2015 election as the Wildrose Party regained most of its seats following the 2014 floor-crossings.
(Note: Thank you to Shane Smith for sharing the poll level election maps. You can follow Shane on Twitter at @Smith80D).
Going through some files last night I rediscovered some screenshots of newspaper advertisements from Alberta’s 1967 election. I posted them on Twitter and Instragam earlier today, but as fast as those social networks flow the images will be lost in the feed before long, so I thought I would share them here as well.
But first, a little bit of background on the significance of the May 23, 1967 general election in Alberta:
It was the seventh and final election in which Premier Ernest Manning led the Social Credit Party, which had formed government since 1935. Social Credit MLAs were elected in 55 of 63 districts but this election marked the first time since 1955 that the party earned less than half of the popular vote. It would be the last time Albertans elected the Social Credit Party to form a government.
It was the first election that Peter Lougheed led the Progressive Conservatives. The party formed official opposition with six MLAs, including future premier Don Getty and former PC Member of Parliament Hugh Horner, who acted as Lougheed’s rural lieutenant. The party had been shut out of the Legislature in the 1963 election.
It was the last time until 1986 that the Liberal Party elected MLAs, three, to the Legislature. Party leader Michael Maccagno was re-elected in Lac La Biche, a district he had represented since 1955. Also standing as Liberal candidates were well-known Calgary Liberal Daryl Raymaker, who ran in Calgary-Queens Park, and J. Bernard Feehan, father of current Edmonton-Rutherford NDP MLA Richard Feehan, who ran in Edmonton-West
The first New Democratic Party MLA elected to the Legislature in Alberta, Garth Turcott, was defeated. He became an MLA after winning a by-election in Pincher Creek-Crowsnest in 1966. Party leader Neil Reimer succeeded in increasing the party’s vote to 15 per cent, an increase of 6 per cent from the previous election, but the party failed to elect any MLAs.
Future NDP leader Grant Notley was defeated in Edmonton-Norwood. Alderman Ivor Dent was unsuccessful as the NDP candidate in Edmonton-North East but would be elected mayor in the 1968 election.
Defeated PC Party candidates in this election included future Prime Minister Joe Clark, who lost by 461 votes to Social Credit MLA Art Dixon in Calgary-South (Dixon would go on to defeat PC candidate and future Lieutenant Governor Norman Kwong in 1971).
This election marked the last time an Independent candidate was elected in a general election. Independent Clarence Copithorne defeated Coalition MLA Frank Gainer in Banff-Cochrane.
As far as my research could find, this was the first election that included an in-person leaders debate. Manning, Lougheed, Reimer and Maccagno gathered at a debate sponsored by the City Centre Church Council and held in downtown Edmonton. The leaders fielded questions from the audience in the packed church. This was the last time party leaders would meet for a debate until the 1993 election.
This was the last provincial election where the voting age was 21 years old and the first which allowed voting by Indigenous people with Treaty Status.
While much of my undergraduate studies at the University of Alberta focused on Canadian politics, one of my favourite courses covered a topic far away from the prairies – the Habsburg Monarchy. It was a combination of an unfamiliar topic and a passionate professor that made this course memorable. So my interest was piqued when the words “South Tyrol” began circulating in Alberta political circles this week.
“Should Alberta be an autonomous Province? South Tyrol has” asked Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt in a Facebook post linking to a website showcasing facts about the autonomous province in northern Italy.
I expect many German-speaking South Tyroleans would probably prefer to re-join their linguistic cousins in Austria than remain in Italy.
I am not sure which other province or region Alberta would join if we adopt what might be Pitt’s version of an autonomous-province. Perhaps Frederick Haultain’s dream of a Province of Buffalo could be finally be realized if Alberta merged with its smaller cousin to the east, Saskatchewan? Or maybe British Columbia’s Peace Country will finally be released to unite with its northwestern Alberta cousins?
But Red Deer-South UCP MLA Jason Stephan is certainly whittling down the number of possible candidates.
Stephan apologized to the Legislative Assembly this week after describing other Canadian provinces as “hostile, parasitic partners” in a speech about federal fiscal policies and equalization program.
