Conservatism in Alberta
- Social Credit (brief): history of, policies, downfall
- Founded in 1935 the party was originally a social movement born out of the Great Depression.
- The party’s goal was to implement social credit monetary policy. This policy aimed to equalize wealth by providing prosperity certificates that some dubbed “funny money”.
- The party was largely a rural based populist party with strong social conservative values.
- The party was formed months before it won the 1935 election in a landslide. The party won 54% of the vote and 56 of 63 seats.
- The party was lead by “Bible Bill” Aberhart until 1943 when he died.
- The party is also known for establishing the only provincially owned bank in Canada, the Alberta Treasury Branch, now known as ATB Financial. It is still owned by the province today.
- Ernest Manning took over and lead the party until 1968 and oversaw the transformation of the party to a fiscal conservative party when Alberta discovered oil in 1948.
- The party won its last election in 1967 before Manning retired.
- Rise of the Progressive Conservatives (brief): Peter Lougheed, Don Getty
- Peter Lougheed contested the 1967 election against Ernest Manning and won 6 seats.
- In 1971 Lougheed won with the simple slogan of “NOW!” representing the desire for more representation for the growing urban centres of Edmonton and Calgary.
- The rest would be history starting with the win in 1971 gaining 49 of 75 seats setting off the second longest political dynasty in Canada.
- Peter Lougheed oversaw the further development of Alberta’s oil sector and fought against Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Program.
- He also set up the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund which was designed to save for the future of Albertans. Money is still put into the trust today. As of December 2018 the value of the assets in the fund were worth $17.6b.
- Lougheed served until 1985 when Don Getty won the Progressive Conservative leadership.
- Getty’s premiership saw the budget deficit increase, he targeted struggling sectors with government spending.
- Getty was also responsible for pushing senate reform at the Meech Lake Accord. When it became clear that there would be no senate reform he introduced the Senatorial Selection Act which Alberta used until it expired in 2017 under the NDP government. The current UCP government aims to bring this back for the 2024 election.
- Getty also fought against Brian Mulroney on implementing the GST but was unsuccessful.
- Getty served until 1992 and the duo of Lougheed and Getty defined Alberta Progressive Conservatism.
- Ralph Klein was a dramatic shift for the party in that he promised a fiscal platform very similar to which the UCP ran on this spring.
- He promised to get spending under control, eliminate the deficit, and would go on to eliminate Alberta’s debt. Making it the only region in North America without debt.
- He achieved spending reductions through cutbacks and reduced size of government.
- He is also known for the Alberta Prosperity bonus, a $1.4b handout in 2005 giving $400 to every single Albertan, even those under 18 and the homeless.
- Ralph Klein also cut taxes, both corporate and personal. He is most known for bringing in Alberta’s 10% flat income tax.
- Ralph Klein was re-elected with massive majorities, his largest being with 62% of the popular vote. For most of his premiership, there was no meaningful opposition.
- Ed Stelmach was seen as a return to the progressive Lougheed and Getty tradition when Klein retired in 2006.
- Stelmach increased government spending and instituted a royalty review in 2008 months before the global financial crisis and recession. This shocked and dampened investment in Alberta.
- In 2009 Stelmach’s PCs lost a by-election in Calgary-Glenmore to the leader of the Wildrose Alliance. Calgary-Glenmore prior to this was regarded as one of the safest PC seats in Alberta.
- As a result of his wavering on the oil sector through the royalty review and seeming abandonment of Klein era tax cutting, red tape reduction, and general shrinking of government he resigned in 2011.
- Alison Redford’s election was a surprise to many with the runoff balloting that the PC’s used.
- Alison Redford won the PC leadership by courting teachers and unions by promising to restore education funding that the government had cut.
- Alison Redford was the most biggest red tory candidate that the Progressive Conservatives had seen. Barring the carbon tax and general ineptitude of the NDP, the premiership of Alison Redford and Rachel Notley were remarkably similar.
