Feature

Albertans reject nasty, divisive politics but the NDP still haven’t clued in

Albertans woke up to an electoral hangover on May 6, 2015. It was spring, but the air and skies were tinged with cool and grey. The entrepreneurial heartland of downtown Calgary was stone-faced with a noticeable mute in the air as everyone mumbled denials that they themselves had voted for the far-left New Democratic Party, with its socialist and communist roots. Yet somehow the province had just elected its first new majority government in forty-four years under now-Premier Rachel Notley.

The Progressive Conservatives, who had guided Alberta’s government uninterrupted since 1971, threw away their final chance at salvation when Jim Prentice became leader. They begged him to restore their fortunes then refused to change their ways and ensure Prentice had a real chance to make things right. Albertans had realized during the 2012 provincial election that the Wildrose Party were too negative and not their cup of tea, later reinforced by Danielle Smith’s shameless, egotistical, and somehow unironic (considering the foundations of her Wildrose caucus) floor-crossing in 2014. This decision, along with the unfortunate gender optics of Prentice’s rebuttal to Notley in a televised debate that “math is hard” (particularly the NDP-implemented Discovery Math method) turned Albertans off. Stop with the bickering and get on with the job, was the sentiment.

The NDP were the only other party with a full slate of 87 candidates for the 2015 provincial election. So, every Albertan who wanted to make a point chose the ballot box as their vehicle of silent resistance and thought they would be the only ones to mark a protest vote with the NDP. Good morning, Wednesday.

Four years later and Alberta is now days away from choosing their next Premier and government. An NDP television commercial shows a middle-aged man sitting in his kitchen talking about how he had always been a PC voter, but geez – there’s something he just can’t put his finger on, about something non-descript about that Jason Kenney, and so, what the hell, he’ll vote for Rachel Notley because at least with her he knows what he’s getting. Except he doesn’t.

Few things rile Albertans’ anger like mention of a sales tax, unjustified in the country’s economic engine, yet the first thing Premier Notley did was introduce a carbon tax that, in practice, is a sales tax, despite not once mentioning it during the election campaign. Make no mistake, Notley knew early on in the 2015 campaign – as Prentice did – that she would become the next Premier and would be calling the policy shots.

We do know that Notley can neither tout the benefits of her four years in government nor the same for another four, amid the deep entrenchment of an economic crisis and the human suffering that goes along with it. Instead, Notley put out a commercial alluding to some vague bad-ness about Kenney, outright defamed him in the televised debate – and doubled down on her comments when Kenney challenged her – and kicked off the election with a horrible smear campaign deliberately intended to damage the reputation of one of the United Conservative’s star candidates, as well as her replacement.

‘White supremacist’; ‘misogynist’; ‘sexist’; ‘racist’: it is increasingly evident, as moderate liberal politics disappears and is replaced by inflammatory far-left proponents, that when politicians do not have facts on their side they engage in divisive, actually hate-filled campaign tactics and rhetoric (anything they disagree with from conservatives is always “hateful”). As always, the mainstream news media is willingly complicit in this race to the bottom by throwing qualified individuals under the bus on a scrap of something rather than the truth of everything, desperate for attention as people stop believing them, too. If Albertans actively showed their displeasure at these sick games before, their reaction will only be stronger now in context of rising unemployment, suicide, foreclosures, and taxation through the roof from all levels of government.

This election, strategic voting must be forward-thinking, not premised on disillusionment over the past. Deny the fearmongering NDP your vote and their accompanying satisfaction of believing corrosive, name-calling politics works. If you don’t want to support the UCP, then look to the Alberta Party – they also have a full slate of candidates who would likely make complementary allies of a UCP government or coalition, rather than adversaries who accomplish little of value.

For the Albertans lucky enough not to feel the pit of their stomach every minute of every day, consider your neighbours when you vote on Tuesday.

Section 3 | Lougheed’s Progressive Conservative Dynasty and Challenging the 'Eastern Bastards'

Series: Political Myth and Consequence in Alberta

  

Myth is powerful. Leading up to Alberta’s 2019 provincial election, the story Albertans have told about themselves and been told by others since becoming a province is firmly connected to events transpiring today.

The following interpretation of Alberta’s dominant political and cultural history highlights and traces the contextual, defining features and nuances in the evolution of Alberta’s identity through reconstruction, as Albertans seek to rise from the ashes once more at the ballot box this spring.

This series will be featured in the following sections:

1.       Foundations of Alberta’s Conservatism: Confederation to 1935

2.       The Social Credit Generation: 1935 to 1965

3.       Progressive Conservatism: Lougheed and the Oil Boom

4.       Return of Ideology: The Wildrose Alliance Party

5.       The Re-Merge: Jim Prentice to the United Conservative Party


Lougheed’s Progressive Conservative Dynasty and Challenging the 'Eastern Bastards'

In 1965, Alberta’s revamped Progressive Conservative Party elected a new leader in Peter Lougheed. The 1967 election produced the election of Lougheed and five other Conservatives, proposing many alternative policies and approaches to Social Credit, including consistently questioning the myth of Social Credit providing good government. The provincial election of 1971 would bring in a new era of Alberta politics with a majority Progressive Conservative government with 49 seats under Lougheed to Social Credit’s 25. Lougheed’s first piece of legislation introduced was an Alberta Bill of Rights. The PCs won 69 seats and 62.5 percent of the popular vote in the 1975 election and won 74 out of 79 seats in the 1979 election, kicking off a four-decade-long dominance in Alberta politics and back-to-back majority governments.

A moderate by international standards, Lougheed enraged petroleum producers by retroactively changing the royalty maximums written into long-term petroleum leases, causing a sense of betrayal in the oil patch. The Seven Sisters had been generous to Alberta, which had been one of the poorest provinces in the country before the oil boom, but the electorate supported Lougheed’s move.

A month before the Yom Kippur war broke out in November 1973, Ottawa had announced that it would finally extend the Alberta-Ontario pipeline into Quebec, which in 1961 had refused western oil because foreign imports were slightly cheaper and the security of supply seemed irrelevant due to the international oil glut. Now, amid rising prices and market uncertainty, Ottawa asked Alberta producers to voluntarily freeze their domestic price until the end of January. Insult was added to injury two weeks later when the federal Energy Minister Donald Macdonald imposed a 40-cents-per-barrel export tax on crude oil.

The rush of petroleum discoveries in the western provinces through the late 1940s and 1950s were developed in the teeth of persistently low prices. Even so, Quebec refused to buy Canadian oil because offshore supplies were slightly cheaper. The federal government’s provocation aimed to raise money so Ottawa could continue to subsidize increasingly expensive foreign crude to Quebec and the other eastern provinces. Also suspected was to deter exports so domestic supply would be kept artificially high and prices artificially low.

The federal taxation on provincially owned resources was an unprecedented attack and exacerbated inter-provincial tension created by Ottawa, being antagonistic toward the western provinces since Confederation. With an upcoming election, and the Liberal government in a minority position, the goal of the deliberate confrontation with Alberta was to earn votes and popularity in their eastern stronghold. With the Arab embargo in place, Macdonald then raised the export tax fivefold to $1.90 per barrel, costing western producers $1 billion annually.  

The angry Ottawa-Alberta confrontation spawned the widely posted bumper sticker with the slogan, “Let Those Eastern Bastards Freeze in the Dark”.

In the seven years between 1973 and 1980, Alberta’s Oil Boom brought incredible wealth to the once-destitute province, the oil patch headquarters in Calgary, their employees, and the economy beyond the petroleum industry itself. The cradle of the Oil Boom was the repository of petroleum that geologists called the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin, which stretched from the 49th parallel northward on a swath from central Manitoba to northeast British Columbia, to the Beaufort Sea and the Arctic Islands.

The men who managed it were the first generation of postwar, post-Leduc boom professional leadership. Having successfully explored the Basin in the 1950s and 1960s, they knew the sweat and grit of the fieldwork first-hand. They had drilled wells and laid pipelines before graduating to the executive suites in which they recreated the Alberta economy, building a foundation of prosperity of future generations. Before OPEC started ratcheting up oil prices, Alberta was poised for a decade of exceptional growth, with a new energy and confidence in the Canadian oil industry and among the 250 independent explorers and producers. The boom was executed by this group of entrepreneurs who blended roughneck aggressiveness with the practical creativity of western farmers. The oil boom was directly and indirectly responsible for the creation of tens of thousands of jobs in Alberta during the 1970s. At the drilling rigs, it was filthy, back-breaking, dangerous work and the rig was run like a military bootcamp. Young men came of age making lots of money while the work tested their strength and character.

Lougheed inherited his opinion that the first step to a diversified Alberta economy was the production of oil and gas processed at home from his grandfather, Senator Sir James Lougheed, who had invested profitably in Alberta’s first commercial oil discovery at Turner Valley in 1914. Lougheed had a circle of Canadian oilmen with whom he conferred, but even as producers applauded his toughness with the federal government, they took issue with his interventionist mindset and eagerness to tinker with the royalty regime. That said, criticism from outsiders was not welcomed: “He may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch,” one influential executive told the national newspaper Globe and Mail.

