The Western Socialist
Vol. 27 - No. 215
No. 4, 1960
It was during the years 1932-33 that the gathering numbers of money reformers began merging into a common group formed round a central "saviour." In Calgary, in 1918, a high-school teacher turned lay preacher had joined the "Prophetic Bible Conference" and ere long was conducting a regular radio program, when he became known as "Bible Bill." He had a raucous voice but was a considerable promoter and became an "organizer" who later declared: "I have organized all my life. There's nothing I'd rather do than organize. It's a hobby with me."
This declaration was made, however, after our teacher of algebra read a pamphlet by one Major Douglas, entitled the "A.B.C. of Social Credit." It settled matters for the "prophet." Succeeding events showed he must have felt like a Moses, or a Joseph Smith receiving the "Plates." A plus B equaled C, and so be it. And there was nothing to hinder everyone, thanks to A, B and C from receiving $25.00 each month without inflating prices or increasing taxes. "Study Groups" sprang up like mushrooms. Ere Aug. 1935 these were said to number 1600 and to extend from the 60th parallel south to the U. S. border. Meetings were opened with the theme-song: "Oh, God, our help in ages past." The hat was passed with old time religious fervour, while in their homes all true believers knelt down before their radio receiving-sets and prayed. The Prophet of Social Credit, standing six feet one inch and weighing one eight of a ton and taking every advantage of the state of frenzy into which he had whipped his following, appealed over the air for funds to further the sacred cause. Of course it was "non-political." Indeed it continued to be non-political after candidates were named in the Provincial Elections of 1935. And the great leader was crafty. Knowing there was a crime called bribery he did not say: "We will give you $25.00 for your votes" but "Vote for us and we will all have a dividend of $25.00 . . . in fact it might just as well be $75.00." But the prophet who had led them up to the starter's line refused nomination for himself and held tightly to his job as school principal. Also he had prepared an escape-gap; the dynamic rabble-rouser had declared all along the word-studded route that everything hinged on Divine guidance. At one of the final meetings before election day he prayed: "O Lord grant us a foretaste of Thy millenial reign. . . organization is not enough. Our help must come from above."
Yet the holy cause had considerable earthly help. A drouth and debt-ridden rural population and uncertain soup kitchens for urban "Children of the Dead End," combined with a widening breach in the United Farmers of Alberta forces between Social Credit supporters and another group of monetary reformers, the C.C.F., furnished grist for the millstones grinding out such catch-phrases as: "Cultural heritage," "Just price," "Unearned increment" etc. and all contributing to the confusion and emotion. Also the promised $25.00 per month looked so cheerful. Where was the money coming from? Why that was the easiest one yet — "Out of the end of a fountain pen." This latter was specifically mentioned, the ordinary pen one has to dip in an ink-bottle seemingly would not work. In campaign meetings in Edmonton, one of the six local candidates (a railroader) when questioned how all those twenty-five-dollar rabbits were to be drawn from the one hat, replied: "It is not necessary for you to know. Leave that to the experts. When you board a passenger train you don't worry about how you are going to reach your destination, you let the engineer, fireman, brakemen and conductor get you there." And, since most people in their hysteria had abandoned their intelligence, it was impossible to talk to them. Any persistent questioner at S.C. meetings met with: "Throw him out!" When it was pointed out that by provision of the British North America Act only the Federal Govt. had power to issue currency and charter banking institutions, the more rabid followers of "Our leader" declared that if the B.N.A. Act lay between them and "freedom" then it was time to discard this terrible act, to secede.
A few people tried to calm this multitude gone mad, tried to reason out of them something that had not been reasoned in; but it was a situation where only fire could be fought with fire, and the "old line" political groups possessed no real rabble-rousers. Even had they been so "blessed" it was too late to start in. The virus was too powerful. Colliers Magazine did lampoon, then photograph our Prophet with his pale, pursed lips (notably the under one) his bald cranium, swayed in the center, and his massive abdomen; but to little avail, for the faithful promptly bought all the copies of Colliers from the news-stands of Edmonton and Calgary, then destroyed them. This was undoubtedly the most thoroughly organized coup d'etat in Canadian history; and produced an atmosphere where what most people said was incontestably correct; where the majority, though insane, appeared to leave no other course for the minority than: keep quiet or enter an asylum.