- Under Redford government spending continued to increase and the government pushing 40 years in office at the time became arrogant and entitled.
- Redford resigned in 2014 amid a collection of scandals including renovating a government office building’s top floor to create the so-called sky palace. Numerous costly foreign international trips that prior to Justin Trudeau arriving were outright astounding ($40,000 flight to Nelson Mandela’s funeral). And using the government fleet of aircraft for non-government business.
- Rise of the Wildrose and PC downfall
- It was this combination of Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford that lead to the downfall of the PCs.
- It was a shock as we mentioned when Paul Hinman won the Calgary-Glenmore by-election in 2009. After this radio presenter Danielle Smith won the leadership of the party later that year.
- Three PC MLAs also crossed the floor to join the Wildrose making a caucus of 4: Paul Hinman, Rob Anderson, Heather Forsyth, and Guy Boutilier.
- It was widely thought that the Wildrose would win the 2012 election but the polls failed to capture a late switch back to the PCs.
- Wildrose formed opposition in 2012 with 18 seats. Wildrose would be the most effective opposition in Alberta’s history taking down a premier but ultimately destroying itself with the massive floor crossing in December 2014 after the election of Jim Prentice as PC leader.
- The United Conservative Party
- With the conservatives upset by Ed Stelmach and the public trust eroded by Alison Redford the PCs didn’t have much left for the 2015 election.
- The Wildrose was thought to be dead and unable to form government.
- This result in a protest vote to the NDP and a wild vote split that lead to Alberta’s NDP government.
- The remnants of the PCs and Wildrose knew that 2015 must not be repeated and formed the United Conservative Party.
- And here we are today.
Conservatism in BC
- Conservatism in BC is really an amalgamation of many different beliefs. As it stands, BC doesn't have a truly effective "conservative" party, as other provinces might term it, and with the election of the CAQ in Quebec, stands alone among the provinces without some form of conservative party.
- In BC, since the recognition of political parties in 1903, for almost 30 years elections were determined between the Liberal and Conservatives, as they were in most other provinces. However, in 1933, the BC wing of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, the socialist party that was the precursor to the NDP started mobilising, and gaining support in BC elections. The CCF gained more and more vote percentage and the Liberals and Conservatives formed a coalition government after the elections of 1945 and 1949 to keep the CCF out of power.
- And that's the real basis of conservatism in BC, in that before 1952 the elections were decided between the Liberals and Conservatives, with the intent of blocking the CCF from power. This early polarization would lead to a dramatic shift of events in 1952.
- Rise of the BC Social Credit Party
- The election of 1952 was the first general election to use a preferential ballot, a short-lived phenomenon in BC. The presence of multi-member districts such as Victoria City with 3 MLAs in conjunction with the Alternative voting system called for an innovation where the district's slate of candidates was split into three "ballots," each with one candidate from each party.
- This system had been designed to enable the governing Liberal / Progressive Conservative coalition (the Conservatives had recently changed their name to match that of their federal cousins) to keep the socialist Co-operative Commonwealth Federation out of power. As an added measure to lock out the CCF, the coalition devised an elimination ballot system. While they ran candidates under their own names, the Liberals and Tories believed that if Liberal voters picked a Tory on their second preference and vice versa, the two parties would gain enough votes between them to stay in power.
- However, the coalition did not consider what CCF voters would do with their second preferences. Those votes flowed overwhelmingly to the British Columbia Social Credit League (BCSCL). Combined with second preference votes from the Liberals and Conservatives, this was enough to vault Social Credit to 19 seats, one more than the CCF. Meanwhile, the coalition was decimated, winning only 10 seats between them. Both Premier Byron "Boss" Johnson and Tory leader Herbert Anscomb lost their seats.