At the closing of the fall session of the Legislature in 1978, Lougheed said he was now convinced that Ottawa, backed by a few other provinces, might try to take over Alberta’s energy resources in the name of national interest. Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau called the long-awaited federal election on May 22, 1979 and campaigned primarily on his plans to patriate the constitution and his government’s economic record – a shaky platform. The public didn’t share Trudeau’s grand constitutional vision and the country suffered from a sluggish economy, double-digit unemployment, rising government debt, and a slumping dollar. On election day, the Conservatives formed a minority government. However, by 1980 the Liberals were back in government with a majority and zeroed in on Alberta to turn around Ottawa’s deteriorating finances.

On October 21, 1980 federal Finance Minister Allen MacEachen and Energy Minister Marc Lalonde of the Liberal government unveiled the government’s National Energy Program (NEP). The Prime Minister hoped to treat Ottawa’s increasing deficit problems with an extra injection of oil money from Alberta, which was already contributing a healthy amount to federal coffers, and he was determined to make his mark on history by patriating the constitution. To achieve these aims, he needed concessions from Lougheed on energy revenue and provincial rights – concessions the Premier was unwilling to make. His government reflected Albertans’ firm belief that they deserved their hard-earned profits as well as a larger voice in national affairs. Therefore, Alberta found itself in direct conflict with Trudeau’s vision of Canada as a nation of two founding peoples held together by an all-powerful central government. Lalonde said it was time for Ottawa to “seize control” of Canada’s energy resources in the name of “fairness to all Canadians.

The Alberta government’s response to the NEP was immediate and decisive; 48 hours after it was unveiled, Lougheed went on province-wide television to inform Albertans that “the Ottawa government has, without negotiation, without agreement, simply walked into our home and occupied the living room.” The federal budget and energy measures were more than just another round of simmering energy conflict between Ottawa and Alberta, explained Lougheed, “they are an outright attempt to take over the resources of this province, owned by each of you as Albertans.” He warned that the federal program directly threatened the constitutional rights of ordinary Albertans.

The Premier fought back hard with high-risk decisions. He announced that over the next nine months, beginning March 1, the province would reduce its oil output by 15 percent. Shipments of oil to the rest of Canada would be cut by 180,000 barrels per day, and $16 billion earmarked for the oil sands and heavy oil development would be re-evaluated and possibly shelved. Alberta would launch a legal challenge to the new export tax on natural gas. After eighteen months and the third round of output cutbacks, Lougheed and Trudeau signed a five-year energy pricing agreement on September 1, 1981, which was not well-received by industry.

By this time, there was a high surplus of crude oil in the international markets caused by falling demand following the 1970s energy crisis and 1980 marked a six-year decline in the price of oil, which reduced the price by half in 1986 alone. Additionally, a severe global economic recession across the developed world that began in the late 1970s left high unemployment until at least 1985 and Canada experienced high inflation at an average of 12 percent, and high interest rates, with the Bank of Canada’s rate hitting 21 percent in August 1981. The Alberta government had wanted to avoid a protracted war with Ottawa and the severity of the province’s response to the NEP was calculated to force the federal government to the table, and it worked. In less than twelve months there was a new deal and Alberta shelved the threatened production cuts.

Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s the notion that Albertans were obliged to share their “windfall” resource wealth was the keystone of federal Liberal policy towards the province. Implicit in this argument was the suggestion that Albertans were not sharing their good fortune with the rest of the country, and were, therefore, greedy and un-Canadian. In reality, the federal government confiscated $139 billion in net transfers between 1961 and 1992 from Alberta to the country’s ‘have-not provinces’, specifically Quebec, Ontario, and the Atlantic provinces. By 1985, the NEP and its related tax policies had resulted in this net transfer of wealth from the producing provinces, where 90 percent of this had been taken from Alberta. Th assessment and figures, determined by economist Robert Mansell from the University of Calgary, indicated that Alberta had been subjected to the largest per capita transfer of wealth ever recorded in a democratic nation.

In a 2001 interview, Lougheed reflected that the West had turned against Trudeau after 1968 for three reasons. First, he suffered from a “lack of knowledge” of western issues. Second, his policies catered to his political base in Quebec and Ontario. Finally, “more than anything”, he came across as someone who
thinks he knows it all” and westerners found this offensive. Lougheed said the relationship with Ottawa always seemed to come down to a desire to “control” Alberta: “They see us as being able, physically, to be independent and that means we would have influence with other provinces. When I look back on the Heritage Fund and the Canadian Investment Division, we just thought we should be participating in the Canadian mosaic. But actually … lending money to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland just drove the federal bureaucrats wild. It shook the foundations of their position. We probably, in hindsight, shouldn’t have done that … [but] we though we were expressing our patriotism.

 

Defending Alberta’s Place in Confederation

As Trudeau progressed toward realizing his vision of a federal constitution, strong-willed Premiers fought for the idea of Canada as a federal of ten equal provinces and resisted a constitutionally-entrenched charter of rights, which represented a departure from the country’s English common law tradition and a move toward the French Civil Code philosophy. Though the country would be vastly changed by the 1982 Constitution Act, Lougheed and his allies managed to strengthen the principle of provincial equality and preserve the right of elected legislators to assert their will over unelected judges.

In 1978, after the Trudeau government began threatening to patriate the constitution without provincial consent, Lougheed staked out his turf with ‘Harmony in Diversity’, a position paper that listed Alberta’s 29 constitutional demands. The majority of points asserted the province’s demand for retaining or enhancing its existing constitutional powers, especially as they related to control over resources. Furthermore, Ottawa’s power to disallow provincial legislation or invade provincial jurisdiction during national emergencies would be curtailed, and human rights would remain a legislative responsibility, outside the constitution. Alberta gave two major concessions to the federal agenda: a commitment to subsidizing poor (have-not) provinces through equalization payments and recognition of English and French as national languages.

Lougheed unveiled a new formula for constitutional amendments, proposing that the threshold for ratification be at two-thirds of the provinces representing at least 50 percent of the national population, and that all provinces retain the right to opt out of amendments that directly affected their legislative powers or control over their resources. Constitutional scholar from Simon Fraser University, Edward McWhinney, wrote, “A ‘dualist’ (deux nations) approach to Canadian federalism was replaced by a more broadly pluralist, ‘regionalist’ conception.” On April 17, 1982, Queen Elizabeth II signed the proclamation patriating Canada’s constitution, on Parliament Hill, formally giving the country independence from Britain.


Source: Alberta in the Twentieth Century, Volume Eleven, Lougheed and the War with Ottawa; CanMedia Inc.

Section 2 | The Social Credit Generation: 1935 to 1965, Part 4

Leilani Muir

Leilani Muir

Series: Political Myth and Consequence in Alberta

  

Myth is powerful. Leading up to Alberta’s 2019 provincial election, the story Albertans have told about themselves and been told by others since becoming a province is firmly connected to events transpiring today.

The following interpretation of Alberta’s dominant political and cultural history highlights and traces the contextual, defining features and nuances in the evolution of Alberta’s identity through reconstruction, as Albertans seek to rise from the ashes once more at the ballot box this spring.

This series will be featured in the following sections:

1.       Foundations of Alberta’s Conservatism: Confederation to 1935

2.       The Social Credit Generation: 1935 to 1965

3.       Progressive Conservatism: Lougheed and the Oil Boom

4.       Return of Ideology: The Wildrose Alliance Party

5.       The Re-Merge: Jim Prentice to the United Conservative Party


The Social Credit Generation: 1935 to 1965

Part 4

Social Policy: Eugenics

 

Alberta was one of only two provinces, the other being British Columbia, to legislate sterilization. The Social Credit government was “based in populist and grassroots ideology, which was linked to restrictionist policies and anti-immigration sentiments, strong opposition to federalism, heavy government reliance on ‘experts’ (including mental health experts), and a comparative weak Catholic presence in the province … [the] Social Credit government became complacent and stagnant; led by charismatic leaders who were also fundamentalist religious leaders, the populace also seemed to accept the status quo with little question.”

 

Aberhart had called for the start of a new social order for Albertans under a Social Credit government. Following Aberhart’s death, Manning insisted on keeping the Alberta Eugenics Board in place, even though most scientists had begun to believe eugenics was based on false science.

 

Alberta, along with many other parts of the world, has an ugly history of public support and legislation for eugenics programs stemming from concerns of improving the human race by weeding out undesirables. The United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) government introduced the Sexual Sterilization Act in 1928 despite strong opposition from the Conservative and Liberal parties, and which was amended and expanded under Aberhart and Manning in an effort to segregate and sterilize the supposedly mentally defective and immoral, most often under the guise of appendectomies, leaving the victims unaware they had been sterilized. Initially, sterilizations could only take place with the patient’s consent, but in 1937, Aberhart and Manning changed that.

 

In 1937, the Social Credit government broadened the definition of ‘mental defective’ to include “any person in whom there is a condition of arrested or incomplete development of mind existing before the age of eighteen years, whether arising from inherent causes or induced by disease or injury” and removed the possibility of civil suits being brought against it from sterilized patients or their family members who objected to the decisions of the Eugenics Board. Other amendments included replacing Section 4 of the Sexual Sterilization Act, allowing the Eugenics Board to travel Alberta in the search for unsterilized “defectives” living in their communities, amending Section 7 to increase protection for those who ordered and performed the surgeries, and amending the Mental Diseases Act to include drug and alcohol addicts.

