Social Credit

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Social Credit (often called Socred) was a populist political movement strongest in Alberta and British Columbia, 1930s-1970s. It spread to Saskatchewan and contested federal elections. It had a long history in Quebec, beginning in 1936, but later reorganized into the Union des Electeurs, and then into Le Ralliement des Creditistes. Social Credit was based on the economic theories of British engineer Major C. H. Douglas.

During the Great Depression the demand for radical political transformation made its appeal after the worst period was over and the economy was recovering. Mortgage debt was significant because farmers could not meet their interest payments. The insecurity of farmers, whose debts were increasing and who had no legal protection against foreclosure, was a potent factor in creating a mood of political desperation. Since 1920 Alberta had been controlled by a radical farmers party, The United Farmers of Alberta (UFA).[1] The UFA was baffled by the depression and a personal scandal caused the resignation of its leader.

The prairies had always believed that they were being exploited by Toronto and Montreal. What they lacked was a prophet who would lead them to the promised land. The Social Credit movement began in Alberta in 1932; it became a political movement in 1935 and suddenly burned like a prairie fire. The prophet and new premier was radio evangelist William Aberhart (1878-1943). The message was biblical prophecy. Aberhart was a fundamentalist, preaching the revealed word of God. Aberhart and his flock quoted the Bible to protest against the evils of the modern, materialistic world: the evils of sophisticated academics and their biblical criticism, the cold formality of middle-class congregations, the vices of dancing and movies and drink. "Bible Bill" preached that the capitalist economy was rotten because of its immorality; specifically it produced goods and services but did not provide people with sufficient purchasing power to enjoy them. This could be remedied by the distribution of money in the form of social credit, or $25 a month for every man and woman. This pump priming was guaranteed to restore prosperity, he prophesied to the 1600 Social Credit clubs he formed in the province. Alberta's businessmen, professionals, newspaper editors and the traditional middle-class leaders protested vehemently at Aberhart's crack-pot ideas, but they had not solved any problems and spoke not of the promised land ahead. Aberhart's new party in 1935 elected 56 members to the Assembly, compared to 7 for all the other parties.[2]

Once in office Aberhart gave a high priority to balancing the provincial budget. He reduced expenditures and increased the sales tax and the income tax. The poor and unemployed got nothing. The $25 monthly social dividend never arrived, as Aberhart decided nothing could be done until the province's financial system was changed, and 1936 Alberta defaulted on its bonds. He did pass a Debt Adjustment Act that canceled all the interest on mortgages since 1932 and limited all interest rates on mortgages to 5%, in line with similar laws passed by other provinces. In 1937 backbenchers passed a radical banking law that was disallowed by Ottawa (banking was a federal responsibility). Efforts to control the press were also disallowed. The party was authoritarian and tried to exert detailed control over its officeholders; those who rebelled were purged or removed from office by the new device of recall elections. Although Aberhart was hostile to banks and newspapers, he was basically in favor of capitalism and did not support socialist policies as did the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) in Saskatchewan.[3] By 1938 the Social Credit government abandoned its notions about the the $25 payouts. The Social Credit Party's inability to break with UFA policies led to disillusionment and heavy defections from the party, but Aberhart was reelected in 1940 but died in 1943; his party governed Alberta until 1968 under Ernest Manning (1908-1996).[4]

The 1952 provincial election in British Columbia stunned the pundits when Social Credit defeated the established parties to form a minority government. Commentators thought that the freakish rise of Social Credit was merely a protest against political misrule, but W. A. C. Bennett remained premier until 1972, and the party also governed 1975 to 1991. Hak (2004) argues Social Credit victories in the Fraser Valley and the interior, where the party was most successful, represented a populist revolt in a time of rapid economic change. The B.C. party rested upon a group of political activists who lean to a definite centre-right position on the political spectrum.[5]

In Alberta Social Credit sympathizers were redirected into the conservative, fundamentalist Reform Party by Preston Manning, son of Ernest Manning.[6]

The anti-semitic rhetoric of some Social Credit activists greatly troubled Canada's Jewish community; in the late 1940s Premier Ernest Manning belatedly purged the anti-semites.[7]


