British Columbia Social Credit Party

Last updated
British Columbia Social Credit Party
Unregistered provincial party
Chairperson Carrol Woolsey
Founded1935;85 years ago (1935)
HeadquartersUnit 101 - 8091 Granville Avenue,
Richmond, BC, V6Y 1P5
Ideology Social credit
Political position Centre-right [1]
Colours Blue and red
Seats in Legislature
0 / 87

The British Columbia Social Credit Party, whose members are known as Socreds, was the governing provincial political party of British Columbia, Canada, for all but three years between the 1952 provincial election and the 1991 election. For four decades, the party dominated the British Columbian political scene, with the only break occurring between the 1972 and 1975 elections when the British Columbia New Democratic Party governed.


Although founded as part of the Canadian social credit movement, promoting social credit policies of monetary reform, the BC Social Credit Party later discarded the ideology and became a political vehicle for fiscal conservatives and later social conservatives in British Columbia.

The party essentially collapsed within one term of its 1991 defeat. It has not been represented in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia since 1996, and only existed in a nominal fashion from around 2001 to 2013 when the party was deregistered for failing to nominate more than two candidates in two consecutive provincial elections. The party re-registered in June 2016 [2] to participate in the 2017 election. It did not nominate any candidates in the 2020 election, but remains registered as a political party as of November 2020. [3]

Former Prime Minister of Canada Kim Campbell started her political career in the BC Social Credit Party.



Prior to 1952, the social credit movement in British Columbia was divided between various factions. The Social Credit League of British Columbia nominated candidates for the first time in the 1937 election, but did not do so in the 1941 election.

In the 1945 election, these factions formed an alliance to field 16 candidates, who won a total of 6,627 votes (1.42% of the provincial total).

This alliance broke down before the 1949 election, and three separate groups nominated candidates:

Collectively, they nominated 28 candidates, who won a total of 14,326 votes, 2.05% of the popular vote in that election.

W. A. C. Bennett era

For the 1952 provincial election, the coalition government between the British Columbia Liberal Party and British Columbia Conservative Party reformed the electoral system from first past the post to the alternative vote. The coalition was nervous about the growing popularity of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), the forerunner of the NDP. With the expectation that Conservative voters would list the Liberals as their second choice and vice versa, the two parties believed they'd garner enough votes between them to stay in power.

Meanwhile, the Social Credit League went into the election under the interim leadership of the Reverend Ernest George Hansell, Member of the federal Parliament for the Alberta riding of Macleod since 1935. Hansell was hand-picked by Alberta premier Ernest Manning, as the Alberta Social Credit Party still dominated their BC sister. However, much to the BC Socreds' own surprise, the party garnered enough second preference votes to become the largest party in the legislature with 19 seats, one more than the CCF, while the Liberals and Conservatives were practically wiped out. The Socreds persuaded an independent Labour Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) to support them, allowing them to form a minority government.

As not even the Socreds expected to win the election, they now found themselves with the task of electing a leader who would become the province's new Premier. Party president Lyle Wicks called a leadership convention at which only elected MLAs could vote. The 19 newly elected Social Credit MLAs chose former BC Conservative MLA W. A. C. Bennett, one of only three Socreds with previous experience in the legislature, to lead the new government over Philip Gaglardi. Bennett had joined the Socreds only in December, doing so with the tacit support of the federal Conservative caucus. The federal Conservatives were displeased that their provincial counterparts had sat out the previous two elections so as not to embarrass their Liberal partners. [4] Nine months into the new term, Bennett deliberately lost a confidence vote in order to force a snap general election in 1953. At this election, Social Credit won an outright majority.

Although the party was ostensibly the British Columbia wing of the Canadian social credit movement, Bennett jettisoned the old ideology, remembering that the Alberta Socreds had tried and failed to implement it soon after winning their first term in government. Instead, he converted it into a populist conservative party. It became a political vehicle to unite opponents of the CCF in hopes of shutting it out of power.

The BC Social Credit Party drifted away from both social credit theories and from the federal Social Credit Party as many supporters of the federal Liberals and Conservatives joined it. While Bennett made sporadic appearances for the federal Socreds, their relationship was tenuous at best. Finally, in 1971, the BC Socreds formally severed their ties to the federal Socreds in order to make it easier for staunch Tories and Liberals to support it at the provincial level. [4]

Despite being a free market party, the Bennett government formed BC Hydro in 1961 by nationalizing the province's largest private hydroelectric concern to make sure that it could not oppose the government's hydroelectric dam construction program. It also formed BC Ferries in 1958, and established the Bank of British Columbia, which was 25% owned by the provincial government.

The Social Credit Party would win five more terms in government, each time with fairly large majorities. However, this streak ended in 1972 amid a gaffe-prone campaign. For instance, Gagliardi suggested that Bennett would stand down after the election, accusing him of being out of touch with "the young people of this province." [5] This led to questions about whether the party had become tired and complacent after 20 years in power. Nonetheless, it came as a shock when Social Credit was heavily defeated by the British Columbia New Democratic Party (BC NDP) under Dave Barrett, [6] falling to only 10 seats.