The rookie MLA and sole UCP backbencher appointed to the powerful Treasury Board committee also claimed that “Alberta must liberate itself from this mess.”
While Alberta is not going to separate from Canada, the final report from the government-appointed Fair Deal Panel will include recommendations to increase provincial autonomy from Ottawa.
The panel and its open-mic town hall meetings were both a relief valve and a steering wheel meant to allow Albertans to vent their frustrations while allowing Kenney to attempt to keep control of the latest burst of separatist fervour. The separatist fervour from Alberta’s right-wing fringe, despite the media attention it generated, now appears to have mostly died out.
The panelists included former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, former Progressive Conservative MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans, Peter Lougheed‘s son Stephen, and perennially disgruntled UCP backbencher MLA Drew Barnes of Cypress-Medicine Hat and fellow backbenchers Miranda Rosin of Banff-Kananaskis and Tany Yao of Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo. The panel was tasked with making recommendations on topics including withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan, replacing the Canada Revenue Agency by establishing a provincial revenue agency, opting out of federal programs like pharmacare, forming an office of a Chief Firearms Officer, and forming a provincial police force.
The NWMP had been created in 1873 and was part of the federal government’s suppression of the North West Rebellion in 1885, but, by 1917, Ottawa’s attention was focused on the First World War and there was little federal interest in enforcing provincial prohibition laws that had been enacted in 1916.
The APP merged into the RCMP in 1932 following negotiations between the provincial and federal governments during the Great Depression. The agreement to offload the costs associated with policing to the RCMP stipulated that former provincial police officers who transferred to the federal police would maintain their seniority and be eligible to receive pensions in accordance with their years of service.
When officers hung up their blue APP uniforms on April 15, 1932, it was reported in the Calgary Daily Herald that it took more than a month for the red RCMP uniforms to arrive in Alberta. So during the short period following the return of the federal police, RCMP officers worked in civilian clothes or, for those who worked as police in Alberta before 1917, wore the uniforms of the old NWMP.
While Alberta politicians have generally expressed pleasure with contracting policing responsibilities to the federal government, there have been several attempts to reinstate a provincial police force.
The next notable attempt to reinstate the APP came in 1937 from Edson MLA Joseph Unwin, the Whip of the Social Credit government caucus. Unwin introduced a motion to abolish the RCMP in Alberta and replace it with an Alberta Provincial Police Force.
Unwin argued that it was preferable that “the police force in the province should be indisputably at the exclusive orders of the attorney general.” Given this comment and the context of the time, it is fairly safe to speculate that Unwin was hoping to create a police force that would enforce the Social Credit ideological and political agenda in Alberta.
Unwin introduced the motion the same week he was arrested on charges of libel and counselling to murder in what would become known as the Bankers’ Toadies scandal.
Unwin and British Social Credit expert George Frederick Powell were arrested when police raided the party headquarters following the printing of a pamphlet advocating the “extermination” of nine prominent Edmontonians. The nine men, labelled as “Bankers’ Toadies,” included Conservative Party leader David Duggan and Senator and former mayor William Griesbach.
Unwin was sentenced to 3-months hard labour for the libel charge, which was later overturned on appeal. He did not resign as an MLA when he went to jail and his return to the Legislature was celebrated by Social Credit MLAs with a “snake dance” on the floor of the Assembly.
Various PC MLAs called for the creation of a provincial police force during the 1980s and early 1990s but most of those calls were quickly discredited because they were usually followed closely by racist comments about RCMP officers wearing turbans or speaking French.
Anti-oil patch activist Wiebo Ludwig called for the creation of a provincial police force during his brief run for the Social Credit Party leadership in 2000 before having withdraw from the race after a judge refused to waive the conditions of his bail.
Motions recommending the creation of a regional police force or to make public studies conducted to assess the creation of a provincial police force were introduced by Wainwright MLA Doug Griffiths in 2003 and Lethbridge-East MLA Ken Nicol in 2004 were debated in the Legislature but gained no real traction.
