Alberta Social Credit Party

Last updated
Alberta Social Credit
LeaderJeremy Fraser
President Earl Solberg
Founded1934 (1934)
Dissolved2017 (2017)
Succeeded by Pro-Life Alberta Political Association
Headquarters Calgary, Alberta
Ideology Christian right
Social credit (historical)
Political position Right-wing
ColoursGreen, blue

Alberta Social Credit was a provincial political party in Alberta, Canada, that was founded on social credit monetary policy put forward by Clifford Hugh Douglas and on conservative Christian social values. The Canadian social credit movement was largely an out-growth of Alberta Social Credit. The Social Credit Party of Canada was strongest in Alberta, before developing a base in Quebec when Réal Caouette agreed to merge his Ralliement créditiste movement into the federal party. The British Columbia Social Credit Party formed the government for many years in neighbouring British Columbia, although this was effectively a coalition of centre-right forces in the province that had no interest in social credit monetary policies.


The Alberta Social Credit party won a majority government in 1935, in the first election it contested, barely months after its formation. During its first years, when led by William Aberhart, it was a radical monetary reform party, at least in theory if not in effect. After Aberhart's death in 1943 and the rise to leadership of Ernest Manning, followed quickly by the discovery of oil in north-central Alberta and its accompanying wealth for many, Social Credit took on a more conservative hue. Its policies were pro-business and anti-union, and largely opposed to government intervention in the economy. It stayed in power until 1971, one of the longest unbroken runs in government at the provincial level in Canada. However, it held no seats after 1982, and finished a distant seventh in the 2012 and 2015 general elections, before the party's name change.

In May 2017, the party changed its name to the Pro-Life Alberta Political Association following the election of anti-abortion activist Jeremy Fraser as leader.



Calgary preacher William Aberhart promoted social credit theory before becoming premier. W aberhart.jpg
Calgary preacher William Aberhart promoted social credit theory before becoming premier.

William Aberhart, a Baptist lay-preacher and evangelist in Calgary, was attracted to social credit theory while Alberta (and much of the western world) was in the depths of the Great Depression. He soon began promoting it through his radio program on CFCN in Calgary, adding a heavy dose of fundamentalist Christianity to the Social Credit theories of C.H. Douglas. The basic premise of social credit is that all citizens should be paid a dividend as capital and technology replace labour in production; this was especially attractive to farmers sinking under the weight of the Depression. Many study groups devoted to the theory sprang up across the province, which united into the Social Credit League of Alberta.

Rise to power

From 1932 to 1935, Aberhart tried to get the governing United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) to adopt social credit. However, the 1935 UFA convention voted against adopting social credit and UFA Premier Richard Reid rejected the proposals as being outside the province's constitutional powers, so Aberhart entered Social Credit candidates in that year's provincial election. There was widespread discontent with the overly cautious behaviour of the UFA government, and in some cases, local UFA chapters openly supported Social Credit candidates. The UFA government was also reeling from a scandal that had forced Reid's predecessor, John Brownlee, to resign a year earlier. This, in particular, caused some socially conservative UFA members to transfer their allegiance to the Christian-based Social Credit movement.

In the August 22, 1935, election, much to its own surprise, Social Credit won a landslide victory, taking 54% of the vote and winning 56 of the 63 seats in the Legislative Assembly. The only elected opposition was five Liberals and two Conservatives. The UFA lost all of its seats in the worst defeat for a sitting provincial government in Canadian history. Alberta thus elected the first Social Credit government in the world.

Not even the Socreds had expected to win the election. Indeed, they hadn't even named a leader during the campaign. The Socreds now found themselves having to choose a formal leader who would become the province's new premier. Aberhart was the obvious choice, having been the party's driving force from the beginning. He didn't want the office, but was persuaded to take power. He was elected as leader and premier-designate at the party's first caucus meeting, and was sworn in on September 3. He became a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) a year later in a by-election.

The first year and a half in power was a period of adjustment for the newly elected Socred MLAs and their premier. Negotiations between Aberhart and Douglas, who had been hired by the UFA as a financial advisor, were colourful but unproductive. Aberhart, consumed with details of governance and administration, made little progress along the social credit monetary reform road. After election he hired an orthodox financial expert named Magor, much to Douglas's displeasure, thus forestalling radical monetary reform. In March 1937 many Socred MLAs revolted against Aberhart's leadership, refusing to pass the provincial budget until Aberhart promised serious reform of the banking system. [1]

Aberhart and his cabinet in 1935. William Aberhart and his Cabinet.jpg
Aberhart and his cabinet in 1935.

