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Submitted by justin.anders on Tue, 12/02/2014 - 1:41pm

The politics of the western provinces has had a significant impact in shaping the nation Canada is today.  The University of Calgary Archives has a large and growing collection of records pertaining to western Canadian political parties and politicians.  This digital collection contains a selection of textual and photographic records from the Archives' holdings created by political parties and individuals involved in the political process. 

Explore the constitution, policies, or news releases of the Reform Party of Canada or the Western Canada Concept Party; speeches by Preston Manning, Tom Flanagan or Stephen Harper; a Social Credit manual and personal letters written by William Aberhart, and more.

Access to the digitized documents and images within this database and the technical capacity to download them does not imply permission for re-use.  The documents and images available here are for scholarly and personal research purposes only.  

Permission to reproduce (i.e. publish or publicly display) any document or image from this collection must be requested in writing. Such requests must be addressed to the University Archives as indicated below, quoting the accession number and file number of the relevant items.


The Reform Party of Canada was born out of a sense of frustration and disillusionment amongst a coalition of western Canadian businessmen and interest groups with what they regarded as the federal Progressive Conservative Party’s disregard for the West’s contributions to the political and economic well being of the country. Led by Preston Manning, the son of long-time Alberta Social Credit premier Ernest Manning, the coalition supported the creation of a western reform movement as a means of voicing the West’s discontent and as an alternative to western separation.

The Party was founded in 1987 and in March 1989 Deborah Grey was elected as its first Member of Parliament during a by-election held in Beaver River, Alberta.  By 1990 the Party was a significant political force in the West. In the federal election of 1993 the Party upset the political establishment by electing 52 Reformers to sit in the House of Commons (including 22 of 26 seats in Alberta and 24 of 30 seats in British Columbia), helping to decimate the Progressive Conservatives in the process. In the 1997 general election Reform increased its seat total to 60, enough to install Manning in the office of the Leader of the Opposition. However, all of Reform’s members were from west of Ontario. The Canadian political geography had split mostly along regional lines, with Reform in the West, the ruling Liberals in Ontario, and the Bloc Québécois in Quebec.

Discontented with being perceived as a regional party, Manning proposed a radical solution. In September 1998 he initiated the “United Alternative” movement to bring together conservatives from all political backgrounds in an effort to “unite the right”, produce a national party and end the vote splitting and stalemate that had resulted from the Progressive Conservative Party and the Reform Party running candidates in the same constituencies, thus allowing Liberal Party candidates to win ridings in which the majority of the electorate was right-wing. Two United Alternative conventions were held in 1999 and 2000 which lay the groundwork for a new party by bringing together supporters and organisers from a variety of right-wing parties, accepting policies, principles and a constitution that was drafted between the two conventions. On March 25, 2000 members of the Reform Party voted 92% in favour of dissolving their party and adopting the constitution of the new political party, and the Canadian Alliance was born.




Western Canada Concept

The Western Canada Concept was a Western Canadian political party founded in 1980 to promote the separation of the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia and the Yukon and Northwest Territories from Canada in order to create a new nation.

Western Canada Concept argued that Western Canada could not receive fair treatment while the interests of Quebec and Ontario dominated Canadian politics. The party gained popularity in Alberta following the federal Liberal government announcement of the National Energy Program in October 1980 when western alienation was at its height. The NEP aimed to ensure low energy costs for Canadian industry and consumers -- a policy that would not benefit Alberta, Canada's major producer of oil and gas.

A member of the party, Gordon Kesler, was elected to the Alberta legislature in a 1982 provincial by-election in Olds-Didsbury riding that drew national attention. The Party's best electoral results came later in the same year during the Alberta general election, where it took 11.8 per cent of the vote, though it did not elect any MLAs and Gordon Kesler lost his seat.

Kesler became leader of the Alberta WCC with his election to the legislature. In 1984, he was replaced by Jack Ramsay, later a federal Reform Member of Parliament. In 1987, a group of Alberta members who were dissatisfied with the party's leadership and direction left the party to establish the Western Independence Party.

Western Independence Party

The Western Independence Party (WIP) was founded by a group of 150 people from across the western provinces who had grown dissatisfied with the direction of the federal Western Canada Concept (WCC).   At the party's founding convention in October 1987 in Edmonton, Dr, Fred Marshall was elected interim leader. Marshall had previously run unsuccessfully for the leadership of the provincial WCC in 1984, losing to future Reform Party M.P. Jack Ramsay of Camrose, Alberta.  

Like the Western Canada Concept, the WIP advocated the separation from Canada of the western Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba as well as the Yukon and Northwest Territories to form a new country.  In the Canadian federal election of 1988, the party ran 11 candidates - one in British Columbia, seven in Alberta, and three in Manitoba. All the candidates were soundly defeated with none garnering even 1% of the popular vote in any riding.

The party has had provincial branches in each of the four western Canadian provinces. The federal wing of the Western Independence Party has not run candidates in a federal election since 1988. 

William Aberhart

William Aberhart (1878-1943) was the premier of Alberta (1935-1943), head of the Social Credit Party, and a popular lay preacher and broadcaster.  Aberhart worked as a teacher and school principal in southern Ontario and later Calgary.  He ran popular bible classes, and in 1925 began his Sunday afternoon radio broadcasts, called the "Back to the Bible Hour". In 1927 he opened the Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute, and two years later founded the Bible Institute Baptist Church.