Premier Ed Stelmach defeated Morton in the leadership race and signed a 20-year agreement with the federal Conservative government that would have the RCMP continue as Alberta’s police force until March 31, 2032.
“This is wonderful news for the province and for Albertans,” Stelmach said in an August 2011 press release. “This agreement makes good financial sense for Alberta and strengthens a valuable relationship with a partner who continues to play a key role after more than a century keeping Alberta communities safe.”
The Fair Deal report will have to be publicly released before we know for sure what it recommends, but a move to create a new provincial police force in 2020 would face two powerful political factors
First, systematic racism and police violence against people of colour in the Canada and the United States has led to mounting calls to “defund the police.” Massive protests calling out systematic racism have taken place across the country, including a 15,000-strong rally outside the Legislature in Edmonton and similar rallies in Calgary and around the province. City councils and police commissions are now facing increased public pressure to reign in budgets and address systematic racism in the civilian police forces.
Second, Kenney has said that a great reckoning is coming for Alberta’s finances, which will likely mean more massive job cuts in the public sector across Alberta. If the Kenney is laying-off teachers and nurses, it will be difficult for him to explain to Albertans that he needs to spend money on creating a brand new police force. A lack of finances was the main reason why the provincial police were disbanded in 1932.
Creating a new provincial police force in this context would be incredibly tone deaf and completely unnecessary. But like many political decisions being made in Alberta lately, the world appears to be moving in one direction and our government moving in another. It kind of reminds me of those Habsburgs just over a century ago.
Photo: Alberta political party leaders – Rachel Notley, Jason Kenney, Stephen Mandel, David Khan, and Derek Fildebrandt.
We are now somewhere between seven and ten months away from the next provincial general election in Alberta. For the past seven provincial elections, leaders of the main political parties have participated in televised leaders debates, and while a lot of media and political attention is focused on these events, their impact on the outcome of the election varies.
Which party leaders are invited to participate in the debates, which are typically organized by private news media companies, can sometimes be contentious. Generally, only leaders whose parties have elected MLAs in the previous general election have been invited, but this has not always been the case. Unlike our neighbours to the south, there are no official rules or commission governing who is invited, which has led to inconsistencies since the televised leaders debates began in Alberta in 1993.
Assuming one is held, let’s take a look at who might and might not be invited to participate in a televised leaders debate held in Alberta’s next provincial election, which is expected to be called between March 1 and May 31, 2019.
Rachel Notley and Jason Kenney: Notley and United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney are shoe-ins to participate in the leaders debate. Notley is the current Premier of Alberta and Kenney leads the Official Opposition UCP. Although the UCP did not exist in the last election, the party has won three by-elections since it was formed in 2017.
David Khan: Liberal Party leader David Khan is not a sitting MLA and his party’s sole MLA, former leader David Swann, is not seeking re-election. This is the first election since 1986 that the Liberals will not have an incumbent MLA running for re-election. Khan is running for election in Swann’s Calgary-Mountain View district. While the party has had one elected MLA since 2015, the party’s lack of incumbent MLAs and declining relevance in Alberta politics could lead to the Liberals not being invited to join next year’s debate.
The Derek Fildebrandt Question:Derek Fildebrandt is a sitting MLA and most likely will be leader of the Freedom Conservative Party when the next election is called. He was first elected as the Wildrose Party MLA for Strathmore-Brooks in 2015 and joined the FCP in 2018. His party did not elect any MLAs in 2015, but neither did the UCP, which was formed in 2017 by MLAs who were previously members of the PC and Wildrose parties.
Fildebrandt has said his party will not run candidates in all districts, only focusing on districts where the NDP is not considered to be competitive. This means that most viewers tuning in to the televised debate will not have the option of voting for a Freedom Conservative Party candidate on Election Day, but a lack of a full-slate has not stopped leaders from being invited to the debates in the past.
Fildebrandt is a fiery quote-machine and his participation in the debates would undoubtably create some entertainment value for viewers. While I suspect Notley and Mandel would be supportive of Fildebrandt’s involvement in the debate, I expect that Kenney would not be eager to share a stage with Fildebrandt. As I predicted on a recent episode of the Daveberta Podcast, I suspect Kenney could threaten to withhold his participation in the debate if Fildebrandt is invited to join.