Not "funny money"

Following the 1937 revolt, the government made a serious attempt to implement social credit policies. It passed several pieces of radical populist legislation, such as the issuance of prosperity certificates to Alberta residents (dubbed "funny money" by detractors) in accordance with the theories of Silvio Gesell. Douglas, the main leader of the Social Credit movement, did not like the idea of prosperity certificates, which depreciated in value the longer they were held, and openly criticized Gesell's theories. [2]

The Socreds also passed bills that would have placed the province's banks under government control. However, Lieutenant-Governor John C. Bowen refused to grant Royal Assent to the bills. The Supreme Court of Canada sided with Bowen and struck down the bills because only the federal government can legislate on banking. [3] Thwarted in its attempt to gain control of Alberta's private banks, Aberhart's government gained a foothold in the province's financial sector by creating the Alberta Treasury Branches (ATB) in 1938. ATB has become a lasting legacy of Social Credit Party policies in Alberta, operating as of 2017 as an orthodox financial institution and crown corporation. It is today the only government-owned financial institution in Canada that provides commercial banking to the public.

Bowen also refused Royal Assent to the government's Accurate News and Information Act , which would have forced newspapers to print government rebuttals to stories to which the Executive Council (cabinet) objected. The government's relationship with Bowen became so acrimonious that in 1938, Bowen threatened to use his reserve power to dismiss Aberhart. In the end, Bowen chose not to take this extraordinary action. Had Bowen sacked Aberhart, it would have triggered a new election, and the Socreds were so popular that they would have almost certainly been re-elected. [3]

Other policies

To uphold its election promise of democratizing Alberta's government, Aberhart passed a law allowing for the recall of members of the Legislative Assembly by petition of constituents. However, he repealed the legislation when he himself became the target of a recall drive.

Continuing the UFA government's conservatism (which verged on prohibition) on the matter of drinking, Aberhart's government enacted several socially conservative laws, notably one restricting the sale and serving of alcohol. It was one of the strictest such laws in Canada. Well into the 1960s, commercial airlines could not serve alcohol while flying over Alberta.

As well, the government passed stronger labour legislation, such as a minimum wage law for male workers (female workers already coming under legislation passed by the UFA government), and centralized the province's school system.

Manning era

Ernest Manning was premier 1943 to 1968. Ernest Manning.jpg
Ernest Manning was premier 1943 to 1968.

Social Credit was elected with a slightly reduced mandate in 1940. "Bible Bill" Aberhart died in 1943 and was replaced by his Provincial Secretary and Minister of Trade and Industry, Ernest Manning.

Manning's government was much more pragmatic. Under his leadership, the party largely abandoned social credit monetary theories, though it did issue prosperity certificates from oil royalties in 1957 and 1958. [4] His government was one of the most conservative provincial governments in Canada. Manning moved to purge anti-Semites from the party. While anti-Semitism had been part of the party's Christian populist rhetoric for years, it had become far less fashionable after World War II. Several socially conservative laws remained in place for years, such as the ban on airlines serving alcohol over provincial airspace.

Due in part to what was seen as its good government of the province, Manning led Social Credit to seven consecutive election victories. He governed with very large majorities for virtually his entire tenure, winning well over 50 percent of the popular vote and rarely facing more than ten opposition MLAs. For most of the next two decades, Alberta was virtually a one-party state.

He wielded considerable influence over the party's federal counterparts as well. For example, he let it be known that his province would never accept francophone Catholic Real Caouette, leader of the party's Quebec wing, as the party's leader—even though Caouette headed the party's third-strongest faction (behind the Alberta and British Columbia Socreds). This led to rumours that Caouette had defeated Robert N. Thompson for the federal party's leadership in 1961, only to have his win vetoed by Manning and the Alberta Socreds.

The discovery of significant reserves of oil in 1947 transformed Alberta from one of Canada's poorest provinces to one of the country's richest with resource revenues pouring into the government's treasury.


Manning's last election win, in 1967, proved ominous for the party. Despite winning 55 of the 65 seats in the legislature, it received less than 45% of the popular vote—its lowest share of the popular vote since 1940. This was a significant drop from 1963, when it took all but six seats.