- Not even the Socreds had expected to win the election. The party had no official leader, though Alberta Social Credit Member of Parliament Rev. Ernest George Hansell led the party during the election campaign without contesting a seat. The Socreds persuaded Tom Uphill, a Labour member of the Legislature (MLA), to support the party, and so the Socreds were able to form a minority government.
- The party's next task was to elect a leader who would become the province's new premier. In a vote of the newly elected caucus, W.A.C. Bennett, a former Conservative MLA who joined the Socreds after losing a bid for the Tory leadership, won a caucus vote and became premier-elect on July 15, 1952. This began what would be 21 years–and 36 of the next 39 years–of Social Credit government in British Columbia.
- In hopes of getting a stronger mandate, Bennett deliberately lost a confidence vote, forcing fresh elections in June 1953 at which Social Credit won a majority in its own right.
- WAC Bennett, who close friends and enemies alike referred to as "Wacky Bennett", was an interesting character, and probably BC's best premier, as well as longest serving.
- While the Social Credit party was founded to promote the social credit theories of monetary reform, these could not be implemented at the provincial level, as the Alberta Social Credit Party had learned in the 1930s. Bennett quickly converted the BC Social Credit party into a populist conservative party, and it became a vehicle for those who sought to keep the CCF out of power.
- The cabinets of the Bennett governments over 20 years had several memorable ministers, including the flamboyant "Flying Phil" Gaglardi, who oversaw the rapid expansion of highways throughout the province and a similar expansion of BC Ferries. His term was marked by rapid expansion of the province's paved road system, as well as the completion of most of the major road bridges in British Columbia. Bennett described the building program as "the greatest highway building program...per capita in the entire Western world."
- WAC Bennett was a staunch fiscal conservative, and he served also as the Minister of Finance, keeping tight control over government spending, while leading his province into an era of modernization and prosperity. His practice of "pay as you go" carefully tracked spending, transferred debts to other government agencies, which allowed Bennett in 1959 to claim that the province was debt free.
- The early years of the Social Credit government spurred on vast amounts of capital investment, large amounts of infrastructure building, and carefully managing the provinces finances to turn our beautiful province into an economic powerhouse. During Bennett's years as premier, the population of BC more than doubled.
- It all came crashing to an end in 1972. Young NDP leader Dave Barrett benefited from his youth, allowing the media to contrast him with the aged Bennett, and ran a campaign focused on "people issues" such as urban transit, public auto insurance, and increased royalties from the province's timber and minerals industries. Late in the campaign, Bennett declared at a Social Credit rally, "The socialist hordes are at the gates of British Columbia!"
- Although Bennett's campaign had been lacklustre, no commentators anticipated the party's loss. The resulting NDP majority came as a surprise. A terrible Social Credit campaign, as well as 20 years in power led to voters looking for change, and the NDP under Barrett was elected to a majority. WAC Bennett resigned as leader, and the party looked for change from within. Bill Bennett, Wacky's son, won election in 1975, barring the NDP from power again for another 16 years.
- Until 1991, elections in BC were polarized between the Socreds and the NDP, with both getting around the mid to high 40s in vote %, with the Socreds just staying ahead. The contrasting social democratic and fiscal conservative programs of both parties led to some bitter campaigns. Bill Vander Zalm who took over leadership of the party from the retiring Bill Bennett in 1986 was involved in a conflict of interest scandal that tarnished both his and his parties reputations. Moderate Socred voters fled to the renewed BC Liberal Party under Gordon Wilson, and the grand coalition was broken, leading to 10 years of NDP rule in BC.
- The BC Liberal Party, which from 1987 on was independent of the federal Liberals, realized with the demise of Social Credit that the only way to defeat the NDP was to coalesce a big tent party, attracting both moderate liberals as well as conservative voters.