 

Those heavily targeted were ethnic minorities such as the First Nations, Metis, Ukrainian, Polish, Russian; they were often female – especially unmarried mothers or “simple-minded” girls, young, economically lower class, from rural communities, single, labeled as sexual deviants, and disproportionately Catholic. As Heather Pringle wrote of the legislative changes, “The Social Credit government of William Aberhart, which came to power in 1935, and was keen on speeding up the works, expanded the board’s powers in 1937 by dispensing with the need to acquire consent for sterilization from mental defectives; five years later, another Social Credit majority broadened the net to include some individuals with epilepsy and Huntingdon’s chorea. But even as Aberhart, the young Ernest Manning, and other Social Credit members were registering their endorsement of eugenics, other observers, such as the future NDP leader Tommy Douglas, were repudiating it in the wake of revelations from Germany, where thousands of mentally retarded citizens were being sterilized and later gassed, in the service of Nazi master-race theories. It was the start of the Holocaust. By the late forties, in the forum at Nuremberg, the civilized world had judged forced sterilization a crime against humanity.” The majority of Alberta’s sterilizations took place at the Provincial Training School for Mental Defectives in Red Deer and, undeterred by the extent of the Holocaust coming to light, continued well past the end of the Second World War. Any excuse of ignorance on Manning’s part would have had no legitimacy.

 

Internationally, the eugenics debate had been thriving, and the Catholic Pope and his Cardinals condemned the practice. “They should not admit interference with the liberty of marriage in adult men and women, nor any element of the horror known as eugenics. They could not admit what was called sex teaching, or any one of the whole series of propositions regarding sexual hygiene. Neither could they admit the claim of the state over the children as against that of the parents,” wrote British Cardinal Bourne in opposition to the British Ministry of Health’s proposal to teach sexual hygiene, otherwise known as eugenics. He also stressed that the proposal was an attack on moral law, and an infringement on individual liberty, referring to supporters as “after-Christian” who no longer accepted Christian law. In Alberta, the Catholic Welfare Association voted to ask the province to rescind the Sexual Sterilization Act because the legislation allowed sterilizations to occur without consent. Tim Christian, assistant law professor at the University of Alberta, concluded that the Eugenics Board “was given authority to impose its self-righteous, waspish notions of normalcy on those persons least able to defend themselves.”

 

The worst cases of institutional abuse in Canadian history, including physical and sexual assault, forced sterilizations and experimental surgery – without the patient’s consent or knowledge – all took place at Alberta’s Training School for Mental Defectives, later renamed the Michener Centre, in Red Deer. Those who were institutionalized suffered complete lack of privacy from being under constant surveillance. Any rebellion or resistance was treated with punishment including strappings, injections of tranquilizing drugs, and confinement in straitjackets. Expressions of sexuality were met with weeks of solitary confinement in cells of bare concrete walls. The institution punished handicapped children for having ordinary sexual urges, exploited normal but unwanted children with unpaid labour, and did not prevent heterosexual and homosexual assault and violent physical abuse, including the use of drugs for convenience and punishment. Already infertile Down’s syndrome affected boys suffered the removal of at least one testicle to provide tissue samples for experimentation. Sterilization at puberty was the rule. Essentially, the forced sterilizations were legalized surgical birth control.

 

If he did not actively endorse these actions, Ernest Manning was certainly aware of the problems and chose to ignore them, making him accountable and responsible as the conduct was under his watch. Pringle recounts, “In early 1952, a poignant ten-page letter landed on the desk of Premier Ernest Manning. Penned by a middle-aged Calgarian, it described in detail what had befallen the correspondent’s sixteen-year-old son, who was a resident of the Provincial Training School. It seemed that, a few weeks earlier, staff members had caught the boy talking alone with a female student behind one of the buildings. This was forbidden. The boy was accordingly bundled off to one of the school’s quiet rooms, and there, a day later, an attendant had found him, lying dazed in a great pool of blood amid a litter of shards from an earthenware chamber pot. The teenager was rushed to a Red Deer hospital, where he was treated for a five-centimeter deep wound to the groin. A week later he was still pale and weak from loss of blood. School authorities, however, brushed off the incident, intimating that the boy, “a confirmed masturbator,” was himself to blame. The father had a different theory. His son was a severe epileptic. With its chronic staff shortage, he suggested, the school had failed to detail someone to keep an eye on the boy. Locked in a hot, stuffy room alone, he had suffered a major seizure. The writer took the opportunity to unburden himself to the premier about other disturbing school practices, clearly confident that the Christian preacher whose “National Bible Hour” broadcasts echoed over the airwaves each Sunday would be sympathetic. “It is easy to love children that are clever,” he concluded sadly, “but I think it takes grace to love these unfortunate ones.” Manning’s two paragraph reply is preserved in the provincial archives. Promising vaguely to improve educational facilities in the school, the premier sided squarely with the school’s administration. “I feel that the staff of the Training School is doing everything possible within existing facilities to give proper care to the youngsters at the Training School.” Complaints continued to be ignored and the abuses worsened.

Man’s treatment of the mentally ill has no steady march to enlightenment but a concrete expression of the prejudices and passions of changing cultures.
— New York Academy of Science

 

Both Ernest and his wife Muriel Manning supported sterilization for mentally challenged individuals. Ironically, their son, Keith, who had been deprived of oxygen during birth and was henceforth mentally handicapped and afflicted with epilepsy, was institutionalized at the Training School for Mental Defectives in 1960. Pringle writes, “And there, in Pine Villa, in the Small Boys section of the school, the premier’s son, then a young man, was ensconced, to be treated “like royalty,” according to Glen Sinclair, who roomed next to him for a time. It was one of the more cynical chapters in the training-school saga. Everyone seemed to know who Keith was, showering him with privileges and the small acts of kindness so notably missing from the other’s lives. While everyone else slept four to a bedroom, Keith got a special double room, number ten Pine Villa, and was permitted to pick his own roommate. As a rule, personal possessions were discouraged; Keith was free to keep games, snacks, and even a typewriter in his room. School officials frowned on family visits, but Keith’s parents dropped in at least once or twice a month on their way to Calgary for the premier’s weekly “Bible Hour.” They often took him along for a day trip. Instead of continual chores, Keith, in his late teens or early twenties, got piano lessons. More enviable still, Keith, who had an explosive temper, was handled with kid gloves. “They’d take him out for a walk and try to calm him down,” recalls a former resident, Donald Passey, who ended up at the school despite a recent test that indicated he has an IQ of 113. “Or they’d go to his room and try to discuss things with him.” In contrast, Passey remembers being disciplined by a staff member who pinned him to the wall and slapped and punched him; another resident lost part of his finger when an employee deliberately kicked a door shut on it. Even the most profoundly impaired children were sometimes beaten. Keith Manning remained at the school for several years. Just how far the red-carpet treatment went to protect him from the Sexual Sterilization Act is unclear. He married in late middle age, though he remained childless, and succumbed to a brain tumour in 1986 while living in a nursing home in Edmonton.

 

Ernest Manning had always said medical specialists should have the power to order sterilization for severely handicapped individuals who were incapable of making decisions for themselves, saying “[When] you’ve got these tragic cases of people that are sometimes little more than vegetables … how far can you argue that they should have the right to function as what we would refer to as a normal human being when, tragically, they were not normal human beings?” Later on, Preston Manning would say that he saw ‘individual rights’ for those at mental health institutes as dangerous, as well as the issue of “integrating into society” following institutionalization. The Eugenics Board also tried to prevent “abnormal sex reactions” in patients, by performing castrations rather than vasectomies, for desired behaviour modification. In a letter to the editor of the Edmonton Herald, one man wrote, “The proper treatment of men who commit sexual crimes is eunuchation; it terminates sexual desire and lust, and prevents the perpetration of such crimes. Unfortunately, the Criminal Code of Canada does not make provisions for such salutary, restraining measures.”

 

Alberta’s Conservative Opposition (later re-named the Progressive Conservatives under Lougheed’s leadership) had opposed the existence of the Eugenics Board since its inception and intended to modernize Alberta’s mental health system and abolish the Eugenics Board, once elected. It was not until 1972, after forty-four years and 4,785 procedures performed (the Eugenics Board having approved 99% of its cases between 1928 and 1972), that a review by both Premier Peter Lougheed and the Official Opposition led to the passing of a bill, introduced by Liberal MLA David King, to repeal the Sexual Sterilization Act, which received Royal Assent on June 2, 1972.

 

We feel very, very strongly that the [Sexual Sterilization Act] is offensive and at odds with the proposed Bill of Rights.” Lougheed told the legislature, introducing the Alberta Bill of Rights. King, who served as education minister during the Lougheed years, said, “Our position was we were doing away with Legislation that was morally repugnant.” Introducing the bill in second reading, King stated, “I come finally to the last [reason] which, for me personally, is the most compelling. That is, simply, that the act violates fundamental human rights. We are provided with an act, the basis of which is a presumption that society, or at least the government, knows what kind of people can be allowed children and what kind of people cannot. … It is our view that this is a reprehensible and intolerable philosophy and program for this province and this government.” He also commented that if Albertans continue to allow the government to cut budgets at the expense of the vulnerable – the mentally ill, disabled, sick, and elderly – then we have learned nothing from our eugenics disaster. Lougheed’s government also kept its promises of modernizing Alberta’s mental health system, introducing The Individual Rights Protection Act and The Mental Health Act 1972 among the government’s first pieces of legislation, both receiving Royal Assent on November 22, 1972.