Bill Bennett era

W. A. C. Bennett's son, Bill Bennett, took over the leadership of the party in 1973. The younger Bennett modernized the party and abandoned populism. Instead, the party became a coalition of federal Liberals, Christian conservatives from the province's Bible Belt, and fiscal conservatives from the corporate sector with the latter firmly in control.

Bill Bennett led the Socreds back to power at the 1975 election, mainly by dominating the province outside of Vancouver. The younger Bennett, for the most part, eschewed the megaprojects of the elder Bennett (with the exception of Expo 86 and the Coquihalla Highway), and embraced a fiscally conservative program.

As a result, the party built up a small political engine that managed to win two more terms in 1979 and 1983 general elections, in spite of Bennett's controversial "Restraint" program. This was nicknamed the "Baby Blue Machine", and consisted of political advisors primarily imported from the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. It never became a major political apparatus like the Big Blue Machine in Ontario did, as Bennett decided to retire in 1986.

All Socred governments attempted to curb the power of trade unions and also limited social welfare spending.

Bill Vander Zalm era

Bennett retired in 1986 and was succeeded by Bill Vander Zalm. Under his watch, social conservatives took control of the party; Vander Zalm himself was a member of the social conservative wing. Vander Zalm easily led the Socreds to a fourth consecutive term in government in the election later that year.

Although it was not apparent at the time, the downfall of the party began almost as soon as Vander Zalm took the premiership. Many moderate Socreds were dissatisfied at the party's social conservative turn. They began drifting to the Liberals, a trend that would come back to haunt the party later. This process was exacerbated by Vander Zalm's eccentricity, and the constant scandals that plagued his government. Also, Vander Zalm allowed his principal secretary, David Poole, to amass a substantial amount of power, despite his being unelected. Longtime cabinet minister Grace McCarthy resigned in protest.


Vander Zalm was forced to resign in a conflict of interest scandal in 1991, and was succeeded as party leader and premier by Deputy Premier Rita Johnston, who became the first female head of government at the provincial or federal level in Canada. Johnston then defeated McCarthy in the subsequent leadership election and continued as premier. Johnston had been close to Vander Zalm for several years, leading many to believe her selection as leader had been a mistake. Even BC NDP opposition leader Mike Harcourt admitted later that he preferred Johnston over McCarthy, as McCarthy would likely have been a much tougher opponent in an election.

Facing a statutory general election in 1991, Johnston was unable to make up any ground. She also had little time to reunite the party following the bruising leadership contest with McCarthy. Social Credit was roundly defeated, losing almost half of its vote from 1986. Johnston herself lost her own seat to BC NDP challenger Penny Priddy. Furthermore, many moderate Socred supporters defected to the British Columbia Liberal Party, continuing a trend that dated back to Vander Zalm's tenure. The BC Liberals vaulted from no seats in the legislature to the Official Opposition. The combined effect was to decimate the Socreds, who plunged from a strong majority government to third place with only seven seats–including only five surviving members from Johnston's cabinet. More party infighting occurred as McCarthy was elected to replace Johnston. McCarthy didn't get a chance to get into the legislature until February 1994, when she ran in a by-election for Matsqui, a longtime Socred stronghold. She lost to Liberal Mike de Jong by fewer than 100 votes.

After McCarthy's by-election loss, Social Credit collapsed with dramatic speed. Four of the seven remaining Social Credit MLAs elected in 1991 left the party to join the British Columbia Reform Party, leaving Social Credit without official status in the legislature. McCarthy resigned as leader shortly thereafter, and Larry Gillanders was elected to succeed her. After that, Abbotsford MLA Harry de Jong resigned (and briefly contemplated taking up the leadership of the Family Coalition Party). The BC Liberals took the riding in the ensuing by-election, with Social Credit in a distant third. This left only one Socred in the legislature--Cliff Serwa from Okanagan West, which contained much of the Bennetts' former territory.

Social Credit went into the 1996 provincial election in an extremely precarious position. It had been unable to get its leader into the legislature at any point during the previous session. Even worse, Serwa had announced his retirement, leaving it without any incumbents for the first time since 1952. Gillanders took part in the leaders' debate, but pulled out of the campaign just before the vote and urged all non-socialist parties to present a united front against the BC NDP. The Social Credit Party was completely shut out of the legislature, garnering only 0.6 percent of the vote. At this point, the party was largely considered a dead force in BC politics, with most of its remaining members joining Reform or the Liberals. The collapse of the British Columbia Socreds within only one term of losing power was especially remarkable considering their Alberta counterparts managed to maintain at least a nominal presence in the legislature for a decade after their defeat in 1971.

