In the spring of 1943, William Aberhart was showing signs of fatigue. Deciding to take a vacation to Vancouver for rest, he ended up having to be hospitalized, where he died on May 23.
There is a lot of speculation as to what may have caused his health to deteriorate so quickly, many believing that stress may have been a factor. Indeed it would appear that he was engaged in some kind of controversy, again concerning church finances. In a letter to Vernon Barber, the man making the accusations, Aberhart writes:
You say I have defrauded the people by taking their money under false pretences. I have never received money from the people for preaching the Gospel and so how could you make that charge? Any preaching I do is done gratis and how do you make out that I have sold my birthright for a mess of pottage.Two days before that Aberhart had written to a colleague, saying that he was too weak to attend church that Sunday. There is a hint of this controversy, when he says: "I thought I would let you know early so that you could prepare yourself for the ordeal." (1)
However, the official cause of death was sclerosis of liver, and since he never drank alcohol may have been what is known as non-alcoholic Steatohepatitis, where fat gets deposited in the liver leading the liver to becomes inflamed, ceasing to function.
Ernest Manning was a pall bearer and also delivered the eulogy. Whatever the ordeal was that had upset William Aberhart so, he took it to his grave.
The Passing of the Torch
Aberhart had been like a father to Ernest Manning, and when he first arrived as a student to the Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute, the two had been almost inseparable. Ernest became the family chauffeur, and had acted as unofficial deputy premier since their huge victory in 1935.
When he married Muriel Preston, it was Aberhart who gave the bride away, and when son Preston was born, William Aberhart became his godfather.
Therefore, he seemed like the natural successor and former Social Credit MPP, Alf Hooke describes the passing of the torch.
The following year an election was held, which resulted in a landslide victory. Many attribute this success to Ernest Manning, but Alf Hooke saw it differently.
Although Ernest Manning was only thirty-four years old, it seemed to the vast majority of the Social Credit members of the Legislature that he was the natural successor to Mr. Aberhart. After all, he had been tutored at the Bible Institute, had lived in the Aberhart home and had become well known throughout the Province for his Sunday radio broadcasts, in association with Mr. Aberhart, as well as having held for eight years the position of first Acting Premier.
Mr. Manning was chosen at a caucus of the Social Credit members which saw Mr. Solon Low also nominated. While the vote was never made public, I can relate at this date that Mr. Manning received all but two of the votes. Naturally the vast majority of the members had expected a Manning acclamation and it was a great surprise when Mr. Fred Anderson, M.L.A. from Calgary, arose in his place and nominated Mr. Low. As a matter of fact, it seemed to surprise even Mr. Low. Mr. Manning has stated to me since that his ballot was cast in Low's favor; however, Mr. Low likewise assured me that his ballot was cast for Mr. Manning, which simply leaves one to wonder.
Mr. Manning retained the Aberhart Cabinet, Mr. Low becoming Minister of Education, in addition to the post he had previously held as Provincial Treasurer. Mr. C. E. Gerhart from Coronation, and father of the present Attorney General, was sworn in as Minister of Municipal Affairs, and I became Provincial Secretary, assuming the post Mr. Manning himself held from 1935. I was succeeded as Chairman of the Social Credit Board by Mr. R. E. Ansley who had previously been a Board member. Shortly after Mr. Ansley was appointed to the Cabinet as Minister of Education and Mr. A. V. Bourcier succeeded him as Chairman of the Board and William Tomyn was added to the Board. The new Premier assured the people of the Province that it was his intention to carry on in the footsteps of his predecessor and that the battle for monetary reform would continue to be waged.
It was most interesting at that time to see the change in attitude of the public toward the Social Credit government. Countless people who had bitterly opposed Mr. Aberhart expressed themselves as being prepared to support Premier Manning. It seemed in many cases that personal pride had prevented them from expressing similar support for Mr. Aberhart, even though they knew that his program was working in the interests of the common people of this province. Mr. Manning had assured the people in no uncertain way that the long range program of Mr. Aberhart would be continued with renewed vigor, when in a public address on June 11, 1943, he said: "As long as my colleagues and I have anything to do with the government of this Province, we will see to it that Alberta continues to lead the world in the great fight to secure for every man, woman and child complete and permanent freedom from fear and worry and from social insecurity.
We are determined to continue to do everything in our power to break this vicious money monopoly in accordance with the mandate given to us by the citizens of Alberta in 1935 and again in 1940. We will never give up until effective control of the monetary system has been restored to the democratically elected representatives of the people themselves and is being used to provide every man, woman and child with sufficient purchasing power to enable them to enjoy a secure standard of living commensurate with the productive capacity of the country of which they are citizens." (2)
The election of 1944 saw the Social Credit forces returned to power with a membership of fifty-one to five in the opposition. The credit for this landslide has been often given to Mr. Manning and his Cabinet, but when we realize that Mr. Aberhart had left the scene only a year before, the correct assumption is that the people of Alberta had voted overwhelming confidence in the Aberhart program, which Mr. Manning had vowed to continue. (2)Manning did keep to his promise to try and continue Aberhart's program, but found that it was more difficult than he had imagined"
During the regular session of 1946 an act known as the Alberta Bill of Rights was passed. It represented an all-out effort to establish Social Credit financial proposals in the Province. It provided for a guaranteed income of not less than $600.00 a year to all Alberta citizens between the ages of nineteen and sixty. Part One of the Act outlined those rights which democracy guarantees to every individual, while Part Two was devoted to the methods of making Part One operative. Provision was made in the bill for its submission directly by the government to the Supreme Court of Alberta for a ruling on its validity. This was done before the bill was to become law. (2)But once again the Supreme Court decided that Social Credit's attempt to undermine Canada's banking system, was not constitutional.
Then on February 13, 1947, an event would take place that guaranteed the death of the Social Credit ideology, and make Ernest Manning the best friend big business ever had.
Another grandiose Social Credit idea turned out last week to be bankrupt. In Alberta's Supreme Court, Chief Justice Horace Harvey and his four colleagues ruled that Premier Ernest Charles Manning's sweeping "Bill of Rights" was unconstitutional. The court's reason: Alberta's brand of Social Credit would infringe on Dominion control of banking.
That was something many Albertans had muttered when the Bill of Rights was passed by the provincial legislature last spring. But the Social Credit government, which decided to have the court pass on the bill before it was put into effect, waved the rumblings aside: the people should not concern themselves with the means but with the end.
On paper, the end looked wonderful. Alberta's Bill of Rights guaranteed the fundamental rights of worship, speech, lawful assembly, and a few more. Among the added starters: 1) a minimum income of $600 a year to every adult Albertan, 2) a pension for all from 19 to 60 years who were unemployed or unemployable; 3) all the necessaries of life and education for those under 19; and 4) retirement benefits for folks over 60.
With such provisions Alberta's Supreme Court found no inherent fault, although Justice Harvey found some parts of the bill incomprehensible. But Premier Manning and his Social Creditors came a legal cropper on their means of financing the benefits. They proposed to set up a five-man Board of Credit Commissioners to estimate the value of all the "assets" of the province (mountains, rivers, forests, etc.), developed or undeveloped. All this blue-sky calculation would add up, Premier Manning and friends reckoned, to the grand sum of $231 billion. To this figure they proposed to add the "capitalized productive capacity" of the 800,000 people of the province.
Against that impressive fund of social credit, the Government would issue credit certificates to pay for the benefits, keep paying out of the central control credit fund until purchasing power balanced goods and services available.
The next clause in the Bill added the final touch in the legislation story of Alice in Bankerland. By this provision all credit institutions (except the Bank of Canada, trust and insurance and mortgage companies) would have to get a provincial license to do business in the province. That did it. The court ruled: provinces cannot infringe on control of banking.
Spare, intense Premier Manning took the court's decision in silence. Eleven years after the late William ("Bible Bill") Aberhart swept into power on a pledge of $25-a-month-credit-to-every-Albertan, the provincial government was still Social Credit in name only. (3)
Ninety feet up on the monkey board, a derrick man and his three hustlers cut their rig into the central Alberta plains of Leduc. A hard northwest wind blustering through a foot of snow doesn't stop the crew from digging down to the pool of crude. ... After 133 fruitless attempts, an Imperial Oil rig smacked Leduc's huge reserve ... Oil spewed and burst into a fetid ring of smoke, like a bomb exploding. The find was as rare as gold nuggets. (4)What followed was a U.S. invasion that would help to shape Alberta for decades.
Continued: Boom Times for Alberta
1. Like Father, Like Son: Ernest Manning and Preston Manning, By Lloyd Mackey, ECW Press, 1997, ISBN: 1-55022-299-6, Pg. 28
2. 30+5 I know, I was There, A first-hand account of the workings and history of the Social Credit Government in Alberta, Canada 1935-68, by Alfred J Hooke, Douglas Social Credit Secretariat.
3. Canada: ALBERTA: Blue Skies, Time Magazine, December 30, 1946
4. Striking Oil in Alberta, CBC Archives