 

Alberta’s eugenics history was brought to the public’s attention in the 1990s when Leilani Muir sued the Alberta government for wrongfully admitting her to the Institute, classifying her as a moron (she was later proven to have normal intelligence), and sterilizing her under the guise of an appendectomy. The provincial Court of Queen’s Bench ruled in Muir’s favor and awarded damages, in 1997, after Premier Ralph Klein’s government stalled for several years. Soon after the ruling, almost 700 former patients also came forward, alleging abuses as far back as the 1930s.

 

Social Credit’s future in Alberta following William Aberhart’s death was saved by circumstance: the economic and psychological effects of war, dominant social attitudes, lack of a viable opposition party, and the developing oil and gas industry. The combination of these circumstances allowed Ernest Manning to develop several myths about his leadership as Alberta’s premier, which have endured to this day, and the ability of the Social Credit Party to customize over time in response to these factors and for Manning to be able to maintain his political reign for as long as he did.

 

Between 1935 and 1965, Alberta Conservatives either ran in elections as Independent or did not run at all. By the early 1950s, the attempted Conservative-Liberal coalition was not working, and the Conservatives tried to make gains in 1955, talking about equality of opportunity and integrity in government in light of Social Credit scandals. Manning called a surprise early election that year, catching the Conservatives off guard and unprepared for a campaign. In the following years, Conservative Leaders Ernest Watkins and Milt Harradence pressed for an Alberta Bill of Rights, a comprehensive crop insurance plan and Legislature Hansard.

 

Manning could only delay the degeneration of Social Credit for so long; the rise of a leader like Peter Lougheed and his Progressive Conservative Party was inevitable.

 


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Sources

 

Alberta Formed - Alberta Transformed; Alberta 2005 Centennial History Society; 2006

Alberta in the 20th Century; United Western Communications; 1991 – 2003

Alberta Premiers of the 20th Century; Bradford Rennie; 2004

Eugenics and the Firewall, Canada’s Nasty Little Secret; Jane Harris-Szovan; 2010

The Right to Consent? Eugenics in Alberta, 1928–1972; Jana Grekul; 2009

Section 2 | The Social Credit Generation: 1935 to 1965, Part 3

Series: Political Myth and Consequence in Alberta

  

Myth is powerful. Leading up to Alberta’s 2019 provincial election, the story Albertans have told about themselves and been told by others since becoming a province is firmly connected to events transpiring today.

 The following interpretation of Alberta’s dominant political and cultural history highlights and traces the contextual, defining features and nuances in the evolution of Alberta’s identity through reconstruction, as Albertans seek to rise from the ashes once more at the ballot box this spring.

 This series will be featured in the following sections:

1.       Foundations of Alberta’s Conservatism: Confederation to 1935

2.       The Social Credit Generation: 1935 to 1965

3.       Progressive Conservatism: Lougheed and the Oil Boom

4.       Return of Ideology: The Wildrose Alliance Party

5.       The Re-Merge: Jim Prentice to the United Conservative Party


The Social Credit Generation: 1935 to 1965

Part 3

Economic Policy and Government Administration

 

Social Credit was defined by its faulty economic policies, failed legislation, socialist and fundamentalist mentality, and authoritarian state control. It was well-known for its intolerance and discrimination of several groups in Alberta, such as the government’s extensive eugenics program and treatment of the mentally ill, persecution of minorities, such as the Japanese and Hutterites, in addition to fierce anti-Semitism.

 

Aberhart had no education or basis for understanding of economics yet was easily convinced of social credit economic theory the first time he was introduced to it, taking the parts he thought made sense to him and forming his own extreme version of the economic policy that Albertans were to live under. Ernest Manning, equally uneducated, never questioned Aberhart from his religious teachings to government policy and administration.

 

Both the rhetoric and promises of Aberhart and Manning were radical and contradictory. Manning once told a radio audience that the taxation system could be used to cream ‘unearned incomes’ from wealthy Albertans – every penny over $2000 that anyone earned would be taken by the state and ploughed into social dividends. Considered an arch-conservative a decade later, during the 1935 election campaign Manning hypocritically said, “[The] capitalist lieutenants [of other political parties] will come around offering temporary relief and big promises of a brighter future. Don’t let discouragement place you again in the tentacles of the money baron.”

 

Social Credit theory

Aberhart’s Social Credit government was founded on a complicated, incoherent and unexplainable economic policy idea developed by Major Douglas in Britain and was spun into the equally incoherent version Aberhart campaigned on to become the first Social Credit premier of Alberta. Major Douglas had proposed that there were plenty of goods to go around, but these could not be distributed properly due to a faulty monetary system. His explanation of how to practically address this problem was unclear. Reputable economists loudly objected that Douglas’ theories were based on fallacies. Business representatives claimed Aberhart was a charlatan and a dictator, heartlessly manipulating the downtrodden, and Manning never renounced his faith in Douglas’ monetary theory of social credit.

 

Douglas was exceptionally conspiratorial, and this way of thinking influenced many within the Social Credit party and government, particularly with anti-Semitic views and belief that Jews were responsible for all monetary troubles. Social credit, therefore, would be issued to end the Jewish-induced discrepancy between the value of goods and purchasing power for consumers. Douglas once explained to a Social Credit MP, “Keep steadily in mind that this is a cultural war to the death, that the economic war is only incidental.”  

 

Manning stated in 1943, “Ever since the first gun was fired in the war, a carefully laid conspiracy has been at work using the conditions created by the war in an effort to rob nations of their national sovereignty, to eliminate true democracy, to undermine the British Empire … and to set up a world dictatorship under a supreme international authority which would be able to dominate the economic life of every nation by controlling its money system and its armed forces.”

 

By the early 1940s, Major Douglas had included the Nazis to his list of conspirators, with claims that the Second World War was a sham, a plot by Jews, Nazis, Communists, Socialists, and financiers to enslave the world. According to author and professor, Alvin Finkel, “It was a mad enough theory but it found a welcome reception among his Alberta followers, including Aberhart and his successor, Ernest Manning. … Both accepted the view that there was an international conspiracy to fool people into not adopting the social credit solution to their woes.”

 

Funny Money

Social Credit’s Yellow Pamphlet

Social Credit’s Yellow Pamphlet

During the 1935 election, Social Credit supporters were given scripts and distributed what were known as ‘Yellow Pamphlets’, the first Social Credit document in Alberta called ‘The Douglas System of Economics,’ written by Aberhart and his Communist friend Henry B. “Hilly” Hill. Left-wing proposals in the Yellow Pamphlet included requiring citizens with money in financial institutions to turn it over to the government in exchange for government bonds, and advocated for state control over most aspects of life.

 

Aberhart promised each Albertan would be given ‘Prosperity Certificates’, dividends of $25 worth of credit each month for basic essentials such as food, clothing, and shelter. However, as his favorite author, utopian Edward Bellamy, proposed, Aberhart suggested that anyone who refused to participate in the program would have their civil rights withdrawn and be treated as ‘Indians’, going so far as introducing concentration camps and reservations for those who did not comply.

 

Manning, with no prior business experience, was put in charge of trade and industry and given discretion over who received business licenses. Complaints were raised that licenses were being denied to Asian minorities and those who opposed Social Credit. His appointment drew media criticism with comments such as, “The all-wise Superman who is going to be a dictator of Alberta business with supreme power over everybody, employee, and employer, is – the good Lord save us all – a conceited, half-baked youngster whose sole business experience has been gained as assistant preacher of the Aberhart Bible College.”

 

Once in government, Aberhart’s proposed Prosperity Certificates, a special Albertan currency known to the public as ‘funny money’ would come with strings attached. In anticipation of the promised prosperity cheques, all Albertans were required to sign ‘registration covenants’ stating their loyalty to the Aberhart government, detailing their assets and liabilities on the backs, and acceptance that both the monthly dividends and their salaries would be paid in this Alberta credit. As well, they had to convert their Canadian currency into Alberta credit, never to ask for the credit to be turned back into hard currency. Anyone who planned to leave Alberta for more than a month at a time needed written permission from the government prior to doing so. People rushed back to Alberta from out of province trips to sign up out of fear for losing their civil rights and property. The Prosperity Certificates were a reckless promise and never actually transpired.

The Money Barons

In 1936, supposed Social Credit ‘expert’ John Hargrave from England made a visit to Aberhart to suggest an eleven-point plan for social credit implementation in Alberta. Hargrave had once been a leader in the Boy Scouts and potential successor to Baden Powell. He had organized a “woodsy” army of unemployed youth to advocate Social Credit theory, called the Kindred of Kibbo Kift, which the Hitler Youth were modeled after. Hargrave later renamed the organization the Green Shirts after their green military-style uniform.

 

Manning claimed to believe in private enterprise and violently rejected “the slippery, slimy slopes of socialism,” yet supported a state-regulated society, recommending Ottawa set up a national financial commission with the same powers that socialists called for and “would have taken away from the chartered banks the power to make economic decisions. The first step the socialist government in Britain took in 1945 was to nationalize the Bank of England, using the same arguments with the same intentions.” He also opposed compulsory, contributory social insurance programs.

 

Manning’s argument for opposition to centralization stems from his belief that humans are essentially alone in their struggle for salvation, therefore “a collectivist state belittled this struggle and made individuals more vulnerable to behaviour that might lead to eternal damnation.” Ironically, for all of Aberhart’s and Manning’s condemnation of Ottawa and finance, Aberhart accepted a $2.25 million loan from Ottawa, having found the provincial treasury with a debt of $150 million, in addition to bond maturities, interest payments, relief payments, and maturing bank loans totalling $14,915,000. Numerous suggestions from Conservative Prime Minister R.B. Bennett that Alberta accept the appointment of a federal loan council to oversee its debt were turned down.