In 2001, at the behest of former leader Vander Zalm–now leader of Reform BC–the Social Credit Party merged with other minor provincial right-wing parties to form the Unity Party, but soon left due to dissatisfaction with the way the party was run.

In the 2001 provincial election, what remained of the party ran only two candidates. Grant Mitton achieved a respectable showing in Peace River South, placing second with 1,726 votes (17.4%). The other candidate, party president Carrol Barbara Woolsey, in Vancouver-Hastings, placed 5th of 6 candidates with 222 votes (1.15% of the total). The party hadn't had a full-time leader since 2000; Mitton was the de facto leader during the campaign. Mitton left to become leader of the British Columbia Party, leaving Woolsey as de facto party leader.

In the 2005 election, only two Socreds filed: Woolsey, who won 254 votes (1.28% of the total) in Vancouver-Hastings, and Anthony Yao, who won 225 votes (0.95% of the total) in Port Coquitlam-Burke Mountain.

The party did not field any candidates in the 2009 general election. In the 2013 election, Woolsey was the only Socred candidate, again in Vancouver-Hastings, receiving 355 votes. Since British Columbia election law mandates de-registration of parties that run fewer than two candidates in two consecutive elections, the party was deregistered by Election BC on June 7, 2013. However, it had existed in name only since at least 2001. In addition to nominating few or no candidates at all in recent years, its Website had been updated only sporadically since 2005, and hadn't been updated at all since February 2012. Most of its constituency associations had been de-registered in 2008.

The Social Credit Party nominated two candidates in the 2017 provincial election. Neither were elected, [7] and they only tallied 896 votes between them. It did not field any candidates in the 2020 British Columbia general election.

Party leaders

Eric Buckley left Social Credit in October 2000 to join the British Columbia Party. The party has not had an official leader since then.

Other prominent Socred politicians

Electoral results

In the 1937 election, the British Columbia Social Credit League endorsed candidates, but none were elected.

1937 election
Number of candidatesSeatsPopular vote%

In the 1941 election, no candidates ran under the social credit banner.

In the 1945 election, an alliance of social credit groups nominated candidates. None were elected.

1945 election
Number of candidatesSeatsPopular vote%

In the 1949 election, three different social credit groups nominated candidates. None were successful.

1949 election
Name of partyNumber of


SeatsPopular vote%
Social Credit Party708,4641.21%
Social Credit League903,0720.44%
Union of Electors1202,7900.40%
Total of social credit groups28014,3262.05%

In subsequent elections, only the Social Credit Party of British Columbia emerged as the only social credit party, although it quickly abandoned social credit theories.

ElectionParty leaderNumber of


SeatsPopular voteFinal round (1952-53 only)
PreviousAfter% ChangeNumber%ChangeNumber%
1952 Rev. Ernest George Hansell 470
19 / 48
1953 W.A.C. Bennett 4819
28 / 48
1956 W.A.C. Bennett 5228
39 / 52
1960 W.A.C. Bennett 5239
32 / 52
1963 W.A.C. Bennett 5232
33 / 52
1966 W.A.C. Bennett 5533
33 / 55
1969 W.A.C. Bennett 5533
38 / 55
1972 W.A.C. Bennett 5538
10 / 55
1975 Bill Bennett 5510
35 / 55
1979 Bill Bennett 5735
31 / 55
1983 Bill Bennett 5731
35 / 57
1986 Bill Vander Zalm 6935
47 / 69
1991 Rita Johnston 7447
7 / 75
1996 Larry Gillanders 387
0 / 75
2001 (vacant)2-
0 / 79
2005 (vacant)2-
0 / 79
2013 (vacant)1-
0 / 85
2017 (vacant)2-
0 / 87

See also

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  1. Donald Blake (1996). "The Politics of Polarization: Parties and Elections in British Columbia". In R. Kenneth Carty (ed.). Politics, Policy, and Government in British Columbia. UBC Press. p. 67. ISBN   978-0-7748-5365-1.
  2. "Annual Financial Report - Political Party: British Columbia Social Credit Party" (PDF). Elections BC. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  3. Elections BC List of Current Registered Political Parties, accessed 16 Nov 2020.
  4. 1 2 Morley, J. Terence; Ruff, Norman J.; Swanson, Neil A.; Wilson, R. Jeremy; and Young, Walter D., The Reins of Power: Governing British Columbia, p. 91, Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver, 1983
  5. Mitchell, David J. (1983). W.A.C. Bennett and the Rise of British Columbia . p.  414. ISBN   0-88894-395-4.
  6. Griffin, Norm; Rogers, Bruce (3 September 1972). "1972: Dave Barrett elected Premier of B.C." (Radio program). CBC Digital Archives. CBC Radio: Sunday Magazine. Retrieved 5 June 2016.
  7. "BC Liberals cut to minority with Greens holding balance of power", The Globe and Mail, 10 May 2017