The Hemisphere: Challenge from the West

  • Canadian voters, traditionally suspicious of offbeat political notions, have been content to alternate their government more or less regularly between the Conservatives, who took over after Confederation in 1867, and the Liberals, who have ruled the country since 1935. With a general election set for June 10. the two major parties now face a bumptious challenge from Western Canada. From their stronghold in Alberta and British Columbia, the Social Credit Party's high command swept into Toronto last week for a national convention launching their first serious bid for national influence.

    Heading the invasion were the Big Three leaders of Social Credit: Solon Earl Low, 57, of Peace River. Alta.. leader of the party's 15 M.P.s (all from Alberta or British Columbia) in the last House of Commons.

    ¶ Ernest Manning, 48, premier of Alberta since 1943.

    ¶William Andrew Cecil Bennett, 56, premier of British Columbia since 1952.

    Depression Panacea. Social Credit took its original inspiration from the funny-money theories of Britain's Major Clifford Hugh Douglas, who argued that the state should issue certificates of credit to all citizens, thus provide abundant purchasing power to stimulate and absorb production in a free-enterprise economy. The Social Crediters readily sold their panaceas to the Depression-racked Albertans of 1935. moved to power on a promise to pay every citizen $25 a month. But Social Credit's early efforts to write the Douglas theories into law ran into a formidable legal roadblock; repeatedly, the courts held that credit and banking were a federal responsibility, threw out provincial easy-credit legislation.

    With the return of prosperity. Alberta Social Crediters built a sound, conventional administration. In 1947 the discovery of vast oil deposits provided a new bonanza; the government cashed in handsomely from the sale of exploration and drilling rights, and from production royalties. The cash surplus rapidly outgrew the province's debt. This year Manning's government declared a cash dividend of $22, payable to every adult citizen who has lived five years in the province.

    Convert to Success. In neighboring British Columbia, Cecil Bennett, a hardware merchant and Tory politician, forsook his old party in 1951, joined the new Social Credit movement, led it to two straight election victories. He built roads, lured industries, cut the provincial debt and this year installed his own form ot giveaway: a $28 tax forgiveness for every homeowner. Bennett has masterminded Social Credit's plans to win national sway by nominating as many as 170 candidate: in Canada's 265 constituencies.

    Few observers rate Social Credit as a threat to the long-entrenched Liberals who held 168 seats in the last House of Commons. But with energy money and luck they conceivably could elect more HP's this year than the Conservatives (50 seats), take over as the official opposition.