Unconstitutional Legislation

Both Aberhart and Manning attempted to implement several pieces of legislation doomed to be deemed unconstitutional, as being ultra vires – beyond provincial constitutional jurisdiction, by the federal government. This gave Aberhart and Manning the opportunity to disown responsibility for their poorly crafted legislation by pushing the missive to Albertans that Alberta was intentionally being singled out and punished by Ottawa. The legacy of Social Credit ineptitude continues to this day in the form of an assumed inherent antagonism in some individual Albertans toward Ottawa.

 

On March 4, 1938, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down all of the statutes passed in the name of social credit, including bills that would take control over all banks within the province and revoking civil rights of bank employees who did not comply, out of fear of a Jewish conspiracy; prevent any Alberta law from being challenged in court; the Bank Taxation Bill to impose taxes on bank capital and reserves; and the Accurate News and Information Bill to restrict and impose fines on the media. Manning had always defended all of the legislation put forth as reasonable and had particularly strong support for the Accurate News and Information Act, which would force newspapers to be “fairer” in their coverage of Social Credit by forcing them to print government-supplied articles equal in length to those attacking the government. Major Douglas had suggested cancelling Alberta’s contract with the RCMP to set up a Social Credit provincial police force. Once applications had begun to be received, critics warned of the “Gestapo” potential of this decision, and as a result the provincial police force never came to fruition. Social Credit also repealed their Recall Act in 1937 to save Aberhart’s seat in the Legislature, after Aberhart’s Okotoks-High River constituents secured the required signatures to recall him. Former Conservative MLA Ernest Watkins listed twelve disallowed statutes altogether: four declared invalid by the courts, five disallowed by the federal cabinet, and three withheld by the provincial lieutenant-governor before being rules ultra vires by the courts.

 

Aberhart believed it was his responsibility to arbitrate and protect public morality. In 1941, the government passed a law appointing a three-person film censorship board in response to supposed widespread complaints about American movies having dominant communist influence, to protect Albertans from seeing these kinds of films and only view ones “not offensive to a democratic and Christian way of life.” In 1947, Manning’s government announced that all films shown in public, including educational movies, industrial safety films, and children’s cartoons, would be subject to censorship board approval.

 

A New Enemy

Following Aberhart’s death in 1943, Ernest Manning needed to define his premiership by constructing a new and positive image of himself and Social Credit. During the Great Depression and Second World War, Ernest Manning toed the Douglasite line within the Social Credit Party, warning a Jewish conspiracy was guilty of the world’s economic and financial troubles. The advent of the Cold War gave Manning the opportunity to reinvent Social Credit by shifting Albertan’s focus to a new common enemy – heretic communists and socialists.

 

The Second World War undermined Social Credit strategies for mobilizing the public against The Money Barons. The post-war era also modified Social Credit by several major events: the failure of the predicted massive postwar depression to develop, the public’s growing desire for material progress and support for social insurance programs, the Leduc oil discoveries and increased American influence which followed, and most importantly by Alberta’s emerging prosperity, which ended the economic conditions Aberhart had once believed interfered with man’s quest for salvation and thereby removed the immediate need for social credit monetary solutions.

 

The initial need for a new image therefore became an election tactic to fight off the challenge of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (Alberta’s New Democratic Party in present day) but turned into an enduring element in Alberta political discourse due to Manning being unable to successfully implement key legislation, and, realizing that Social Credit’s socialist policies had failed, needed to be reinvented as a bastion of free enterprise. Since social credit economic policy would never be implemented, Manning focused his sights on social policy instead, and claimed socialists and communists had infiltrated Canadian society with the intent to destroy democracy, and that Social Credit stood for “the application of Christian principles in all phases of public life.” He fixated on the Social Credit aspect that individuals are the most important entity in society – in order to realize their personal relationship with God, as per Aberhart’s brand of Christianity – and moved forward with the notion of private ownership. At Ernest Manning’s funeral, his son Preston admitted that his father “integrated his faith and his work rather than keeping them in separate compartments.” Throughout his years as premier, Manning had continued to denounce Albertan’s interest in socialist practices, yet his actions continued to demonstrate the socialist, authoritarian will of his government.

Social Control

 

In another attempt to control the public, Manning endeavoured to disallow men and women from drinking together in public in Alberta’s cities, saying that if they wanted to drink together, they could do so in the privacy of their own homes. This move incurred wrath from the Calgary Herald with comments such as, “[the people living in Alberta’s largest cities were considered] so degenerate that they cannot be granted the same privileges as the people who live in every other part of the province.”

 

Manning attempted again, in 1957, to fulfill the original Social Credit campaign pledge to give all Albertans a form of the earlier unfulfilled promise of Prosperity Certificates. This time, his administration had set aside $11 million, one-third of its anticipated energy royalties for the year, for “citizen participation dividends” to Alberta’s 550,000 adults.

 

Lasting Myth

Aberhart had tried and failed to turn Social Credit into a viable federal political movement in the 1930’s and 1940’s, and Manning in turn tried and failed. It had been Manning’s goal to polarize federal politics in order to force voters to choose between what he decided would be a social conservative government and an atheistic-socialist one. Manning once predicted the ultimate division of the Canadian nation into two camps: on the one side would be the advocates of state dictatorship who believed in a “purely materialistic concept of life” and one on the other side of those who believed in a “properly functioning Christian democracy based on the highest ideals of our British traditions.” He had remarked that he wanted to have led this national Social Credit-social conservative movement, had there been support for one.

 

For those who believe that Social Credit had provided good government – an intentional phrase and myth created by Manning – and that Aberhart and Manning had been two of Alberta’s finest leaders, there are several specific criticisms in addition to those described here. Ernest Manning, over a handshake with California tycoon Howard Pew – a fellow evangelical who had once funded Billy Graham – turned over drilling rights to remote Alberta acreages. Former Alberta Public Affairs Bureau employee under Lougheed, David G. Wood, has stated that Social Credit failed to recover Albertan’s “fair ownership share” of oil and gas royalties due to oil and gas policies that were not based on the needs of the province but on industry desires. Ted Byfield, founder of the Alberta Report magazine, criticized Manning’s failure to “confront and defeat Ottawa arguably denies [him] the title of Alberta’s greatest premier,” when the federal government set rail transportation rates for livestock and processed grain products.

 


If you enjoyed this article, please consider becoming a patron of The Visionable


 

 Sources

 

Alberta Formed - Alberta Transformed; Alberta 2005 Centennial History Society; 2006

Alberta in the 20th Century; United Western Communications; 1991 – 2003

Alberta Premiers of the 20th Century; Bradford Rennie; 2004

Like Father, Like Son; Lloyd Mackey; 1997

Major Douglas and Alberta Social Credit Ideology, 1932-1948; Bob Hesketh; 1993

Moral Clarity; Susan Neiman; 2009

Storming Babylon; Don Braid and Sydney Sharpe; 1991

The Armageddon Factor; Marci McDonald; 2011

The Good Steward; Brian Brennan; 2008

The Ku Klux Klan in Central Alberta; William Peter Baergen; 2002

The Other Alberta; Doreen Barrie; 2006

Section 2 | The Social Credit Generation: 1935 to 1965, Part 2

William Aberhart

William Aberhart

Series: Political Myth and Consequence in Alberta

 

Myth is powerful. Leading up to Alberta’s 2019 provincial election, the story Albertans have told about themselves and been told by others since becoming a province is firmly connected to events transpiring today.

The following interpretation of Alberta’s dominant political and cultural history highlights and traces the contextual, defining features and nuances in the evolution of Alberta’s identity through reconstruction, as Albertans seek to rise from the ashes once more at the ballot box this spring.

This series will be featured in the following sections:

1.       Foundations of Alberta’s Conservatism: Confederation to 1935

2.       The Social Credit Generation: 1935 to 1965

3.       Progressive Conservatism: Lougheed and the Oil Boom

4.       Return of Ideology: The Wildrose Alliance Party

5.       The Re-Merge: Jim Prentice to the United Conservative Party


The Social Credit Generation: 1935 to 1965

Part 2

William Aberhart and Ernest Manning

 

William Aberhart, known also as “Bible Bill,” was Alberta’s Premier from 1935 until his death in 1943, at which time his protégé Ernest Manning became his political successor as Premier until 1968.

 

Neither William Aberhart, a lay preacher who was not well read with limited education and lacked business experience, nor Ernest Manning, who dropped out of public school in grade 8, had any formal education or comprehensive training pursuant to guiding people’s theological convictions or competently leading a provincial government, yet endeavoured to reshape Alberta’s society and government based on their personal religious beliefs. Aberhart, who was economically illiterate and lacking in mental sophistication, was anti-finance and anti-capitalism. As W.L. Morton wrote of Aberhart, “That propagandist genius compounded out of fundamentalism, enthusiasm, and a gloss of economic literacy, a gospel of evangelistic materialism which carried over the air the promise of secular salvation.”

 

The religious doctrine of Aberhart and Manning is the pinnacle from which all of their decisions personally, politically, administratively, and ethically were derived from. The most crucial feature to recognize when considering the source of their political motivation, are Aberhart’s extreme and unorthodox religious beliefs that he indoctrinated to Ernest Manning, who then dutifully passed these beliefs down to his son, and Aberhart’s godson, Preston Manning. The central goal of this religious doctrine was control over how people lived their lives – morally, ethically, religiously, socially, and economically.