Coincidental with this stampede of the "Thundering Herd" had been a campaign of scandal unleashed against certain U.F.A. cabinet ministers. Supporters of the Liberal Party were the strongly suspected authors, though this was never conclusively proven. In any event, S. C. really rode the crest of this scandal wave. How their saintly Prophet contrasted with those wicked men who were so extravagant in their affections toward the opposite sex! Had he fallen from the top of our highest office building at the very instant a truck-load of feather-beds passed beneath, he would not have been more lucky. Of course he had no legislative seat for himself, but this was soon accomplished by one of those elected resigning and "our leader" entering a by-election which had only one candidate — himself.
The chosen people were proclaimed in August 1935. Their treasury was almost empty, but never once did one of them express any intention of taking a cut in sessional indemnity. The despised "old line" Federal Govt., and "useless" banking institutions were appealed to. But the response was none too spontaneous. Those solicited preferred waiting to see the political conjurers "do their stuff." The Government of Canada appeared to continue in this attitude when an obvious substitute for money called "script" was issued, and refrained from prosecuting.
For almost one year the expectant "dividend" eligibles forbore mention of the $25.00 per month per person. When a clamour did start, the Prophet-now-become-Premier replied: "Give us a chance. We are laying the foundation. Eighteen months from now you will receive the dividend." The devout were reassured, many perhaps believing the pay would be retroactive. Sceptics smiled and declared the old, old pattern was being followed, that "Our Leader" was merely stalling for time in which to fortify himself and his followers in their position.
The "foundation" period passed. Again the dividend-hungry gave cry, the sceptics reappeared, this time with a huge fountain-pen built of stovepipes which was presented to our super-statesman. It was a three ring circus — nothing less.
Then another load of feather-beds saved our falling emancipator — World War II. The Prophet now snarled in effect: "Never mind the dividend, forget about it, there's a war to fight."
When this second "War to end wars" was over a saddened populace, mourning its dead, licking its wounds and counting its illegitimate children gave little thought to the long promised dividend. It had been buried in the holocaust. Also, a war-made "prosperity" had been found in new markets and sources of raw materials. The gentlemen in office, now calmly conservative and fat, reminded all trouble-makers they had "a good government." In the meantime the Prophet (for health reasons) departed for British Columbia leaving a youthful apostle who had learned to imitate his master's voice, to lead the faithful.
Lady Luck also watched over the new monarch. When his throne became tottery the feather-beds reappeared, this time in the shape of oil. Wells drilled in the Leduc area spouted black gold some of which rubbed off on everybody. Soon almost all, excepting the propertyless, aged and infirm had more money than they could sensibly make use of. Cars increased in numbers on all the highways. As these latter were improved the former were built to go faster. New government buildings were built or rented and jobs made available for relatives of those who had led the hand-clapping in the glorious election year of 1935. The theme-song could now well have been changed from "Oh God our help in ages past" to "Praise God from whom Oil blessings flow." Also there was an increasing liquor consumption, swelling the provincial coffers to the bursting point, the fiscal year 1958-59 alone showed a profit of $19,574,320. Politico-religious broadcasts by perhaps the most monotonous voice ever heard on the air, continued unabated. Increasing numbers of relatives and friends of government employees came forth to vote Social Credit, which was swept repeatedly back into office. Jails and mental institutions became filled to the rafters, and new ones were built. A few people just could not hold the "Enlightened Electorate" in check.
From the foregoing, a stranger might conclude Alberta's common people were the most impressionable on earth. But this could be incorrect; it was a matter of time, place, condition and opportunity for some skilled rabblerouser. In due course, the West can become East, indeed it has done so. Within a few years the crusade of what was called Social Credit may be remembered only as a change in the style of clothes is looked back upon, as the epidemic of "Spanish Flu" during the winter of 1918-19.