The political influence of Alfred Speakman

Red Deer has generally been noted for the calibre of people who have represented the community in the provincial and federal legislatures.

Alfred Speakman was one of the most capable of those political figures.

He served first as Red Deer’s MP and then as MLA for many years.

He was also the Leader of the Opposition in the Alberta Legislature during the Second World War.

Speakman was born in Dundee, Scotland in August 1880. He emigrated to Canada with his family to the Antler Hill district near Penhold in 1890.

As soon as he was old enough, he acquired his own farm in the Hill End district, but soon moved back to the family farm at Antler Hill.

His father, James, had become very active in provincial farmers’ organizations. James eventually became the second president of the United Farmers of Alberta, following James Bower, also of Red Deer.

Meanwhile, Alfred became the secretary of the Penhold local of the Alberta Farmers’ Association and continued in that position when the organization became part of the United Farmers of Alberta.

He served as a trustee on the Antler Hill School Board. He became a councillor for Local Improvement District 19 and was later chair of the council for the Rural Municipality of Arthur.

In 1921, Alfred decided to run in the federal election as a candidate for the United Farmers of Alberta in the Red Deer riding.

He was elected in a landslide, winning by more than twice the number of votes than all of his opponents combined.

He was easily re-elected in the federal election of 1925.

Alfred initially sat with the caucus of the Progressive Party, which represented farmers in the House of Commons and was the second largest party in Parliament after the 1921 election. However, the Progressive Party suffered from a great deal of disunity. He consequently moved over to what was known as ‘the Ginger Group’ of progressive MPs in Ottawa.

With the ongoing minority governments in Ottawa and with his enormous abilities as a speaker, Alfred had a great deal of influence in national affairs, much greater than one might have expected from a member of a third party in parliament.

For example, he served as chair of the committee on land settlement for veterans of the First World War.

In the spring of 1926, he became seriously ill following an operation. For a while, it looked like he might not survive the illness. Although he was not fully recovered, he faced another election in the fall of 1926. Such was his popularity, he was still re-elected with more than twice the number of votes of his nearest opponent.

In 1930, the Great Depression set in, but Alfred was again able to get re-elected to the House of Commons, albeit with a much reduced majority. However, as the Depression progressed, the U.F.A. began to collapse as a political party.

Disillusioned by the hard times, economically and politically, Alfred joined the new C.C.F. party (the forerunner of the NDP). However, in the 1935 federal election, another new political movement, Social Credit, swept Alberta. He finished third in the vote results.

Alfred became a very active opponent of Social Credit. He was instrumental in creating the Unity Movement, a coalition of many political groups against Social Credit. In 1940, he successfully ran as an independent candidate in the provincial election for the Red Deer constituency.

In 1941, he was elected leader of the Unity caucus in the Alberta Legislature and became the Leader of the Opposition. Such was his influence that he was also appointed to the provincial Post-War Reconstruction Committee and served as chair of the Agriculture Sub-Committee.

Unfortunately, poor health continued to dog him. He passed away from a heart attack on Nov. 4th, 1943. Among those who paid tribute to him on his passing were Premier Ernest Manning, J. Percy Page and Elmer Roper.

Alfred was survived by his wife Elva Pearl (Soley), and his daughter Mary Usher. His nephew, Thomas Speakman (Tom) Barnett, was a seven-term MP for the constituency of Comox-Alberni in B.C.

The Speakmans’ home still stands at 4010 Ross Street in the Michener Hill district of Red Deer, but is not considered a historic site.