 

Aberhart had an authoritative, combative, and insolent personality combined with left-leaning and overtly fascist tendencies politically and economically. He was on a religious crusade based on fear and conspiracy theory, and Social Credit was his vehicle to achieve his goals of indoctrination of the populace and fulfillment of his religious views dominating society.

 

Aberhart’s brand of fundamentalist evangelical Christianity was not mainstream nor accepted by any religious denomination, comprised of products of his own imagination and borrowed concepts from various sectarian groups. He placed extreme emphasis on ‘prophetics’ regarding the Rapture and a secret removal of all ‘true’ Christians before the reign of the anti-Christ – a super-human demonic dictator who was to rule the world for seven years until Christ returned to earth. He made excessive claims for the absolute infallibility of the King James Version of the Bible and even created the position of ‘apostle’ for himself and linked himself with the original apostles through a dubious use of church history.

 

Officials at Aberhart’s Westbourne Baptist Church were not pleased with his creations, did not like his authoritarian personality, or his refusal to take ecclesiastical direction. Aberhart soon found the Baptist church too confining as well, wanting virtually complete control over church organization and scriptural interpretation.

 

The Westbourne Baptist congregation, which had been unable to find a minister who could work with Aberhart and accept the doctrinal peculiarities that he had made part of the church’s creed, broke with Aberhart over theology, finances, and leadership issues. Biographer David Elliott suggests one of the main attractions the Baptist church held for Aberhart was its tradition of congregational autonomy, which provided the scope he wanted so that he could guide church policy and incorporate his personal beliefs into church services, without a formal role on the board of deacons.

 

From his loyal followers Aberhart organized a new church called the Bible Institute Baptist Church, which met in the Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute. The new church distinctively had high sectarian theology and separatist attitudes. Aberhart’s early interdenominational emphasis soon faded and his church became an elitist and separatist religious sect, featuring his own unique doctrinal interpretations.

 

Aberhart was the principal at Crescent Heights High School, and the Calgary Board of Education received complaints that he had been using students – whom he assigned numbers to and would refer to them by their number, rather than by their name – to stuff envelopes for his religious organizations during and after school.

 

William Aberhart

William Aberhart

To further his religious crusade, Aberhart had begun to broadcast his Sunday services in 1925 over CFCN, the most powerful radio station in Alberta at the time, weaving British Major Clifford Douglas’ social credit theories into his sermons with claims that social credit would save Albertans from economic hardship caused by eastern bankers and financiers.  During the Great Depression, people sought solace in religion, adding to Aberhart’s success and credibility. Aberhart promoted the social credit philosophy as the economic part of God’s divine plan for the salvation of humankind.

 

Aberhart also opened his Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute in 1927 to train ministerial students of his own brand of Baptist fundamentalism. Ernest Manning was his first graduate after three years of studying subjects such as Bible history and interpretation, apologetics, homiletics, and systematic theology, all with the emphasis of dispensationalism. Instructors at the Institute did not include anyone with formal theological training, but were insurance agents, accountants, dentists, and several homemakers who had previously taken Bible study courses from Aberhart at Westbourne Baptist Church. Aberhart claimed he had no time for pastors and teachers who tried to turn the Bible into a tool to address social issues.

 

Aberhart introduced charismatic practices and doctrines into the church, much to the consternation of the local Baptist ministers. His Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute used textbooks that reviled modernism, Roman Catholicism, and all forms of skepticism. The official doctrine of Aberhart’s school included “the everlasting happiness of the righteous and the awful and everlasting misery of the unbelieving wicked, in a literal lake of fire, prepared for a real, personal Devil and his angels.” As he identified with the fundamentalist movement, he became increasingly antagonistic to mainstream denominations.

 

From the beginning of their foray into political life, Aberhart and Manning perfected fear mongering and deeply ingrained the sentiment of western alienation in Alberta politics by intensifying the tension felt between Alberta and Ottawa in an era when relations between the two still had the potential to progress more positively, rather than based on a myth of exaggerated universal discontent and inevitable conflict. Aberhart took pride in intentionally antagonizing Ottawa, particularly over ‘eastern banks’ and alleged communism and socialism, and lambasted the enemy federal government to Albertans, solidifying an ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality in many Albertans.

 

Albertans had been suffering during the Great Depression and were desperate for relief. While UFA Premier Brownlee was being publicly shamed with a paternity suit, lay preacher Aberhart’s morals went unquestioned, allowing him to play on the public’s fears and desperation, offering his Social Credit solution to become Premier. Aberhart was a fundamentalist who appealed to regional prejudice, faith, and emotion to sway the public. Political theorist C.B. Macpherson has reasoned that Social Credit’s election theory was whereby a politician would “promise everything and discuss nothing … assert that you had all the answers and demand to be taken on trust.” The public would be treated with contempt and there was no mechanism to stop the experts from establishing a dictatorial, technocratic state.

 

Aberhart and Manning assumed no distinction between politics and religion, and believed they were on a religious crusade to convert everyone to their brand of Christianity in order to save people’s souls and prevent and reverse the supposed decay of society. They did not believe Social Credit was even a political party explicitly, but a religious movement, using Aberhart’s followers to actively spread the gospel of Social Credit through education and mobilization during the election leading up to Aberhart’s first win.

During the election, The Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute was Aberhart’s campaign headquarters, and his political speeches were full of religious imagery, where Aberhart compared himself to Moses, Daniel, and Jesus Christ. Aberhart attacked partisan politics, called for a reawakened democracy, yet advocated for a form of government-by-experts that would have undermined British parliamentary traditions, and possibly, democracy itself. He and Manning seized the opportunity to deliberately present Social Credit as a movement, rather than a political party, responding to the distress people felt during the Great Depression by utilizing existing distrust of politicians and banks to identify these groups as the enemy that Social Credit would protect people against.

 

Aberhart rallied to unite Albertans behind his narrative, regularly denouncing traditional political parties in his radio broadcasts and attempting to convert the public to his brand of Christianity, which had incorporated Social Credit economic theory. His supporters were attracted to his engaging sincerity, warmth of personality, common touch, humanitarian concern and confidence in the future. Aberhart’s obsession with opposing centralization came from his conspiracy-based economic policy for Alberta, which he had altered from the social credit theory of Major Douglas in Britain. Albertan’s perceived threat by and opposition to centralization, therefore, was a construct of Aberhart’s that has consequently remained a theme in Alberta’s identity.

Being a populist movement, Social Credit’s propaganda of this threat was particularly effective through Aberhart’s use of religious symbolism to develop the myth. Aside from the core of evangelicals and religious fanatics, Social Credit attracted radical reformers, working class social democrats, small business owners, the unemployed, and victims of the Great Depression as supporters. The supposed wide-range influence of the grassroots was a myth: Social Credit policy and party platforms were prepared and planted by party leaders, for these resolutions to be accepted by the grassroots members at party conventions. Yet once Aberhart was in power he exercised authoritarian state control over the economy and excluded his supporters from providing input, insisting the implementation of Social Credit policy needed to be left to the so-called experts. In fact, Aberhart was only willing to serve Albertans if he would be Premier and did not seek a seat during the election. He waited to ensure Social Credit would form a majority government before pushing the MLA for Turner Valley to step down so that he could hold a legislative seat and become premier. When Social Credit formed a majority government in 1935, taking 56 of 63 seats in the legislature, the majority of Social Credit MLA’s were farmers, small businessmen and teachers, few of which had any higher education or prior political experience, and most with strong religious affiliations.

 

In a radio broadcast during the Second World War, Manning argued Canadians faced “a choice between Christian democracy … and the materialistic and pagan doctrine of state socialism.” Social Credit’s conspiracy theory fueled Manning’s distrust of socialism, and warning listeners of his radio sermon in 1991 to prepare for an age of the anti-Christ, Manning said, “for which secular humanism and apostate religion even now are preparing this way … It won’t bother them [the people of a distressed and perplexed world society] that he’s a Satanist, and that Satan is the source of his wisdom and power. By that time Satanic New Age philosophy will have conditioned people to regard Satanism as progressive thinking, and they will willingly join the anti-Christ in his idolatry.”

 

Aberhart and Manning considered it to be their divine right to direct society’s morals and define social conservatism. Manning held the position that it was impossible for atheistic socialists and communists to interact with those who had religiously based moral constraints, saying the rejection of God led to the ignoring of moral and ethical standards. He believed religiously based values were better for society than those rooted in atheism, and that Social Credit stood for Christian values and democratic principles, which were part of God’s divine plan.

 

As dispensationalists, Aberhart and Manning believed that despite the risk of failure in attempts to evangelize all of humanity, inaction could not be excused with the Antichrist’s arrival so close at hand and seized upon social credit as the weapon with which to combat the Antichrist and create a socioeconomic system in which people could more readily seek salvation in Christ. To oppose Social Credit was to oppose Christianity. At one time or another, Aberhart had criticized or denounced Roman Catholicism, Spiritism, Christian Science, Theosophy, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Seventh Day Adventists. Anyone who did not conform to Aberhart’s brand of Christianity was unchristian, undemocratic, and godless.

 

Ernest Manning

Ernest Manning

Manning made no secret of his preference to surround himself with his brand of Christians, even in his government Cabinet selections, having said, “If I had a choice between two people with comparable qualifications other than the spiritual dimension – experience, knowledge of the area, and so on – and one was a committed Christian and the other was totally disinterested in it, I would take the committed Christian every time … I would pick him first every time because he has the additional dimension that the other one lacks.