- The NDP of the 90s largely held a social democratic policy. Premier Mike Harcourt's first years included increases in welfare spending and rates. Although low in the polls for much of his term in office, Harcourt and his newly appointed Attorney-General Ujjal Dosanjh succeeded in regaining substantial public support by taking a hard line against a fringe aboriginal group's occupation of a farmer's field in the Cariboo region of the province. The Gustafsen Lake siege, led by Dosanjh became the largest-scale police operation in British Columbia history, in which armoured vehicles provided by the Canadian military were used by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)for protection. The military strongly rejected attempts by the RCMP to have them take over control of the situation, and ultimately it remained a police operation. Anti-vehicle mines were deployed and thousands of rounds of ammunition were shot at protesters.
- However, less than 72 hours before a planned election call, with the BC NDP riding high in the polls for its hard line against welfare recipients and aboriginal and environmental radicals, the party's provincial office was raided by RCMP officers as part of an ongoing investigation of illegal use of charity bingo money, coined "Bingogate" by the media, by former provincial cabinet minister and member of parliament Dave Stupich. Although Harcourt was not implicated in either the raid or the probe and was later fully exonerated, he resigned nevertheless and the party was led into the 1996 provincial general election by Glen Clark.
- During these years, the BC NDP began to bleed support and activists to the BC Greens who reached 5% in the polls in the fall of 1997 and 11% by the fall of 1998; however, by far the majority of the BC NDP's former voters deserted the party for the BC Liberals. New scandals also surfaced, this time appearing to implicate Clark in using his influence to win a casino licence for a neighbour, Dimitrios Pilarinos, who had helped him with some home renovations. Another blunder was the botched construction of the PacifiCat BC Ferries, which would later become part of the fast ferry scandal; the project, designed to speed transportation between Vancouver and Nanaimo, was plagued by cost overruns and poor technical decisions. By mid-1999, an obvious rift had appeared in the administration as Attorney General Dosanjh and Finance Minister Joy MacPhail challenged Clark's legitimacy. The party and province endured a few chaotic months of government with frequent cabinet shuffles, following a police raid on Clark's home before the premier stepped aside.
- In the ensuing 2001 election, the BC Liberals obliterated the NDP, winning an astounding 77 of 79 seats and reducing the NDP to just two seats. It was also the second-worst defeat of a sitting provincial government in Canada, eclipsed only by the New Brunswick election of 1987.
- Gordon Campbell may have been a BC Liberal, but at heart, he was a conservative. Campbell introduced a 25% cut in all provincial income taxes on the first day he was installed to office. To improve BC's investment climate, the BC Liberals also reduced the corporate income tax and abolished the corporate capital tax for most businesses (a tax on investment and employment that had been introduced by the NDP). Campbell's first term was also noted for fiscal austerity, including reductions in welfare rolls and some social services, deregulation, and the sale of underperforming government assets like BC rail and the fast ferries.
- Campbell's policies and investment led to a period of economic growth for BC, with investment in the province skyrocketing. The Liberals were re-elected in the 2005 election with a reduced majority of 46–33. The Liberals were again re-elected in the 2009 election with similar numbers.
- Shortly after this election the introduction of the HST, or harmonized sales tax was announced, contrary to promises made during the election campaign. On November 3, 2010, facing an imminent caucus revolt over his management style and the political backlash against the HST and with his approval rating as low as 9% in polls, Gordon Campbell announced his resignation.
- The approval of the petition to recall the HST in British Columbia paved the way for a referendum that allowed British Columbians to decide the fate of the tax system. Elections BC conducted the referendum via mail-in ballot, allowing registered voters to send in their decision in regards to the HST. The British Columbia sales tax referendum, 2011 was conducted throughout June and July 2011. In an attempt to appease public anger, the government pledged the referendum would be binding and that they would abide by the will of the people. The referendum passed, with over 54% voting to abolish the HST. Campbell's gambit had failed.
- Campbell's resignation and his more centrist successor Christy Clark's leadership election in 2011, effectively ended conservatism's representation in BC. The BC Liberals drifted more to the center, and after Clark's election "loss" in 2017 which we've talked about before, we have yet to see the BC Liberals drift back from the center. We will have to see how new Opposition Leader Andrew Wilkinson drives the party, and how the next election will go.