Aberhart became interested in politics in the 1930s as a result of the Great Depression. Attracted by the 'social credit' theories of Scottish engineer Major C.H. Douglas which addressed the "discrepancy between the costs of production and the purchasing power of individuals", Aberhart founded the Social Credit League in an effort to lobby the United Farmers of Alberta government to adopt social credit policies.

When this attempt failed, Aberhart organized Alberta's Social Credit Party.  The party won the 1935 Alberta provincial election by a landslide.  During his tenure as Premier, Aberhart and the Social Credit government were successful in legislating its "prosperity certificate" program and also in making changes to Alberta's educational system and labour laws. They also established oil and gas conservation practices and provincial marketing boards. However, the Social Credit policies were not fully realized - attempts to change legislation pertaining to the administration of banks or operation of the newspapers in the province were unsuccessful. 

Aberhart died in office in 1943.

See William Aberhart's biography in The Canadian Encyclopedia 

Ernest Manning

Ernest Charles Manning (1908-1996) was the premier of Alberta (1943-1968) and a Canadian Senator (1970-1980).  Manning enrolled in the Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute in 1927 after listening to William Aberhart's "Back to the Bible Hour" radio broadcasts. Quickly taken under Aberhart's wing, Manning became the Institute's first graduate in 1930. He remained with the Institute and began assisting with and speaking on the Bible Hour broadcasts. 

During the early 1930's Manning, like Aberhart was influenced by the social credit theories of Major C. H. Douglas and he joined Aberhart in the promotion of the new Social Credit League. In 1935, Manning ran and won a seat in the Alberta provincial legislature under the Social Credit banner.  Premier Aberhart appointed Manning to the portfolios of Provincial Secretary and Minister of Trade. He held these two cabinet roles from 1935-1943.

After Aberhart's death in 1943, Manning was elected leader of the Alberta Social Credit League and Premier of Alberta. He won seven elections as Premier of Alberta and held cabinet positions as Provincial Treasurer (1944-1954), Minister of Mines and Minerals (1952-1962) and Attorney General (1955-1968).  In 1947 oil was discovered in Leduc and Manning saw the resulting revenues as a means to fund "good government" in the province. He proved to be fiscally and politically conservative, and moved away from most of the social credit theories on which his party had been founded. He resigned his seat in 1968.

After his retirement from the Alberta legislature, Ernest Manning was appointed to the Senate of Canada in 1970 where he served until 1980. He was appointed to the Privy Council of Canada in 1967, became a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1969, and was honoured with numerous awards, certificates and honorary degrees.  Ernest Manning died in Calgary, Alberta on February 19, 1996.

See Manning's biography in The Canadian Encyclopedia

Arthur Ryan Smith

Arthur Ryan Smith, C.M., D.F.C., O.C., A.O.E., Hon. LL.D., was born in Calgary on 16 May 1919, the son of Arthur LeRoy Smith, K.C. and Sara Isobel Ryan. He received his early education in Calgary and at Shawnigan Lake School, British Columbia. At age 16 Smith began working at the Turner Valley oilfield. He continued working in the oilfields for 4 years, until 1940 when he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. During the Second World War he served in 34 operations as an RAF Pathfinder Pilot overseas and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Arthur Smith had a long and illustrious career in business during which he made significant contributions to public life. He is one of few Canadians to have served as a City Alderman (Calgary, elected 1953, 1963), member of a provincial Legislature (Alberta, elected 1955), and Member of Parliament (elected 1957, 1958, 1962). While an MP, he was Chairman of several parliamentary committees, and was an advisor and Canadian delegate to the United Nations (1957-1963). While at the UN he was a representative on the Special Political Committee of the General Assembly. Mr Smith was Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of SNC Partec Inc. and Lavalin Services Inc. On his retirement he was retained as a Senior Consultant to Management of SNC-Lavalin Inc. Mr. Smith was a founding Co-Chairman of the Calgary Economic Development Authority and the Alberta Economic Development Authority. He was Editor of "Oil in Canada" and "Petroleum Exploration Digest" (1952), Vice-President of Foster Advertising Ltd., President of Ventures Management Ltd., and President of International Jet Air.

He served as Chief of Protocol for the XV Olympic Winter Games (1988), Executive Member of the organizing committee for the World Energy Congress (1989), President of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, co-founder of the Calgary Transportation Authority, President of the Air Cadet League of Canada(1962/3), Director of the Asia Pacific Foundation, Board Member of the Calgary Airport Authority, Board member of the Alberta Cancer Foundation, Chairman of the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires and founder of the Calgary Homeless Foundation.

At the University of Calgary Art Smith served as Chairman of the University of Calgary Centre for Innovation and Technology, the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies and the Van Horne Institute of International Transportation and Regulatory Affairs. During his career he received many honours and awards including the Order of Canada (1988, Member; 2003, Officer), an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of Calgary (1988), and the Alberta Order of Excellence and appointed Honorary Colonel of the 416 Tactical Fighter Squadron (1997).

Art Smith died in Calgary on June 30, 2008 at the age of 89.