As for the format of a leaders debate, as I have written before, my preference would be to hold in front of a live audience, rather than a sterile and controlled television studio. This would allow the party leaders to demonstrate their debating skills and a live audience would add an atmosphere of unpredictability and would force the leaders to speak to both the voters in the room and those watching their television screens.
A History of Leaders Debates in Alberta Elections
Here is a quick history of leaders debates during general elections in Alberta:
1967 election – Four party leaders participated in this debate: Social Credit leader Ernest Manning, PC Party leader Peter Lougheed, NDP leader Neil Reimer and Liberal leader Michael Maccagno. Lougheed had initially challenged Manning to a televised debate, but a public debate was held instead. The meeting was sponsored by the City Centre Church Council and held in downtown Edmonton. The leaders fielded questions from the audience of the packed church.
The Calgary Herald reported that “…Manning was booed by a small contingent of hecklers while the new leader of the Conservatives reportedly “appeared to score heavily and draw the most applause.”
At the time of the debate, only Manning and Maccagno were MLAs. Reimer was not an MLA but there was one incumbent NDP MLA, Garth Turcott, who had been elected in a 1965 by-election in Pincher Creek-Crowsnest. Lougheed was not an MLA and his party had not elected an MLA since the 1959 election.
1971-1989 elections – No leaders debates were held during the 1971, 1975, 1979, 1982, 1986 and 1989 elections. Lougheed was challenged by opposition leaders, including NDP leader Grant Notley and Western Canada Concept leader Gordon Kesler, to participate in a televised debate but were turned down. Don Getty also refused to debate his opponents on television.
1993 election – Three party leaders participated in two televised debates: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, NDP leader Ray Martin, and Liberal Party leader Laurence Decore. The first debate was held in-front of a live studio audience and was broadcast on CFCN in Calgary and CFRN in Edmonton. The second debate was held without a live studio audience and broadcast on Channel 2&7 in Calgary and ITV in Edmonton.
1997 election – Four party leaders participated in this televised debate organized by the Alberta Chamber of Commerce and broadcast by CBC: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal Party leader Grant Mitchell, NDP leader Pam Barrett, and Social Credit Party leader Randy Thorsteinson.
Barrett and Thorsteinson were invited to participate despite not being MLAs at the time and neither of their parties having elected any MLAs in the previous election. The NDP and Social Credit Party did not nominate a full slate, with only 77 and 70 candidates running in 83 districts.
2001 election – Three leaders participated in this televised debate organized by Calgary Herald and Global News: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal leader Nancy MacBeth and NDP leader Raj Pannu. The three major parties nominated candidates in all 83 districts.
2004 election – Three leaders participated in this televised debate broadcast by Global Television: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal leader Kevin Taft and NDP leader Brian Mason.
Despite having been invited to join the televised debate in 1997, Alberta Alliance leader Randy Thorsteinson was not allowed to join in 2004 because he was not an MLA and his new party did not elect any members in the previous election. The party had one MLA, former Edmonton-Norwood PC MLA Gary Masyk, who crossed the floor in the months before the election was called.
The PCs, NDP and the Alberta Alliance nominated candidates in all 83 districts in this election. The Liberals nominated candidates in 82 of 83 districts.
The Wildrose Alliance nominated 61 candidates in 83 districts. Green Party leader George Read was not invited to participate in the debate, despite his party nominating candidates in 79 of 83 districts (the Greens would earn 4.5 percent of the total province-wide vote, only slightly behind the 6.7 percent earned by the Wildrose Alliance in this election).
2012 election – Four leaders participated in this debate broadcast by Global and streamed on the internet: PC Party leader Alison Redford, Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith, Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman and NDP leader Brian Mason.
Alberta Party leader Glenn Taylor was not invited to join the leaders debate, despite his party having one MLA in the Legislature. Former Liberal MLA Dave Taylor became the Alberta Party’s first MLA in 2011. The Alberta Party nominated 38 candidates in 87 districts.
