The Honourable William Aberhart was Premier of Alberta's first Social Credit Government. Representatives of the Social Credit Party governed the Province for 35 years and eight months (1935-1971).
William Aberhart was born on December 30, 1878, near Kippen in Hibbert Township, Perth County, Ontario. He was the son of William Aberhart and Louisa Pepper. William Aberhart was a Baptist.
William attended a local public school, the Seaforth Collegiate Institute, and the Chatham Business College. As well, he attended the model school at Mitchell, Ontario, and the Ontario Normal School in Hamilton, Ontario. During the period 1907-1911, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Queen's University at Kingston, Ontario, through that organization's extension program.
By the turn of the 20th century, William Aberhart began teaching public school at Morris School, which was located near Wingham, Ontario. In 1901, he moved to Brantford, Ontario, and began teaching commercial subjects at Central Public School in that community.
On July 30, 1902, William Aberhart married Janet Mary Flatt of Galt, Ontario. They had two daughters: Khona Louise and Ola Janet.
William Aberhart was appointed Principal of Central Public School in 1905. During the period of time that he lived in Brantford, he also preached, on a relief basis, at several local churches and conducted Bible classes.
He moved to Calgary in 1910 and, during the period 1910 to 1915, was Principal of three public schools in that city (Alexandra, Mount Royal, and King Edward). In 1915, he was appointed Principal of Crescent Heights High School in Calgary and served in that capacity for 20 years. During this period of time, William Aberhart preached at various churches in the Calgary area and conducted Bible classes.
Aberhart founded the Calgary Prophetic Bible Conference in 1918. In 1925, he began broadcasting his Sunday afternoon lectures, his Back to the Bible Hour program, on the radio. These broadcasts eventually had a large listening audience in the Provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, and in the adjacent states of the United States.
As a consequence of the hardships wrought by the Great Depression, in the early 1930s, William Aberhart became interested in the monetary theories of Major C. H. Douglas, a British engineer. Collectively, these theories are known as "social credit" and are concerned with the "discrepancy between the costs of production and the purchasing power of individuals. A Social Credit Government would supplement individuals' purchasing power through direct grants."* Between the years 1932 and 1935, William Aberhart and the Social Credit League tried to persuade the United Farmers of Alberta Government to adopt some social credit policy. When these attempts failed, William Aberhart organized Alberta's Social Credit Party, and its representatives contested the 1935 provincial election and won it by a large majority.
William Aberhart had not presented himself as a candidate in the 1935 provincial election. However, because he was Leader of the Social Credit Party, William Aberhart was appointed Premier of the Province of Alberta effective September 3, 1935, by Lieutenant Governor William L. Walsh. On the same date, William Aberhart was also appointed Minister of Education. Subsequently, on November 4, 1935, a by-election was held in the electoral district of Okotoks-High River, and William Aberhart was elected by acclamation. On September 15, 1937, he was appointed Attorney General. Following the general election of 1940, he continued to serve as Premier, Attorney General, and Minister of Education, but this time as a Member for the multi-Member electoral district of Calgary.
During its first term in office, the Social Credit Government was successful in legislating its "prosperity certificate" program. However, it was not successful in its attempts to legislate changes in the administration of banks and the operation of newspapers in the Province. These latter bills were declared ultra vires (i.e. unconstitutional). The Social Credit Party was re-elected in the provincial general election of 1940 and, subsequently, it made changes to Alberta's educational system and labour laws and established oil and gas conservation and provincial marketing boards.
During a visit to Vancouver, British Columbia, William Aberhart died unexpectedly on May 23, 1943. He was buried in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Burnaby. The Aberhart Centre, a long-term medical care centre in Edmonton, Alberta, is named in his memory.
* McMenemy, John, The Language of Canadian Politics: A Guide to Important Terms and Concepts, Toronto: John Wiley & Sons Canada, Limited, 1980, p. 254.