 

After Aberhart’s death, Manning became his religious successor, continuing to practice and preach over the radio shows National Bible Hour and Radio Sunday School, and at the Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute and Fundamental Baptist Church he attended, that a personal relationship with Jesus Christ was the answer to the deepest human need and the only way to salvation. Fundamentalism was a forceful presence in society during this time, and had been in Aberhart’s, increasing out of the view that mainstream denominations were drifting leftward toward unsavory “modernism,” the intellectualized attempt to substitute rationalism for the authority of the Bible.

 

Two jokes that circulated the Alberta civil service when Ernest Manning was premier illustrate his superiority complex. In the first joke, St. Peter welcomes a psychiatrist at the Pearly Gates and says he needs immediate help. ‘We’re having a little trouble with the Supreme Being,’ explains Peter, ‘because he thinks he’s Manning.’ In the second joke, Manning is looking to buy a burial plot but concerned about the high cost. The owner points out that the plot has a lovely view, looking west to the mountains and east to the prairies. ‘You don’t seem to understand,’ responds Manning, ‘I’ll only be needing it for three days.’

 


If you enjoyed this article, please consider becoming a patron of The Visionable


 Sources

 

Alberta Formed - Alberta Transformed; Alberta 2005 Centennial History Society; 2006

Alberta in the 20th Century; United Western Communications; 1991 – 2003

Alberta Premiers of the 20th Century; Bradford Rennie; 2004

Like Father, Like Son; Lloyd Mackey; 1997

Major Douglas and Alberta Social Credit Ideology, 1932-1948; Bob Hesketh; 1993

Moral Clarity; Susan Neiman; 2009

Storming Babylon; Don Braid and Sydney Sharpe; 1991

The Armageddon Factor; Marci McDonald; 2011

The Ku Klux Klan in Central Alberta; William Peter Baergen; 2002

The Other Alberta; Doreen Barrie; 2006

 

 

Section 2 | The Social Credit Generation: 1935 to 1965, Part 1

socialcredit4.jpg

Series: Political Myth and Consequence in Alberta

Myth is powerful. Leading up to Alberta’s 2019 provincial election, the story Albertans have told about themselves and been told by others since becoming a province is firmly connected to events transpiring today.

The following interpretation of Alberta’s dominant political and cultural history highlights and traces the contextual, defining features and nuances in the evolution of Alberta’s identity through reconstruction, as Albertans seek to rise from the ashes once more at the ballot box this spring.

This series will be featured in the following sections:

1.       Foundations of Alberta’s Conservatism: Confederation to 1935

2.       The Social Credit Generation: 1935 to 1965

3.       Progressive Conservatism: Lougheed and the Oil Boom

4.       Return of Ideology: The Wildrose Alliance Party

5.       The Re-Merge: Jim Prentice to the United Conservative Party


The Social Credit Generation: 1935 to 1965

Part 1

Historical Context: War and Division

 

To understand the reality of present-day politics in Alberta and its historical relationship to federal politics, we must begin with context of Alberta’s social and economic situation that facilitated the rise of Social Credit in 1935. Additionally, the evolution of Alberta’s identity, to be vulnerable to exploit by William Aberhart and Ernest Manning, begins with and stems from immigration.

American sociologist S.M. Lipset, who has often compared Canada and the United States, described the differences in political character between the two as resulting from their formative events. While Canada had a ‘natural birth’ owing to its relative continuity in the relationship with Britain, the United States experienced a ‘caesarian section’, a decisive break from Britain with the War of Independence. This owes to Canadians favoring a stronger governmental role, with reliance on Crown corporations and a mixed economy, than Americans do.

 

As the “Last Best West,” Alberta’s advertised prosperity attracted thousands of immigrants, particularly from the plains states of the United States. These immigrants flowed into southern Alberta, bringing their values of “radical ‘populist’ liberalism that stressed the individual rather than the community or the state” with them, and along with Alberta’s existing farming community, were distrustful of and blamed traditional political parties, banks, and corporate influence for their troubles, particularly during the Great Depression. Southern Alberta is known as a “Bible Belt” due to the concentration of evangelical fundamentalist Christians and Mormons in the region, who migrated to southern Alberta beginning in the late 1800s, solidifying the region’s “Bible Belt” nickname and resulting in increased voter influence of a religious right agenda. Particularly during the oil boom in Alberta, people migrating from Texas were often Mormon or evangelical Christians. Social Credit had always had Mormons within its ranks, and although the evangelicals and Mormons had theological divisions deep enough to keep them apart generally, the two came together when political objectives were at stake.

 

Beginning with the First World War, the Second World War on the heels of the Great Depression, and then the Cold War, war was the significant factor in shaping the mentality and corresponding social attitudes of Albertans. Radicalized by war, persecution and intolerance were rampant as patriotism became indistinguishable from paranoia of “foreigners” – anyone who was not of Anglo-Protestant heritage. In the 1920s, legal rights for women improved, such as securing the right to vote, dower rights, and equal guardianship of children, but this social progress did not extend to ethnic or religious minorities. Organizations such as the Loyal Orange Order and Ku Klux Klan intended to maintain Anglo-Protestant dominance, ensuring nativism coincided with racism. The KKK, aided by the Orange Order, experienced a surge in support in Alberta during the 1920s and 1930s, recruiting over 8000 members to target mostly Eastern European immigrants, Roman Catholics, French speaking Canadians, and African-Canadian ranchers. The KKK failed to take root in Alberta due to a sharp decline in immigration, the establishment of separate schools, and the onset of economic depression and war, which were more tangible threats. Due to internal feuds, the organization dissolved officially by 1933.

 

During the First World War, war had cemented divisions between Native and settler, farmer and trapper, and contributed to the resource exploitation that deepened the gulf between have and have-not by the end of 1917. While rural Alberta seemed prosperous in 1916, the war made many farmers both temporarily affluent and yet unwilling to risk sacrificing their own sons for the cause. Culturally and ethnically, the walls between Albertans were raised higher by the war, creating deep scars and distrust that lingered for at least a generation, as social reform and majoritarian democracy carried with it nativism and repression.

 

Conscription in Canada began in 1917, increasing polarization between Alberta and the ‘Eastern plutocrats’, as Albertans felt they had already contributed a lot to the war effort and needed men at home for farming and mining. Henry Wise Wood, an American originally from Missouri, became President of the United Farmers of Alberta party in 1916. The UFA would go on to form government under Herbert Greenfield, prior to Social Credit, in representation of the farm and labour constituency, believing that farmers would have to enter politics officially to be able to represent their grievances. A defining reason for why the populist UFA was replaced by Social Credit was because UFA was unable to establish significant roots, making Alberta increasingly the ‘odd man out’ among Western Canadian provinces where parties based upon the formal movements of workers and farmers played key roles in shaping provincial politics.

 

Though working-class, farm, and lower-middle class women and men alike formed much of the popular base of the Social Credit movement, its character was ultimately shaped by the cultic dogma of William Aberhart and Ernest Manning that had no ties to previous radical movements in Alberta. The popular-democratic, socialist, and feminist perspectives that important sections of the UFA represented gradually receded to the margins of Alberta politics. Farmers, who were the majority occupational group in Alberta, voted overwhelmingly in favour of Aberhart’s Social Credit, feeling betrayed by the UFA’s inability to improve their financial situation.

 

Alberta’s north-south division developed during this period. As the drought of the Great Depression had not extended to northern Alberta, farmers there proved less enamoured with Social Credit than their southern Alberta counterparts, which showed in Social Credit’s smaller margin of victory in northern ridings. Northern Alberta farmers joined the business community in questioning whether Social Credit’s belligerency towards finance might not harm the agricultural community, rather than help it. Another factor in the north-south division was the higher ethnic diversity in northern Alberta, such as those of French and Ukrainian descent, to whom the Anglo-Protestant Social Credit did not appeal.

 

Dingman No. 1, Turner Valley

Dingman No. 1, Turner Valley

The short-lived Turner Valley oil boom of 1914 was the defining moment for Alberta’s future. In 1924, Imperial Oil’s Royalite No. 4 near Black Diamond burst forth with over a million cubic feet of gas and upwards of six hundred barrels of clear naphtha a day. Other Turner Valley wells quickly followed, and by the late 1920s Alberta’s production of petroleum and gas greatly exceeded Ontario’s. Although this oil boom did not rival those of a later era, it encouraged oil explorers to carry on until they were rewarded spectacularly starting in the late 1940s. Moreover, the Turner Valley discoveries, starting with Royalite, made Alberta the ‘oil province’ and established the pattern for later developments in the oil industry, including the dominance of American capital and the role of Calgary as the industry’s management centre.

 

The quickly developing oil and gas industry engaged, connected, and reshaped both urban and rural Alberta, requiring a significant rural-based work force. Soon, oil revenue filled the empty provincial treasury at such an accelerated rate that the government was able to rebuild neglected public infrastructure and build hospitals and schools. The province’s petroleum industry extended Alberta’s economic, political and social reference points beyond the western provinces to oil-rich American states, such as Texas, setting Alberta on a course increasingly differentiated from the other Prairie Provinces, strengthening its unique political identity. It was the petroleum industry that saved Alberta’s economy and allowed Albertans to be provided for, not Social Credit fiscal management.