2015 election – Four leaders participated in this debate broadcast by Global: PC leader Jim Prentice, NDP leader Rachel Notley, Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, and Liberal leader David Swann. Despite only narrowly losing a 2014 by-election in Calgary-Elbow, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark was not invited to join the debate. Clark would go on to be elected in Calgary-Elbow in this election.
The NDP and PCs nominated candidates in all 87 districts, while the Wildrose Party nominated 86 candidate and the Liberals nominated 56. The Alberta Party nominated 36 candidates in 87 districts.
Brian Deheer is a resident of Lac La Biche and is the chairperson of the Athabasca Watershed Council. He was a 2017 leadership candidate and in the 2015 election had the party’s strongest showing in Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, where he earned 2.8 percent of the vote. He was the federal Green candidate in the 2014 Fort McMurray-Athabasca by-election and in Fort McMurray-Cold Lake during the 2015 federal general election. He most recently ran in the Fort McMurray-Conklin by-election, where he earned 0.72 percent of the vote.
Matt Levicki is a resident of Lamont with a background in media and broadcasting. He was a candidate for the Evergreen Party in the 2012 provincial election in the Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville district, where he earned 1.35 percent of the vote.
The Green Party ran candidates in 24 constituencies in the 2015 election and earned a total 7,321 votes across the province.
The Green Party’s best ever showing in a provincial election took place in 2008, when the party earned 43,222 votes, or 4.5 percent of the province-wide vote. In that election, property rights activist Joe Anglin earned 22 percent of the vote in the Lacombe-Ponoka constituency. Anglin led the party for a short period until it was dissolved in 2009 (it was reformed in 2011) and was later elected as a Wildrose Party candidate in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, where he served as MLA until 2015.
But the Suzuki controversy of 2018 is nothing compared to the slight created when the Senate refused to grant an honorary degree to Alberta Premier William Aberhart in 1941.
What should have been a routine exercise erupted into a full blown controversy in 1941 when members of the University Senate voted against granting Aberhart an honorary degree after he had already been informally notified of the honour by University President William Kerr.
A Senate committee’s recommendation that Aberhart be given an honorary degree was rebuked with one week left until convocation.
The committee’s recommendations were said to be based on Aberhart’s record as an educator and his role in reforming the school system, including certifying teachers into a professional class and introducing a teachers’ pension system.
But it would have been hard for members of the Senate to ignore the rest of Aberhart’s record as Premier.
It was a strange time in Alberta’s political history.
Scrambling to deal with the huge political problem the rejection might cause the University, the Senate quickly passed a motion that no honorary degrees would be granted that year. It was possibly, “the first time in the university’s history that no address will be given at convocation,” an Edmonton Journal report speculated on May 14, 1941.
Presiding over that year’s convocation on May 19, 1941 at McDougall Church was University Chancellor Alexander Rutherford, who had served as Alberta’s first premier from 1905 until he was forced out of office by a railway scandal in 1910. President Kerr resigned the following day.
An editorial published in the Edmonton Bulletin on May 14, 1941 stated that “…there is an affront to dignity of the University in this sorry affair. There is an affront to Dr. Kerr who was unwittingly made the instrument of what could only have been a calculated insult to Alberta’s self-respect. There is an affront to the the people of Alberta who are made ridiculous throughout Canada.”
“The citizens of Alberta are now looking to the legislature to see to it that never again will it be possible for the senate of the University of Alberta to present a display as petty, so childish, so humiliating,” said Medicine Hat Social Credit MLA John Robinson told the Bulletin on Feb. 3, 1942.
The University Senate’s behaviour was “political prostitution,” Robinson told the Calgary Herald on Feb. 4, 1942.
Reportedly expressing pain at at Aberhart’s failure to obtain an honorary degree from the U of A, Willingdon Social Credit MLA William Tomyn told the Herald on Feb 3, 1942 that “never in the history of any nation was there a greater scandal.”
The current debate around the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline centres around political posturing, provincial jurisdiction, investment priorities, climate change, coastal protection and consent by First Nations communities, but when the pipeline was originally being built in 1952, civil defence and the threat of war with the Soviet Union was a going concern.