  • Robert L. Ascah; Politics and Public Debt: The Dominion, the Banks, and Alberta's Social Credit University of Alberta Press, 1999 online version
  • Barr, John J. The Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of Social Credit in Alberta (1971);
  • Bell, Edward. Social Classes and Social Credit. (1993)
  • Calderola, Carlo. "The Social Credit in Alberta, 1935-1971." In Society and Politics in Alberta, edited by C. Calderola. (1979) 33-48
  • Clark, S. D. "The Religious Sect in Canadian Politics." The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 51, No. 3 (Nov., 1945), pp. 207-216 online in JSTOR
  • Cook, Ramsay, ed. Politics of Discontent (1967), with article on Aberhart
  • Elliott, David R. and Iris Miller. Bible Bill: A Biography of William Aberhart (1987); sees Aberhart as a charismatic, left-wing fascist
  • Finkel, Alvin. "Social Credit and the Unemployed." Alberta History 1983 31(2): 24-32. Issn: 0316-1552
  • Finkel, Alvin. The Social Credit Phenomenon in Alberta (1989).
  • Flanagan, Thomas. "Social Credit in Alberta: A Canadian 'Cargo Cult'?" Archives de Sociologie des Religions 34 (1972): 39-48.
  • Flanagan, Thomas, and Martha F. Lee, "From Social Credit to Social Conservatism: The Evolution of an Ideology," Prairie Forum 16 (1991): 205-223.
  • Hesketh, Bob. Major Douglas and Alberta Social Credit. (1997)
  • Irving, John A. The Social Credit Movement in Alberta (1959)
  • Macpherson, C. B. Democracy in Alberta: Social Credit and the Party System. 2d ed. 1962.
  • Mallory. J. R. Social Credit and the Federal Power in Canada. (1954).
  • Mitchell, David J. W.A.C. Bennett and the Rise of British Columbia (1983),
  • Neatby, H. Blair; The Politics of Chaos: Canada in the Thirties Macmillan of Canada, (1972) online version
  • Schwartz, Mildred A. "Continuing Strategies among Political Challengers: the Case of Social Credit." American Review of Canadian Studies 2000 30(4): 455-477. Issn: 0272-2011 Fulltext: in Expanded Academic ASAP
  • Stein, Michael B. The dynamics of right-wing protest: A political analysis of Social Credit in Quebec (1973)
  • Thomas, Lewis Herbert, ed. William Aberhart and Social Credit in Alberta (1977).

Primary sources

  • David R. Elliott, ed., Aberhart: Outpourings and Replies (Historical Society of Alberta, 1991), 1-41.
  • Ernest C. Manning. Political Realignment: A Challenge to Thoughtful Canadians (1967)

External Links


  1. Carl F. Betke, "The United Farmers of Alberta, 1921-1935." in Society and Politics in Alberta, edited by Carlo Caldarola. 1979. 14-32.
  2. The economic theorist for Aberhart was Major Douglas, an English engineer with an unbounded confidence in technology. Neatby (1972) 143-61; Irving, (1959);
  3. In Alberta the CCF and Social Credit were bitter enemies, which made it impossible for them to merge in Saskatchewan. See S. M. Lipset, Agrarian Socialism: The Cooperative Commonwealth Federation in Saskatchewan a Study in Political Sociology. (1971) p. 143-4.
  4. Neatby (1972) 143-61; Finkel, (1983)
  5. Gordon Hak, "Populism and the 1952 Social Credit Breakthrough in British Columbia." Canadian Historical Review (2004) 85(2): 277-296. Issn: 0008-3755 Fulltext: in Project Muse; Donald E. Blake, R. K. Carty, Lynda K. Erickson, Grassroots Politicians: Party Activists in British Columbia. (1991) p. 55
  6. Murray Dobbin, Preston Manning and the Reform Party (1991)
  7. Major C.H. Douglas, was blatantly anti-Semitic and enamored with the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. Aberhart and Manning vigorously denied they were anti-semitic. See Janine Stingel, Social Discredit: Anti-Semitism, Social Credit, and the Jewish Response. McGill-Queen's U. Press, 2000.