The Great Depression dealt a cruel blow to Canada’s prairie provinces, which suffered a prolonged drought at the same time. Desperation led to agitation and a search for alternatives to the traditional parties. In Alberta, William Aberhart embraced the theories of social credit and used his radio show to promote the doctrine. In this speech in December 1934, Aberhart promised that each citizen would receive a monthly allowance from the government. His detractors called it funny money.
Probably no subject has pressed itself upon the consciousness of the people of this province and of other parts of the world like that of social credit. From north to south and from east to west, no matter where you go, you can hear it discussed on every hand. That fact alone should challenge the interest of the intelligent citizens of this province.
As our speakers travel from place to place, and from district to district, they find that most of the interest in this subject is due to the fact that social credit claims to be a remedy for the present unnecessary suffering and dire privation that is prevalent everywhere . . .
If social credit is introduced into this province, it would pattern its procedure after the present method with the one exception that the credit would be issued by the provincial credit house instead of by the banks. The proposal is that the state credit house shall issue to each bona fide citizen of Alberta (the qualifications of citizenship will be prescribed), a monthly basic dividend credit (say twenty-five dollars) sufficient to purchase the bare necessities of food, clothing, and shelter, whether he works or does not work, and he will never be asked to pay it back.
If the government elected in Alberta is pledged to put social credit into operation in this province, it would likely take four main steps:
A complete, detailed, and most careful census of the province would be made, showing the name, the address, the district, probable occupation, age, length of residence, assets, liabilities, et cetera, of each person living within its boundaries.
The attorney general’s department would be called upon to draft out, ready for adoption, the Social Credit Act.
A number of officials (chartered accountants, experienced bank officials, et cetera) would be trained to carry out, supervise, and inspect the work of the various branch credit houses to be situated in every district or neighbourhood in the province.
A commission would be appointed, consisting of expert members from every trade, calling, or profession to investigate carefully the price spread in our province and fix the just price for goods and services during the first three or six months of its operation. This just price would be changed from time to time to suit the exigencies of the case. I should judge that these steps might take from nine to fifteen months to accomplish . . .
Social credit at least treats the cause of our present difficulty, directly and continuously. This issuance of credit would immediately distribute the goods and services stored up, increasing the turnover of the retailer and wholesaler, putting the factories and producers back at work, and thus decreasing unemployment. The one great feature of the whole remedy was that men, women, and children would be guaranteed their food, clothing, and shelter. Giving purchasing power sufficient to buy the goods and services is not inflation. But some provision, it is true, must be made to direct and control the flow of profit . . .
To counteract, or cool off this boiling of the pot, two other features are suggested in social credit:
A just, equitable price of goods and services must be fixed. The commission of experts appointed by the government would investigate the price spread and fix an equitable, just price for all goods and services, one which was fair to the producer, manufacturer, and distributor, and which did not exploit the purchasing power of the consumer; in other words, give him value for this money . . .
The farmers today are being obligated to sell their goods below actual cost of production. In conversation with the retail grocers, I find that there could be probably a reduction of from 10 to 15 percent on groceries, when accounts are practically guaranteed and the turnover is greatly increased, as it would be under social credit. The same applies to many other lines. This also would give the small businessman a fair chance with the larger departmental or chain stores. Its main purpose, however, is to prevent the evil effects of uncontrolled inflation or deflation.
Flow of credit
Provision must be made for a continuous flow of credit . . . The mighty, modern efficiency machinery has removed the burden from the backs of mankind, but has left them without purchasing power to obtain the goods made by the machines which they have invented. The goods and the services are available, the people really want them, but the consumers generally have not the wherewithal with which to purchase. Thus the retail storekeeper cannot sell his goods, and he is in difficulty to meet his payments and overhead charges. The wholesaler finds his warehouse packed with a surplus that he cannot dispose of, and he cannot collect from the retailer. The manufacturer and producer must therefore cease operations and dismiss the employees. Hence the country has to face the increasing problem of unemployment and relief.
These are all symptoms of the real trouble, a lack of purchasing power in the hands of the consumers. If the heart, with only 2 quarts of blood, can pump 135 gallons per hour, the state with $10 million credit should be quite easily able to distribute from $120 million to $160 million worth of goods and services. This would provide every one of the four hundred thousand adult bona fide citizens in the province with the bare necessities of food, clothing, and shelter during the year . . .
To keep this flow of credit properly directed and controlled, there might need to be a compulsory spending clause in the act, requiring that all saving or hoarding should be done by purchasing Alberta bonds.
There is but one other question that we will ask: Where will this $10 million credit come from? It will come from levy included in the just price of goods, much the same as the gasoline tax is secured today . . .
Women and families
One objection to social credit is that it would make the women too independent. We hear a great deal about divorce and unhappy marriages, of white slave traffic and what not. Surely it is time that women were uplifted and made more independent. Women would no longer have to consider marriage from the present economic insecurity angle. They would not be induced to marry for a meal ticket. Do you think it would hurt the wife to have her own income with which to purchase her own clothes and not have to ask her husband when she wants anything? I am persuaded that social credit would tend to happier homes.
Aberhart’s message struck a chord. His Social Credit Party was to sweep to power in 1935. Many of his promised reforms were impractical and could not be implemented. Others were ruled unconstitutional by the courts, but Social Credit remained in power for 36 years, until 1971.
Lewis Thomas, ed: William Aberhart and Social Credit in Alberta (Toronto: Copp Clark Publishing, 1977). Speech on pp: 67-69
CBC Archives (includes video): William ‘Bible Bill’ Aberhart, Social Credit pioneer
Maclean’s magazine: Aberhart, The Man and the Shadow, Barbara Moon
Provincial Archives of Alberta