According to reports by the Edmonton Journal and Canadian Press, Liberal Party leader Harper Prowse stood in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly on March 27, 1952 to question whether the Trans Mountain Pipeline terminus east of Edmonton could represent a concentrated target for Soviet bombers in the event of a war.
Prowse questioned the wisdom locating the eastern terminus of the Trans Mountain Pipeline near three refineries, a new chemical plant and two other pipeline terminals, the area many Albertans now know as ‘Refinery Row.’
The minister in charge of civil defence, Clarence Gerhart, was reported to have said that “every consideration” had been given to the situation and that asking companies to relocate their operations elsewhere would be an insult and lead the companies to invest in other provinces.
Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald was reported to have declared “this business of companies being ‘touchy’ about going somewhere else can be over-emphasized. Too many companies come into the province thinking they know everything and telling local authorities what they can do and what they can not do. We shouldn’t be too much impressed by their threats.”
While the debate began on the topic of strategic location in the event of World War Three, the debate shifted as MLAs began debating whether the United Nations as a bulwark against communist world domination or part of a conspiracy to form a world government.
Social Credit MLA for Leduc, Ronald Ansley, a frequent critic of the UN, argued that a third world war would results in “world dictatorship” by either Communism or the UN. Prowse responded to Ansley’s remarks by arguing that the UN represented an attempt to bring to the nations of the world a chance to bring about the rule of law instead of the rule of force.
“Nothing would make the communist world happier than if the Western nations should adopt the idea there is something sinister about the United Nations and that the free countries should go their way alone,” said Prowse, who was first elected in the 1944 Army, Navy and Air Force election.
“Even in peace-time we in Canada are losing some of our national sovereignty through the United Nations. Those who want world dictatorship have two arms working for them,” Ansley is reported to have replied. “Communism on the one hand and the United Nations on the other.”
“Not only our democracy but the whole of Christendom is at stake,” Ansley said.
CCF MLA Aylmer Liesemer argued that the UN was not infallible, “but to me it is the best hope of mankind to voice the horrible holocaust that would result from another war.”
While the Social Credit Party has sat on the conservative fringe of Alberta politics for much of the past four decades, the party fundamentally reshaped the politics of our province when it formed government from 1935 to 1971.
Upon learning of the election victory in 1935, 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. (this was a period in western history when it was not uncommon for political parties to have official uniforms).
During its first decade in government, Aberhart’s radical administration tried to print its own currency, legislate control over the media, nationalize the banking system and ban alcohol sales. The Social Credit Party also introduced the province’s short-lived MLA recall law and a provincial sales tax.
In response to what they claimed to be a “world plot” by “socialists and world finance” (which is coded language for Jewish) the Alberta government-funded Social Credit Board proposed in 1947 that the secret ballot and political parties be abolished. “The obvious remedy for the evils of party politics is the abolition of political parties dominated at the top as we know them today,” the report argued.
Under Manning’s leadership from 1943 to 1968, the Social Credit Party evolved into a generic conservative governing party, albeit with a social conservative bent.
Perhaps the most important lasting legacy of the Social Credit government today is the continued existence of the Alberta Treasury Branches, which was founded in 1938 after the federal government thwarted attempts by Aberhart to impose government control over banks operating in Alberta.
Months before the end of the Second World War, the largest global conflict in human history, the Alberta government conducted a vote of Alberta-residents serving in the three branches of the Canadian armed forces. The vote was held to elect representatives of the Army, Navy and Air Force to serve as Members of the Alberta Legislature. Tens of thousands of Albertans were serving in the Canadian forces across the globe at the time.
The Soldier vote, also known as the Serviceman vote, was the second phase of the 1944 election that took place in 1945 and was sanctioned through Orders-in-Council from the provincial cabinet of Premier Ernest Manning. The cabinet order temporarily increased the number of seats in the Assembly from 57 to 60. A bill was passed through the Assembly after the vote in order to legally create the three new MLA positions.