More importantly, the once-moribund Progressive Conservatives, led by young lawyer Peter Lougheed, won six seats, mostly in Calgary and Edmonton. Despite having long-standing support in Calgary and Edmonton (Manning himself represented an Edmonton riding), Social Credit was at bottom an agrarian-based party, and never really lost this character. The party didn't react nearly fast enough to the changes in Alberta as Calgary and Edmonton gained more influence.

Manning retired in 1968 and was replaced by Agriculture Minister Harry Strom at the party's first leadership election. However, Strom soon was eclipsed by Lougheed, whose modern and urbane image contrasted sharply with that of the dour Strom. His cause was not helped when the Tories picked up an additional four seats during the term.

In the 1971 election, Lougheed's PCs ended Social Credit's 36-year hold on power. The Socred share of the popular vote decreased slightly, but still they finished only five points behind the PCs and won a record number of votes (due in part to Alberta's larger population). While they mostly held their own in their rural heartlands, their support in Edmonton and Calgary plummeted from 1968. The PCs took every seat in Edmonton, and all but five in Calgary. The Socreds lost a number of ridings by a small margin. However, due to the first past the post system, which awards seats to the candidate with the most votes in a district, even if they do not get a majority of votes (and awards power based on seats won), Social Credit's caucus was cut almost in half. It was cut down to 25 seats, and was consigned to the opposition benches for the first time in party history.

Strom led the Socreds into opposition, but resigned as party leader in 1973. Former Health Minister James Douglas Henderson became interim leader, and hence Leader of the Opposition. In the 1973 leadership election, Werner Schmidt, vice-president of Lethbridge Community College, who didn't hold a seat in the Legislative Assembly, ran against former Highways Minister Gordon Taylor, former Education Minister Robert Curtis Clark, and John Ludwig, dean of business education at Alberta College. [5]

Clark, who had the support of half of the party's MLAs, led Schmidt on the first ballot, 583 votes to 512 votes. But in an upset victory, Schmidt won on the second ballot with 814 votes, defeating Clark by 39 votes. [6]

First ballot

(Ludwig eliminated, Taylor withdraws)

Second ballot

Social Credit sank into near-paralysis in opposition. Having spent all but a few months of its history prior to 1971 in government, it was unable to get the better of the Tories. It didn't help matters that Schmidt was never able to get into the legislature; he lost a by-election shortly after taking the leadership. Henderson remained parliamentary leader until September, when Clark succeeded him.

The party's support collapsed in the 1975 election, when it fell to four seats—just barely holding onto official party status—and lost half of the popular vote it had received in 1971. Schmidt failed to win a seat and resigned as party leader, leaving Clark to take the leadership unopposed. Under Clark, the party staved off total collapse in the 1979 election, holding onto its four seats.

Dormancy in the 1980s

Clark returned to the backbench a little more than a year after the election. On November 29, 1980, former Calgary mayor Rod Sykes became the party's new leader, defeating Edmonton alderman Julian Kinisky 538-292. [7] Again without its leader in the legislature, the party continued to sag in the polls.

The beginning of the end for Social Credit came when Clark retired from politics in 1981. His seat of Olds-Didsbury, a longstanding Social Credit bastion, was resoundingly lost to Western Canada Concept. In the process, Social Credit lost official status in the legislature. Unable to resolve the party's internal and financial problems, Sykes quit as leader in March 1982.

On March 31, 1982, Social Credit parliamentary leader Raymond Speaker, the leader of the opposition in the Legislative Assembly, announced that Social Credit would sit out that year's election. In his press release, he said it would be useless for Social Credit to fight the next election since there were not enough Social Credit voters left in the province.

The Social Credit Party council quickly distanced itself from Speaker's statement. There was wide speculation at the time that Speaker would cross the floor to Western Canada Concept. Unable to attract a new leader, the Social Credit membership held an emergency meeting September 18, 1982. A resolution was put forward that would have dissolved the party. This was soundly rejected by the attending delegates and a new president was elected.

As soon as the writs were dropped in October, Speaker and Walt Buck and left the party to become independent candidates for the legislature. The party's third MLA, Fred Mandeville announced his retirement. For the first time since 1935, the party had no incumbents. George Richardson was named acting leader.

Social Credit went into the 1982 election in a precarious position. Not only was it without a full-time leader or incumbents, but it had been unable to get its leader elected to the legislature at any point during the parliamentary term. The party ran only 23 candidates and garnered only 0.8 percent of the vote. It was shut out of the Legislative Assembly altogether for the first time, and has never elected another MLA.

