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Alberta election 1944: Ernest Manning magic

Albertans don't elect parties so much as anoint political dynasties. And the governments — led by some of the most colourful, popular and durable premiers in Canadian history — have tended to rule for decades. CBC Archives looks back at pivotal election campaigns in Canada's bastion of conservative populism; the glory and the gaffes, the landslides and the losers, the radio preachers and the man they just call Ralph.

When William Aberhart died in 1943, many thought his Social Credit party would also perish. They didn't count on the political magic of Aberhart's chosen successor, Ernest C. Manning. And they never dreamed of the oil revenues that would soon flood the provincial treasury. Manning shows in this CBC Radio clip that both his radio preaching and campaigning skills are worthy of his mentor. With Manning, 35, at the helm, Social Credit in 1944 scores its biggest majority government yet. 
• The 1944 Alberta election was considered a wartime contest between Social Credit, with new leader Ernest C. Manning at the helm, and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, which had just elected its first provincial government in Saskatchewan. The CCF ran candidates in all 57 ridings. Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas and the CCF national leader campaigned for the Alberta CCF in a bid to expand their socialist party's reach westward.

• Despite hopes of capturing as many as 30 seats, the CCF elected only two members, compared to 51 for Social Credit. Manning's huge majority was bigger than the previous two of William Aberhart. "The people of Alberta quenched the Socialist prairie fire," the conservative Globe and Mail newspaper exclaimed. The Independent Party won three seats, the Veterans and Active Force party one. The United Farmers of Alberta had retreated from electoral politics.

• The CCF had promised to take control of privately owned utilities and expand taxpayer-funded social programs. Social Credit, with its focus on fiscal conservatism, personal responsibility and help for the truly needy, ran on its record of improving highways and free health care in certain cases, including tuberculosis and cancer patients. Social Credit also promised 320 acres of Crown land to any returning Alberta war veteran.

• "There is no question but that this third sweeping victory for Social Credit in Alberta will have a very definite bearing on the trend of public opinion throughout the entire Dominion of Canada," declared Manning, who was famed as a riveting speaker. "I predict that it is only a matter of time until all Canadians embrace the true political and economic democracy represented by Social Credit ..."

• Manning was the first student and graduate of Aberhart's Prophetic Bible Institute. He had been captivated by Aberhart's broadcasts while growing up on a farm near Rosetown, Sask., and took over the show after his mentor's death. The thin, bespectacled lay preacher with a rising, nasal voice was a natural politician. A 1967 CBC Radio documentary called it the "Manning magic -- the handshake for the old-timer, the sympathetic ear for a housewife, the knowledgeable chat with a farmer."

• Thanks in part to strong morals that extended to his government, and revenue from a huge 1947 oil strike at Leduc, Manning ruled Alberta for a quarter-century -- a Canadian record -- with seven straight majority governments. However, after he retired in 1968 while still popular, Alberta's Social Credit party crumbled and was never again a political force in the province. Harry Strom took over as premier.

• Although Manning disapproved of the federal Liberal party's social welfare policies, and tried unsuccessfully to keep Alberta out of national medicare, he accepted a Senate appointment from Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1970. He retired from the Senate in 1983 and advised his son, Preston Manning, on policy and strategy for the federal Reform Party. Manning died Feb. 19, 1996, at the age of 87 from a form of lung cancer.
Medium: Radio
Program: Sunday Magazine
Broadcast Date: Sept. 5, 1971
Guest(s): William Aberhart, Orvis Kennedy, Ernest Manning
Host: Bruce Rogers, Corky Rawson
Duration: 3:42
Photo: Provincial Archives of Alberta, P5324

Last updated: September 18, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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