Western Canadian Based Conservatism in the Federal Government
- Preston Manning and the Reform Party: history of, policies, and surrounding movement
- The Reform Party was formed in the late 1980s with discontent of the Mulroney government rising and Western Alienation from the era of Trudeau still in people’s minds.
- The party elected its first MP in 1989 in her Edmonton seat.
- The party would elect 52 MPs in 1993 next to the 54 seat Bloc Quebecois opposition.
- The Progressive Conservatives won 2 seats in 1993.
- This was all possible under the leadership of Preston Manning, son of former Alberta Social Credit Premier Ernest Manning.
- The Reform Party was one of western populism.
- The party had a simple platform of fiscal conservatism, grassroots democracy, and senate reform. But most importantly, that the west wanted in on the decision making process.
- The party also had a social conservative leaning in that it opposed gay marriage and that it also suggested a potential return to capital punishment.
- The Reform like the Canadian Alliance and its Alberta equivalent of the Wildrose was effective. So effective that throughout the 1990s there was a reliable vote split between the Reform and Progressive Conservatives resulting in subsequent Liberal majorities.
- The Reform Party formed official opposition in 1997 winning 60 seats and 19% of the vote. That same year the Progressive Conservatives under Jean Charest took 18% of the vote and 20 seats. 37% of the vote combined on the conservative side with 41% for Chretien’s Liberals in 1997 was reason enough to start thinking about unity.
- Stephen Harper and the Canadian Alliance (+CRAP): an attempt to branch out
- The Canadian Alliance was formed in March 2000. The original name was going to be the Conservative Reform Alliance Party (CRAP). This was an attempt to rebrand the party and gain a following in the east.
- Stockwell Day and Preston Manning ran for leadership of the new party, Manning was defeated.
- It worked, the party gained 25% of the vote in 2000 election garnering them 66 seats. At the same time the PCs won 12% of the popular vote and gained 12 seats. Unity was needed.
- By early 2001, caucus troubles including resignations and a question about the future lead to the resignation of Stockwell Day and a new leadership election.
- In this leadership election Stockwell Day ran against Stephen Harper. Stephen Harper won with 55% of the vote.
- With Peter MacKay leading the Progressive Conservatives and Stephen Harper leading the Canadian Alliance, it was announced in October 2003 that the Conservative Party of Canada would be created. The idea to merge was ratified on December 5, 2003 and on March 20, 2004 Stephen Harper became leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.
- A western based Conservative Party of Canada government
- The party formed a strong official opposition in the 2004 election winning 99 of 308 seats gaining 37% of the vote knocking the Paul Martin Liberals down to a minority.
- That minority lasted until late 2005 when it collapsed resulting in Canada’s first conservative government since the early 1990s.
- On January 23, 2006 Harper won 124 of 308 seats and would kick off almost 10 years of Conservative government in Canada with 2 minority mandates and one majority mandate.
- He would oversee continuation of the war in Afghanistan and guiding Canada through the worst recession since the Great Depression.
- Policies focused on careful stewardship of the economy, tax credits for families, and in general and hands off approach on dealing with the provinces. Canada also stood up for its values abroad rather than being the neutral third party that we had been for decades.
- The Conservatives are being lead by Andrew Scheer from Saskatchewan and from what we have seen in the past 4 years, Canadians are going to have two clear choices come this fall.
How to Find Us
Episode Title: A History of Western Canadian Conservatism
Teaser: A very special episode where we look at the history of conservatism in Western Canada, specifically the rise of social credit policy in BC, Alberta, and a western based Conservative Party of Canada.
Recorded Date: May 18, 2019
Release Date: June 2, 2019
Edit Notes: None
Podcast Summary Notes
- Conservatism in Alberta
- Conservatism in BC
- Western Canadian Based Conservatism in the Federal Government