Premier of Alberta 1935-1943
Many thanks to AFHS member and volunteer, Heather
Jaremko, who provided the typescript of this page and obtained the
permission of the Calgary
Herald to reprint this work in the AFHS website. This work is
based on reports in the Calgary Herald between 1929 and 1939. In
, a long-time AFHS member, has kindly provided a brief family
history for William Aberhart.
William Aberhart, the man who brought Social Credit to Alberta,
was well-known even before he went into politics. He was principal
of Crescent Heights High School and a prominent evangelist. He conducted
the Back to the Bible Hour on CFCN radio and preached from the pulpit
of his own Prophetic Bible Institute.
In 1932, Aberhart read a book about the Social Credit System of
a British Amateur economist, Major C.H. Douglas. It was a revelation.
Soon something new was added to Aberhart's evangelical message.
The 50 big shots who run Canada, the bankers' toadies, the lackeys
of the financial interests - they were to blame for the crisis.
They were depriving the ordinary man of buying power, the lifeblood
of the economy.
Aberhart's version of Social Credit is remembered mostly for printing
"funny money" and for the promise of a $25.00 monthly
dividend for every citizen. In fact, Social Credit prosperity certificates
never became a major factor in the Alberta economy, and the monthly
dividend was never paid. Yet, far from being a failure, the Social
Credit party provided a government that people were happy to re-elect
for 35 years.
Working with a promising young assistant named Ernest Manning,
Aberhart established the Alberta Social Credit League. Powered by
Manning's brilliant grass-roots organizing, the Social Crediters
launched themselves into Alberta Politics. In August 1935, a record
voter turn-out elected 56 Social Credit MLAs, everyone of them new
to the Legislature. Also elected were 5 Liberals and 2 Conservatives.
The previous government, the UFA, was wiped out.
Whether Social Credit could ever have worked is still a theoretical
question. Aberhart proved beyond doubt that it wouldn't be allowed
to work in one province. Again and again Social Credit measures
passed by the Alberta Legislature were disallowed by Ottawa, or
ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Aberhart was determined to subdue his opponents, notably the newspapers
and the banks. He proposed laws that would have deprived newsmen
and bankers of rights enjoyed by ordinary citizens.
In the midst of the uproar over Social Credit, hopeful signs began
to appear. Alberta's 1938 wheat crop was the best in years. Merchant's
reported seeing $100 bills again. The welfare rolls began to shrink.
But relief of a grim different kind was already on the way. War
would soon put everyone to work.
Premier William Aberhart of Alberta died May 23, 1943, and so ends
the career of one of the strangest political figures ever to appear
in the public life of Canada.
Whenever in the future the history of this country is recorded,
his name will be found written largely in the pages. His contribution
to our politics was unique and colorful. In the dark days of the
last depression he came from the obscurity of a high-school classroom
and a self-founded Prophetic Bible Institute, preaching a new doctrine
and promising a new Utopia. That his theories were unsound, impractical
and unworkable did not matter so much to the thousands of Albertans
who rallied to the sound of his voice, as the fact that he represented
protest against a system they believed was not providing them with
their share of this world's goods.
Although his attempts at economic changes were all failures, and
although his followers never realized the nirvana he had pictured,
his death will bring sorrow to many who remained firm in their belief
in his sincerity.
No one can deny that Premier Aberhart was the driving force behind
the future of that movement is very much in the mists of the days
to come. Sometime we may view in retrospect the whole record of
the last decade and perhaps accurately estimate the value of Social
Credit to the Canadian scene. Now it is too recent, too much current
history, to fit into a definite plan.
In the brief life of this province, Alberta people, singly and
in groups, have led or fostered many small rebellions and many phenomena.
This foothills province has never cradled standard of stuffy thinkers
and has never been afraid to break new ground.
Maybe when the pieces of the puzzle come together we will find
that all we were really looking for was something akin to Mr. Roosevelt's