In 1986, Social Credit, Western Canada Concept and the Heritage Party of Alberta joined to form the Alberta Alliance Political Association. The Alliance fell apart when the WCC left, followed by Social Credit. The AAPA became the present-day Alberta Party. Social Credit sat out the 1986 election. Most of its remaining supporters joined and ran for the Representative Party, which had been formed by Speaker after he and Buck were denied funding normally reserved to opposition parties.

Rebirth in the 1990s and decline

Interim leadership of the party was given to Martin Hattersley, an Edmonton lawyer, and later to Harvey Yuill of Barrhead. The party ran six candidates in the 1989 election. The party was rekindled under the leadership of Robert Alford from 1990 to 1992. In 1991, Randy Thorsteinson, a Reform Party of Canada activist, was elected as party president. In 1992, Thorsteinson was elected as leader, and Robert Alford as president. Social Credit improved its performance in the 1993 election, but won no seats. In the 1997 election, the party nominated 70 candidates, and won 64,667 votes, over 7% of the popular vote.

After the 1997 election, polling revealed that the Social Credit Party was poised for a break-through: an estimated 150,000 Albertans would have been ready to once again support Social Credit as an alternative. This could have meant eight seats in the Legislature. However, in April 1999, Thorsteinson, a devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, resigned to protest an internal party proposal to limit Mormon involvement within the party. Social Credit's fortunes quickly faded.

In November 1999, James Albers was elected over Jon Dykstra and Norm Racine to lead the party in a hotly contested race. Wiebo Ludwig was disqualified. During the election of 2001, the right wing vote fractured between the newly formed Alberta First Party and Social Credit. Most right-wing voters went back to supporting the Progressive Conservatives, who had experienced a resurgence in popularity.

Thorsteinson founded the Alberta Alliance Party in October 2002.

Lavern Ahlstrom was appointed Social Credit leader in February 2001. Under Ahlstrom's leadership, the party made moves toward re-embracing elements of social credit monetary theory.

The party nominated 12 candidates in the 2001 election (down from 70 in 1997) and received 5,361 votes (0.5% of the popular vote), down from 64,667. The party nominated 42 candidates for the 2004 election, and won 10,874 votes (1.2% of the popular vote, an increase of 0.7% from 2001.) It polled well in a few ridings, most notably Rocky Mountain House where Lavern Ahlstrom tied for second place.

In late 2005, the party entered discussion about merging with the Alberta Party and the Alberta Alliance. Despite cooperation and successful merger talks between the party leaders, the Social Credit Party membership voted down the motion to merge at the 2006 Social Credit Convention. (See: and )

In the Drumheller-Stettler by-election on 12 June 2007, the party's candidate Larry Davidson placed third with 11.7% of the vote.

Alberta Social Credit in the 21st century

In early November 2007, Len Skowronski replaced Lavern Ahlstrom as leader of the party. [8]

The party fielded eight candidates for the 2008 general election on March 3. The party received 0.22% of the total or 2,051 votes, a decline of 1.0% from the previous election. The best individual riding result, and the only result over 3.0 percent, was for Wilf Tricker in Rocky Mountain House, who received 6.4% of the vote, finishing fifth in a field of seven candidates, just 0.62% behind the Green candidate and well ahead of the NDP and Separation Party of Alberta candidates.

It fielded three candidates in the 2012 election, and garnered 0.023% of the total vote. Its six nominated candidates won 832 votes in the 2015 election, 0.056% of the total vote—an increase of 0.033% over its 2012 result.

Pro-Life Alberta Political Association

Pro-Life Alberta Political Association
PresidentMurray Ruhl
FoundedMay 2017
Ideology Pro-life
ColoursBlue and Red

In 2016, anti-abortion activist Jeremy Fraser won the Social Credit Party's leadership. [9] Bearing no resemblance to its predecessor the Party changed its registered name with Elections Alberta to the Pro-Life Alberta Political Association (or Prolife Alberta, for short). [10] The change in name reflected the change in direction from the comprehensive political platform of Social Credit, to the singular focus of promoting pro-life public policy. Whereas Alberta Social Credit had aims of forming government, Prolife Alberta is a single-issue political association solely focused on promoting right-to-life issues, and anti-abortion efforts, in the province of Alberta.

