Looking back on the 1935 provincial election

Eighty years ago, on Aug. 22nd, 1935, Alberta was hit with one of the greatest political upheavals in its history.

The fledgling Social Credit movement swept to power in the provincial election, winning 56 of the 63 seats in the Legislature and carrying 54% of the popular vote.

The long-standing incumbent United Farmers of Alberta (U.F.A.) government was completely wiped out and failed to win a single seat.

Only a small band of five Liberals and two Conservatives were elected to provide an opposition to the new government.

Social Credit was born out of the destitution and despair of the Great Depression. The movement was led by William Aberhart, a charismatic Calgary school teacher and popular host of a weekly religious radio program, the Back to The Bible Hour.

During the summer of 1932, Aberhart became a convert to the Social Credit philosophy, which had been developed by a British engineer, Major C.H. Douglas.

To Aberhart, Social Credit provided an answer to the economic hardships of the Great Depression in what should have been the prosperous province of Alberta.

Aberhart did not stick to Douglas’s complex theories. He boiled down the economic philosophy to a few easy-to-understand concepts.

He held that the Depression was due to inherent flaws of the financial system and the domination of a small group of bankers and financiers.

To Aberhart, the solution was to give control of the financial system, “Back to the people” and away from what he referred to as ‘The Fifty Bigshots.’

Aberhart proposed the printing and distribution of social dividends which would close the gap between poverty and prosperity.

In other words, government-issued credit would become the means of controlling the economy and creating money and jobs once more.

Aberhart used his weekly radio broadcasts to spread the idea of Social Credit across the province.

He also tied the moral and religious ‘good’ of Social Credit as a weapon against the greed and corruption of the financiers who he blamed for the Great Depression.

Study groups were established, first at Aberhart’s Prophetic Bible Institute and then in communities across Alberta.

The idea was to help educate people in the tenets of Social Credit and increase the economic theory’s popularity.

Aberhart also pressured the U.F.A. government to study Social Credit as well.

Consequently, a special legislative committee was struck to examine to new proposals and to hear witnesses on their feasibility.

Aberhart, quite naturally, became one of the chief proponents of Social Credit to the committee of MLAs.

Major Douglas was brought out from England to also provide expert advice, but it soon became obvious that he differed fundamentally with Aberhart on many key points.

The special legislative committee produced a negative report on Social Credit and the U.F.A. government rejected any thought of implementing it.

Hence, in January 1935, Aberhart decided to adopt direct political action to implement the plan he passionately felt would end the Depression.

Social Credit constituency organizations were quickly organized and candidates nominated.

The largely discredited U.F.A. government felt powerless to stem the burgeoning political movement and plunged into panic.

Aberhart overcame many of the public’s doubts about his economic and political movement by promising that a Social Credit government would quickly implement a $25 per month ‘dividend’ to each Albertan.

Hence, Social Credit swept to power in an incredible landslide.

Voters ignored the warnings of every major newspaper in Alberta and much of the business elite about the radicalism of what Aberhart proposed.

While Aberhart had a lot of difficulty implementing his platform after the election, Social Credit had an enduring appeal to Albertans.

Hence, Social Credit remained in power until 1971 when it was finally replaced by the Progressive Conservative Party led by the dynamic Peter Lougheed.

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