 

Despite a post-Second World War influx of European immigrants and refugees into Canada, leading to a population boom and support for this boom to aid the post-war labour shortage, it would take at least a generation before most Albertans were prepared to substantially modify their attitudes toward ethnic groups. As the Cold War escalated, so did threat of atomic war and communist hysteria rhetoric, producing an environment that facilitated the re-customization of Social Credit to suit the communist threat. Having transformed its image – in words only – into a fiscally conservative and free enterprise party, Social Credit tightly held onto its social conservative roots by attempting to tighten censorship regulations, disallowing mixed drinking in public, and its failure to modernize the provincial child welfare system. What Manning would be unable to ignore completely, nor fend off permanently, was the slowly evolving social views of Albertans that the post-war wave of urban and generally well-educated immigrants, in addition to cosmopolitan views brought home by veterans.

 

Aberhart, and particularly Manning after him, manipulated the impressions of how these internal and external events were directly impacting Alberta to both shape Albertan’s mentality and feign an honest reflection of Social Credit government.

Ideological Context: Social Credit’s Brand of Christianity

 

There is a subculture within the religious right in Alberta that does not fit within mainstream denominations, an extremist brand of fundamentalist evangelical Christians who use politics as the engine to push their belief that only they can save humanity from the crisis they believe our society is in. This subculture was cemented in Alberta when William Aberhart started the Social Credit movement in the province and became Premier, followed by his protégé, Ernest Manning. The Aberhart-Manning brand of Christianity, disassociated from traditional and mainstream religious denominations, is defined as extreme fundamentalist, evangelical, and dispensationalist.

 

Fundamentalism is a movement characterized by its rigid adherence to and embodiment of a belief in the literal interpretation of every word in the Bible as the factual truth, and often accompanied by an intolerance of other views and opposition to secularism. Fundamentalists believe that the present experience should be changed by ideas that go beyond experience; often these ideas are impractical and unattainable, such as the desire to reform all of society to fit one fundamentalist, evangelical Christian model. They also believe that the dominant social and economic forces of the modern era run counter to Christian beliefs, and see concepts such as biblical criticism, evolution, humanism, and the social gospel as preparing the way for the Antichrist.

 

Religious scholar Karen Armstrong has pointed out that fundamentalism of every sort grows “in symbiosis” with secularization, saying, “the more it is thwarted, the more extreme it becomes.” Fundamentalists have been politically active, working to see their creedal and ethical beliefs legally enforced. Author Bruce Lawrence argues that in the United States, for instance, fundamentalists are particularly prone to adopting millennial expectations of the nation-state, seeing America as “the land of divine destiny” and working “for the realization of an earthly utopia.” They are generally conservative, advocating social action only when it is in line with their traditional national values. Fundamentalists do not recognize that their moral principles are never true, because truth is what is and morality is what ought to be.

 

The deepest contemporary political divide is not on matters of economics, but between the polar values of authority and autonomy – who has the right, and to what extent, to determine morality and for whom.

 

Dispensationalism is the linking of world history to various Biblical prophecies and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Dispensationalists believe that extreme weather, such as droughts and floods, are prophetic signs foretold in the Bible that prophesize Armageddon and the Second Coming, and to attempt to prevent these would be to defy divine providence. As John Nelson Darby said, “Why care about global climate change, when you and yours will be rescued in the Rapture?” Darby’s theories are not mainstream, but persuasive enough to motivate high-profile dispensationalists, such as influential Canada Family Action Coalition President, Reverend Charles McVety, to agree, “The Bible talks about one-world government, and what we have developed is exactly that … The false religion is the worship of Mother Earth.”

 

The Enlightenment was a philosophical movement in the eighteenth century that challenged blind faith and obedience by encouraging reason, skepticism, and scientific thought, influencing particularly the religious and political realms. The Social Credit brand of Christianity opposes key tenants of the Enlightenment – skepticism, liberalism (the ideology of liberty, equality and democracy), modernity, and secularism, and also oppose idol worship. Enlightenment thinkers rejected the claim that decline is inescapable and championed the liberation of attitudes toward women. By contrast, traditional gender hierarchies and the suppression of sexuality are threads that bind fundamentalist movements. The extreme religious right veers between a realism that is fixed on the worst aspects of human nature, and an absolute idealism that sees nothing but the reflections of its own dreams.

 

In 1981, Ernest Manning claimed, “The idea of abolishing all respect or recognition of spiritual verities from the classroom on the grounds that this might be treading on somebody’s toes in the matter of religious convictions – we’ve paid a terrible price for it. Society wouldn’t be in the mess it’s in today if we hadn’t taken that course.”


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Sources 

Alberta Formed - Alberta Transformed; Alberta 2005 Centennial History Society; 2006

Alberta in the 20th Century; United Western Communications; 1991 – 2003

Like Father, Like Son; Lloyd Mackey; 1997

Major Douglas and Alberta Social Credit Ideology, 1932-1948; Bob Hesketh; 1993

Moral Clarity; Susan Neiman; 2009

Storming Babylon; Don Braid and Sydney Sharpe; 1991

The Armageddon Factor; Marci McDonald; 2011

The Ku Klux Klan in Central Alberta; William Peter Baergen; 2002

The Other Alberta; Doreen Barrie; 2006

Section 1 | Foundations of Alberta’s Conservatism: Confederation to 1935

Series: Political Myth and Consequence in Alberta

Myth is powerful. Leading up to Alberta’s 2019 provincial election, the story Albertans have told about themselves and been told by others since becoming a province is firmly connected to events transpiring today.

The following interpretation of Alberta’s dominant political and cultural history highlights and traces the contextual, defining features and nuances in the evolution of Alberta’s identity through reconstruction, as Albertans seek to rise from the ashes once more at the ballot box this spring.

This series will be featured in the following sections:

1.       Foundations of Alberta’s Conservatism: Confederation to 1935

2.       The Social Credit Generation: 1935 to 1965

3.       Progressive Conservatism: Lougheed and the Oil Boom

4.       Return of Ideology: The Wildrose Alliance Party

5.       The Re-Merge: Jim Prentice to the United Conservative Party


Foundations of Alberta’s Conservatism: Confederation to 1935

Alberta’s conservative tradition began with Canadian Confederation. Conservative Party Leader, Sir John A. Macdonald, was a leading figure toward Confederation, having drafted the majority of the resolutions for the framework for national unity. He became Canada’s first prime minister through a Conservative-Liberal coalition.

 

Macdonald’s nineteen years as Prime Minister, from 1867 to 1873 and again from 1878 to 1891, were formative for Alberta. Macdonald advocated a strong, central government that attempted to balance English and French interests, with a willingness to spend money on the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway and the creation of the North West Mounted Police (the predecessor to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police). Protectionist policy was aimed at learning from the American experience to establish a distinctive economy and role of government in Canada. Macdonald’s National Policy utilized the new trans-continental railway to rapidly develop agriculture in western Canada and placed high tariffs for imported items, which unintentionally caused a rift between Ottawa and western Canada as the region developed unequally from other provinces and territories. The National Policy, therefore, was the first root of western discontent.

 

Two Albertans simultaneously shaped both the province’s and Canada’s political futures. Richard Bedford (R.B.) Bennett, a young Conservative Party member, became law partner to Sir James Lougheed in 1897. Lougheed, who had campaigned for Macdonald while living in Ontario, was a Conservative Senator well-known for voicing the interests and concerns of the West, a proponent for provinces having control over their natural resources, and later, a federal cabinet minister.

 

When Alberta became a province in 1905, Bennett became the first leader of Alberta’s Conservative Party. At the time, provincial politics were reflective of federal politics, of domination between Conservative and Liberal parties, with the Liberals governing in both Alberta and Canada. Alberta’s Conservatives were strong proponents of Alberta’s rights within Confederation through Bennett (these rights later came in the late 1920s under UFA Premier Brownlee), though the issue was not of great importance to most Albertans at the time due to an economic boom. In the 1909 election, only three Conservative candidates were elected, but won 13 seats and 45% of the popular vote in 1913. Bennett moved on to federal politics, having been elected into Canada’s House of Commons in 1911, though returned to Alberta to campaign for the provincial Conservatives during the 1913 election. In 1930, Bennett was elected Prime Minister, a year into the Great Depression.

 

By 1921, Alberta politics had quickly unravelled. Disunity within the provincial Conservative Party had set in between a traditional faction and a more radical faction, which determined the party’s decline to near non-existence until its revival in 1965. The provincial Liberals had also been brought to near-ruin, to the benefit of the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA), whom Liberal voters threw their support behind, boosted by UFA’s successful negotiations for Alberta’s ownership of its natural resources from Ottawa in 1929 under Premier Brownlee. The Great Depression had made Albertans desperate for a political leader who could relieve their distress.

 

Prime Minister Bennett’s government had also become unpopular and was defeated in 1935 despite government intervention – control and regulation – toward the expansion of state responsibility for the economy and for social welfare in response to new perceptions of what the role of the state and the economy should be. Bennett had introduced legislation to establish the Bank of Canada to regulate monetary policy, the creation of the Canadian Wheat Board to create a market and establish a minimum price for wheat, a minimum wage and maximum working hours per week, health and unemployment insurance, grants to farmers, a progressive income tax and expanded pension program, but it was too late in the minds of voters.

 

Provincially, Social Credit took hold in Alberta in 1935. Federally, the Liberals returned to power and remained so until 1958.


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