Prolife Alberta advertise itself as "...a group of women and men committed to promoting pro-life public policy in Alberta, through politics." [11]

Election results

ElectionLeaderCandidatesVotes %Seats+/–PositionGovernment
1935 William Aberhart 63 / 63163,70054.25%
56 / 63
Increase2.svg 56Increase2.svg 1stMajority
1940 56 / 57132,50742.90%
36 / 57
Decrease2.svg 20Steady2.svg 1stMajority
1944 Ernest Manning 57 / 57146,36751.88%
51 / 57
Increase2.svg 15Steady2.svg 1stMajority
1948 57 / 57164,00355.63%
51 / 57
Steady2.svgSteady2.svg 1stMajority
1952 61 / 61167,78956.24%
52 / 61
Increase2.svg 1Steady2.svg 1stMajority
1955 61 / 61175,55346.42%
37 / 61
Decrease2.svg 15Steady2.svg 1stMajority
1959 64 / 65230,28355.69%
61 / 65
Increase2.svg 24Steady2.svg 1stMajority
1963 63 / 63221,10754.81%
60 / 63
Decrease2.svg 1Steady2.svg 1stMajority
1967 65 / 65222,27044.60%
55 / 65
Decrease2.svg 5Steady2.svg 1stMajority
1971 Harry Strom 75 / 75262,95341.10%
25 / 75
Decrease2.svg 30Decrease2.svg 2ndOpposition
1975 Werner Schmidt 70 / 75107,21118.17%
4 / 75
Decrease2.svg 21Steady2.svg 2ndOpposition
1979 Robert Curtis Clark 79 / 79141,28419.87%
4 / 79
Steady2.svgSteady2.svg 2ndOpposition
1982 George Richardson 23 / 797,8430.83%
0 / 79
Decrease2.svg 4Decrease2.svg 6thN/A
1986 Did not contest the 1986 general election (see Representative Party)
1989 Harvey Yuill 6 / 833,9390.47%
0 / 83
Steady2.svgIncrease2.svg 4thN/A
1993 Randy Thorsteinson 39 / 8323,8852.41%
0 / 83
Steady2.svgSteady2.svg 4thN/A
1997 70 / 8364,6676.84%
0 / 83
Steady2.svgSteady2.svg 4thN/A
2001 James Albers 12 / 835,3610.53%
0 / 83
Steady2.svgDecrease2.svg 6thN/A
2004 Lavern Ahlstrom 42 / 8310,8741.22%
0 / 83
Steady2.svgSteady2.svg 6thN/A
2008 Len Skowronski 8 / 832,0510.22%
0 / 83
Steady2.svgSteady2.svg 6thN/A
2012 3 / 872940.02%
0 / 83
Steady2.svgDecrease2.svg 7thN/A
2015 6 / 878320.06%
0 / 83
Steady2.svgDecrease2.svg 8thN/A

Party leaders

See also

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  1. Johnson, L.P.V. and Ola MacNutt, Aberhart of Alberta, p. 100-149
  2. C.H. Douglas. "The Approach to Reality". The Australian League of Rights. Archived from the original on 19 October 2013.
  3. 1 2 Caldoralo, Carl (1979). "The Social Credit in Alberta 1935-1971". Society and Politics in Alberta. Methuen. pp. 108–130.
  4. Donn Downey, "OBITUARY / Ernest Charles Manning History of former Alberta premier also history of Socreds," Globe and Mail, February 20, 1996
  5. "2,000 delegates to Alberta Social Credit meeting pick successor to ex-Premier today", Globe and Mail, February 3, 1973
  6. "Schmidt wins Alberta Social Credit leadership, upset may split party", Globe and Mail, February 5, 1973
  7. Bragg, Bob (December 1, 1980). "Sykes to enter oil fray". Calgary Herald . Red Deer. p. A1. Retrieved April 19, 2021.
  8. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-10-30. Retrieved 2007-11-11.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. "Anti-Abortion activists stage an "invalid takeover" of Alberta's Social Credit Party | – Alberta Politics". Retrieved 2017-06-23.
  10. "Parties | Elections Alberta". Elections Alberta. Retrieved 2017-06-23.
  11. "About". Prolife Alberta. 20 January 2015. Retrieved 2021-02-26.
  12. "Speaker Optimistic Over AGM". The Lethbridge Herald. Vol LXXVI 259. October 17, 1984. p. 6.|volume= has extra text (help)
Preceded by
United Farmers of Alberta
Governing party of Alberta
Succeeded by
Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta