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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Chapter Thirty-Two Continued: Faith Feud of Ernest Manning and Tommy Douglas

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

Preston Manning once said that when he was in university, he would be teased about the religious elements in the Social Credit Party, by what he called 'Marxist' or socialists followers of the NDP. So he would show them old pamphlets of the CCF (the forerunner to the NDP) which then called itself "a Christian Party". (1)

However, there was a big difference between the Christianity of Tommy Douglas (CCF) and that of his father's.

Douglas, and members of the CCF belonged to the social gospel movement, that combined Christian principles with social reform. Students of the social gospel were actually encouraged to question fundamentalism, and focus on Christian ethics. (2) Ernest Manning on the other hand, believed in the infallibility of the Bible.

These competing tendencies can be personified in Tommy Douglas and Ernest Manning, two preachers who became premiers. Douglas was a Baptist pastor in Weyburn, Saskatchewan and responded to the Great Depression by becoming involved with the Farm-Labour Party and later the Cooperative Commonwealth
Federation (CCF). ...

... Throughout his years as premier, Manning continued to appear as a lay preacher on the religious radio program that he had inherited from Aberhart. On occasion Manning recruited his son Preston to stand in for him on the show. Ernest Manning ruled Alberta from the right, particularly after the discovery of oil ... He grudgingly introduced welfare measures such as building homes for the aged, but believed none of that would be necessary if people in society were shouldering their Christian duties to care for one another.

In Saskatchewan, Douglas ruled from the left and his party introduced North America’s first state medical care insurance program in 1962. When Ottawa proposed Medicare for all Canadian provinces later in the decade, Manning was opposed. (2)

Ernest Manning's greatest fear was the spread of socialism:

"Throughout his political career, Ernest Manning was motivated by religion, and more specifically, by anti-Socialism: 'Socialism, to Manning, is a system which largely prevents the individual from attaining the state of grace and hence salvation ... Giving to the individual societal benefits such as free medical care ... breeds idleness... causing a break down in his relationship with God'. "Manning argued that 'where the state imposed a monopoly on a service ... the sinful philosophy of state collectivism scored a victory'. ((3)
I believe that had William Aberhart still been alive when oil struck at Leduc in 1947, he would have used the province's new riches to help the people of Alberta. Becaseu for all of his religiou fanaticism, he deeply cared about those who were suffering.

The specific Christianity of Ernest Manning was actually more closely attuned to fundamentalism than was Aberhart's. The latter had moved, says Social Credit scholar Alvin Finkel, "towards views that resembled the social gospel," a more liberal religious view of social action. Manning's gospel was the "gospel of individualism," says Finkel. "... he viewed humans as essen-tially alone in a struggle to achieve eternal salvation and believed that a collectivist state belittled that struggle and made individuals more vulnerable to behaviour that might lead to eternal damnation."
This evangelical view of humans as essentially alone in the struggle for salvation leads to a gospel of the individual and also, naturally enough, "in the world" to the gospel of free enterprise and capitalism. It compels many of its adherents to elevate capitalism to the level of Biblical command. Richard Neuhaus, an American evangelist, says it is "imperative for Christians to support capitalism. It is an amazing thing ... It comes from the grace of God."

This fundamentalist view commands its adherents to promote capitalism as the "best hope" of the poor. According to Reverend Ben Smillie, using Ernest Manning as an example, these evangeli-cal sects "have religiously sanctified the privileges of the economically powerful." The multi-millionaire Ernest Manning could denounce the "Godless materialism" of the communist sys-tem, while materialism sanctioned by God allowed him to "equate [his] wealth with the blessing of God." (4)

What I found the most compelling about Ernest Manning was how serious he was. Comedian and talk show host, Percy Saltzman, interviewed him once and had this to say:
Ernest Manning, Social Credit Premier of Alberta, I remember as the coldest fish I ever did tangle with. Ice water in his veins, I swear. Probably due to the notoriously deep-rooted streak of anti-Semitism among the Mormonic Socreds (pace Aberhart and his goys) (5)
I don't think his faith was making him happy and certainly was not cheering up those around him. The following is a brief interview, and I can see what Saltzman meant.

Some of this rubbed off on his son Preston. As a member of the youth wing of the Social Credit Party; he once stated: "We (socreds) believe that Canada is drifting towards socialism even when the majority of Canadians are opposed to collectivism and the welfare state..." (6)


1. The New Canada, Preston Manning, 1992, MacMillan Canada, ISBN: 0-7715-9150-0, pg. 95

2. CCF: The Anatomy of a Party, By: Walter D. Young, University of Toronto Press, ISBN: 0-8020-5221-5, Pg. 159

3. Citizenship as ministry: Religious progressives, By Dennis Gruending, Pulpit and Politics, February 8, 2009

4. Preston Manning and the Reform Party, by Murray Dobbin, Goodread Biographies/Formac Publishing, 1992, ISBN: 0-88780-161-7, pg. 9-10

5. PREMIERS, PRIME MINISTERS, COLOSTOMIES & ME OR ... Life in that Sandbox on the Hill, Percy Saltzman, 2006

6. Dobbin, 1992, Pg. 24-25

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