Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ernest Manning and Boom Times for Alberta

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

After taking Aberhart's place, upon his death in 1943, Ernest Manning would call an election for the following year, which he won handily, despite the fact that the CCF was advancing from Saskatchewan, hoping to make inroads after Tommy Douglas took the province by storm.

The Invaders Repelled. Fresh from its triumph in Saskatchewan, the socialist C.C.F. invaded neighboring Alberta. Ever since the late William ("Bible Bill") Aberhart dazzled Albertans with the promise to pay them $25 a month for life, the Social Creditors have ruled the province. Last week businessmen and bankers who once fought "Bible Bill" supported his successor, 35-year-old Ernest Charles Manning. The result: Social Creditors, 47; C.C.F., 2; Independents, 3; Veterans' candidate, I; with Social Creditors leading in the four remaining ridings. Said an Albertan: "We didn't want to swap a light case of chickenpox for a bad case of smallpox." (1)
A more sombre character, Manning lacked the charisma of William Aberhart, but he sent out signals that he would still be just as authoritarian. And rather than simply fight "the big shots", he made an attempt to work with them on many things.

This didn't mean that he was completely abandoning Social Credit principles, but when his 1946 Bill of Rights was turned down by the Supreme Court:

Spare, intense Premier Manning took the court's decision in silence. Eleven years after the late William ("Bible Bill") Aberhart swept into power on a pledge of $25-a-month-credit-to-every-Albertan, the provincial government was still Social Credit in name only. (2)
And they would remain Social Credit in name only; but the following year, they would find themselves in a position where they no longer needed these cockamamie schemes.

They struck oil.

Manning Gets Down to Business:

On February 13, 1947, Leduc Alberta struck liquid gold and the world took notice, especially the oilmen of Texas. But Manning had a problem. His caucus still expected him to embrace Douglas's theories, especially now that they had the means to fulfill them.

L. Denis Byrne*, who had been with them since the backbenchers revolt, completed what what was called the Byrne Report.

In it was repeated the notion that there was "a plot, world-wide in scope, deliberately engineered by a small number of ruthless international financiers", most of whom were Jewish. It proposed a new voting system in which voters would state their choices publicly, and be taxed only for those government programs they supported during the election. Political parties were to be abolished in favour of "leagues of electors", and all farmland was to be appropriated by the government.

Manning, took this as "a direct challenge to his leadership, a shot across the bow" and quickly introduced a resolution in the legislature to "condemn, repudiate, and completely dissociate" the legislature from "any statements or publications which are incompatible with the established British ideals of democratic freedom, or which endorse, excuse, or incite anti-Semitism or racial or religious intolerance in any form". (3)

In November 1947 he announced that the Social Credit Board would cease to exist effective March 1948, and in February 1948 he asked for and received Byrne's resignation as deputy minister of Economic Affairs.

Alfe Hooke was in London recruiting immigrants, when he got the word:

It was about this time I received disquieting news from Premier Manning. The acting Minister of Economic Affairs, in my absence, was the Honourable N. E. Tanner, Minister of Lands and Mines. It was to him that the Deputy Minister, Mr. L. D. Byrne, would have to report the various operations of the Department of Economic Affairs and again it was he from whom the Deputy Minister would receive instructions. Mr. Byrne was still the Technical Adviser to the Social Credit Board and Mr. A. V. Bourcier, as Chairman of the Board, would work in close contact with Mr. Byrne. This, then, was the chain of command.

I received a telegram from Premier Manning informing me that the government, upon the recommendation of Mr. Tanner, had found it necessary to ask for Mr. Byrne's resignation and pointing out that as Mr. Ansley, Minister of Education, and previously Chairman of the Social Credit Board, had supported the recommendations of Mr. Byrne to the Cabinet, it had become necessary for the Premier to ask for his resignation also. Two or three days later a letter arrived from the Premier verifying the telegram and explaining that it was obvious that a conflict of policy existed between Messrs. Byrne and Ansley on the one hand and the remainder of the Cabinet on the other.

