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William Aberhart: Premier of World's First Social Credit Government

For the week of Monday August 20, 2001

On August 22, 1935, the first Social Credit government in the world was elected in Alberta. The most sensational election in Canadian history, it gained much international attention because of one man—William "Bible Bill" Aberhart.

Aberhart broadcasts 'Back to the Bible'

Aberhart broadcasts "Back to the Bible"
© Glenbow Archives, Calgary, Canada / NA-2771-2

William Aberhart was born in 1878 in Perth County, Ontario. With his wife Jessie and their two daughters, he moved to Calgary in 1910 where he was principal at three different public schools over the next five years. In 1915, he became the principal of Crescent Heights High School and remained there for twenty years. During this time he preached and led Bible classes around Calgary. His dominant personality, dynamism and organizational skills gained him much popularity and success. He began broadcasting a radio show called "Back to the Bible" in 1925. In 1927, he became Dean of the Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute and, in 1929, founded his own church called The Bible Institute Baptist Church.

In the thirties the Great Depression created the right atmosphere in Alberta for the new monetary theories of Scottish mining engineer, Major C.H. Douglas. His theories, collectively known as social credit, sought to increase the purchasing power of consumers. To accomplish this, a dividend would be given to Albertans so they could buy more products and revive the economy. Social credit gained much support in Alberta, but it wasn't until Aberhart involved himself that the movement turned into a political party. He thought Douglas' theories were the perfect solution to the Great Depression, and he broadcast them with religious fervour on his radio show. He promised that social credit would end poverty, hunger and want forever. As the first politician in Canada to optimize the use of radio for political purposes, Aberhart succeeded. In what turned out to be a record turnout at the polls, Aberhart's Social Credit Party won 56 of the 63 seats in government. The most radical political experiment in North America seemed to have worked.

Aberhart campaigns for Social Credit

Aberhart campaigns for Social Credit
© Glenbow Archives, Calgary, Canada / NA-5541-3

Unfortunately, Aberhart's utopia failed. The Supreme Court declared many of the measures his government tried to pass unconstitutional. Albertans did not get their promised dividend. Yet because of Aberhart's sincerity and what the government did accomplish, Aberhart remained Premier until his death in 1943, and the Social Credit government remained in power until 1971.

A plaque in Calgary, Alberta commemorates William Aberhart as a Person of National Historical Significance.

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