Pressure from the opposition, including CCF MLA Elmer Roper, convinced the governing Social Credit Party to allow the servicemen vote and create the three MLA positions.
“There men are fighting for all we hold dear in democracy and political expediency is a sorry excuse for depriving people, particularly soldiers, the right to vote,” Calgary Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald told the Legislature in March 1943, according to Edmonton Journal reports.
Voting conducted overseas was counted in England and sent to Edmonton by telegraph. In total, 7,985 votes were cast by servicemen (6,125 army votes, 1,207 air force votes, and 653 navy votes).
When the votes were counted, Captain James Harper Prowse was elected as the Army MLA, Wing Commander Frederick C. Colborne was elected as the Air Force MLA, and Chief Petty Officer Loftus Dudley Ward was elected to represent the Navy. They served as Independent MLAs until their terms expired in 1948.
Once in the Assembly, the MLAs raised issues ranging from housing, employment and education for veterans who returned to Alberta after the war ended.
Two of the MLAs continued their political careers after their terms ended in 1948, Mr. Prowse as a Liberal MLA from Edmonton until 1959 and Mr. Colborne as a Social Credit MLA from Calgary until 1971.
Mr. Colborne served in numerous cabinet positions, including Minister of Public Works and Minister of Municipal Affairs. He represented the Calgary-Centre constituency from 1959 until 1971. He was defeated in his bid for re-election in the new Calgary-Currie constituency in 1971.
Mr. Prowse served as Liberal Party leader from 1947 to 1958 and leader of the Official Opposition from 1952 to 1958. He would run for Mayor of Edmonton in 1959, finishing second to Mr. Roper, one of the strongest proponents of the Soldier vote. He was later appointed to serve in the Canadian Senate.
Saskatchewan also had a Soldier Vote
A similar vote was held in the Saskatchewan election of 1944, which saw three MLAs elected from geographic region of service (1 MLA for soldiers serving in Great Britain, 1 for soldiers serving the Mediterranean Theatre, and 1 for soldiers serving in Canada outside of Saskatchewan).
It has been a long time since Alberta’s Social Credit Party played a central role in mainstream politics in our province. This could be why little attention was paid to the Socred’s annual general meeting in January 2016, where it appears that a group of anti-abortion activists staged a takeover the party leadership.
Len Skowronski, who served as leader from 2007 until the leadership change at the AGM, described it as an “invalid takeover” executed by a group of pro-lifers. “We true Socreds hope to rectify the situation at the next AGM,” Mr. Skowronski wrote in an email to this blogger.
Dear Pro-Life Social Credit Party Members and Supporters,
I want to thank you for all your support of the Social Credit Party over the past year! We have made great progress in building the Pro-Life political movement in Alberta. From recruiting many emerging Pro-Life leaders who have gained valuable knowledge and skills in political leadership on our provincial board to activating lifelong Pro-Life supporters at the grassroots level, helping them engage effectively in our last provincial election.
It hasn’t always been easy, but we have made great strides in promoting Pro-Life public policy and working for a Culture of Life! Thank you!
This Saturday is our Party’s Annual General Meeting. This is a very important opportunity to forward the Pro-Life cause politically in Alberta!
We will be voting to elect a strong team of Pro-Life leaders to the Provincial Executive and Board of Directors. Registration will take place from 1:00-1:30 PM at the Capitol Hill Community Hall, 1531 21 Ave NW, Calgary from 1-4. You can register at the door, $10/person 14yrs or older. Families are welcome to bring their younger children as there will be plenty of room.
This year’s AGM will be critical. We will be voting on the current leadership of the party which could result in the election of a new Leader of the Alberta Social Credit Party. It is vital that we ensure that we vote for a Leader who stands strongly for Pro-Life principles and shares our focus on promoting them openly.
Speaking to the High River Times in April 2015, Mr. Fraser was quoted as saying “I will emphasize the Pro-Life values of Albertans, making constituents and other candidates aware of the issues surrounding abortion and how they are directly relevant to provincial policy… We should de-fund abortion and fund the life affirming alternatives of crisis pregnancy support, parental support, and adoption.”