Naturally, this news was, to say the least, disconcerting to me, as I had absolute faith both in the knowledge and integrity of Mr. Byrne and Mr. Ansley. I was sure that any recommendations which would be made would be made in good faith and entirely in keeping with Social Credit policy, but because I had not seen the Byrne report and its recommendations, I was certainly in no position to know what stand I might have taken personally had I been in Edmonton at that time. I must say that I felt sorry for both these men, as I knew that both were dedicated to the Social Credit cause. (4)

And there in lay the problem. Ernest Manning was no longer "dedicated to the Social Credit cause." And while many believe he was motivated to end the rampant anti-Semitism that defined the party, it was more about his leadership being questioned at a time when he had an opportunity to finally run a province with money.

Texas of the North

A tall, feathery column of black spray shot into the air and a throaty roar echoed over the grainfields outside Edmonton. Within minutes, a bumper-to-bumper line of cars was moving out of the city along the westbound Jasper highway, heading for the new Acheson oilfield, seven miles away. There a crowd gathered to relish a familiar but stirring sight. Alberta's newest oil well was blowing in wildly, gushing up 200 feet and spitting blobs of copper-black crude for half a mile around.

Rampaging wells and eager people are signs of the times in booming Alberta. All Canada has expanded amazingly since World War II; discoveries of iron ore, nickel, copper, uranium and titanium are cracking open a dozen new frontiers. But the biggest boom of all is in Alberta's oil, the most significant new find on the continent since Texas' Spindletop roared in, 50 years ago. (5)

And with all that good fortune and cash, Manning was able to put the province on the right path, adopting a sound, if somewhat regressive policy of pay as you go. Not that it was a bad thing. All too often leaders spend like crazy during boom times leaving nothing for those periods of "bust".

Social Crediters called for stricter adherence to the old creed two years ago, Manning sternly read them out of the party. The government-run University of Alberta no longer studies Social Credit as a political theory. From a hot-eyed economic reform movement, the Social Credit Party has changed into one of Canada's most conservative provincial governments, with a strict pay-as-you-go tax policy and a debt-retirement program.

Alberta's oil policy, bossed by Mines Minister Nathan Tanner, a Mormon bishop in private life, is a model arrangement between government and industry. Since 93% of all oil rights in Alberta are owned by the province, there is little of the feverish scrambling for land or the cutthroat competition that marked the oil booms of Texas and other areas where mineral rights were privately owned.

And yet that's exactly what we're dealing with now. Almost all of our resources are now privately owned. And it began for Alberta, when Manning eventually sold out, embracing a "free market" policy, long before the rise of neoconservatism.

Continued: Corporatist Conformism


*The Author, L. Denis Byrne had a long association with Canada. Sent by C. H. Douglas to advise the Aberhart Social Credit Government in Alberta, Mr. Byrne was a major figure in the historical struggle that took place against the forces of International Finance and International Revolution. He later became the British Trade Commissioner in Edmonton, retiring in 1971. In 1970 the Queen honoured him with the Order of The British Empire. He wrote a piece of the Right-Wing Australian League of Rights, Race, Culture, Nation: The Policy of Satanism, so was still pretty bizarre.


1. Canada at War: THE DOMINION: Two Elections, Time Magazine, August 21, 1944

2. Canada: ALBERTA: Blue Skies, Time Magazine, December 30, 1946

3. The Good Steward: The Ernest C. Manning Story, By Brian Brennan, Fifth House Ltd., ISBN 978-1-897252-16-1

4. 30+5 I know, I was There, A first-hand account of the workings and history of the Social Credit Government in Alberta, Canada 1935-68, by Alfred J Hooke, Douglas Social Credit Secretariat

5. CANADA: Texas of the North, Time Magazine, September 24, 1951

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