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British Columbia Social Credit Party

British Columbia Social Credit Party
Unregistered provincial party
Leader Vacant (2000-present)
Chairperson Carrol Woolsey (last)
Founded 1935
Dissolved June 7, 2013
Headquarters Unit 101 - 8091 Granville Avenue,
Richmond, BC, V6Y 1P5
Ideology Populism
Social credit
Political position Right-wing
Colours Blue and Red
Politics of British Columbia
Political parties

The British Columbia Social Credit Party, whose members are known as Socreds, was the governing political party of British Columbia, Canada, for more than 30 years between the 1952 provincial election and the 1991 election. For four decades, the party dominated the British Columbian political scene, with the only break occurring between the 1972 and 1975 elections when the New Democratic Party of British Columbia was in power.

Although founded to promote social credit policies of monetary reform, the Social Credit Party became a political vehicle for fiscal conservatives and later social conservatives in BC, who discarded the social credit ideology.

The party essentially collapsed within one term of its 1991 defeat. It has not been represented in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia since 1996, and only existed in a nominal fashion until 2013 where the party was deregistered for failing to nominate more than 2 candidates in 2013 provincial election.


  • History 1
    • Pre-1952 1.1
    • W.A.C. Bennett era 1.2
    • Bill Bennett era 1.3
    • Bill Vander Zalm era 1.4
    • Decline 1.5
  • Party leaders 2
  • Other prominent Socred politicians 3
  • Electoral results 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7



Prior to 1952, the social credit movement in British Columbia was divided between various factions. The Social Credit League of British Columbia nominated candidates for the first time in the 1937 election, but did not do so in the 1941 election.

In the 1945 election, these factions formed an alliance to field 16 candidates, who won a total of 6,627 votes (1.42% of the provincial total.)

This alliance broke down before the 1949 election, and three separate groups nominated candidates:

  • the Social Credit Party,
  • the British Columbia Social Credit League, and
  • the Union of Electors.

Collectively, they nominated 28 candidates, who won a total of 14,326 votes, 2.05% of the popular vote in that election.

W.A.C. Bennett era

For the 1952 provincial election, the Liberal-Conservative provincial coalition government switched the electoral system from first past the post to the Alternative Vote, The coalition was nervous about the growing popularity of the socialist Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (forerunner of the NDP). With the expectation that Conservative voters would list the Liberals as their second choice and vice versa, the two parties believed they'd garner enough votes between them to stay in power.

Meanwhile, the Social Credit League went into the election under the interim leadership of the Reverend Ernest Manning, as the Alberta Socreds still dominated their BC sister. However, much to the Socreds' own surprise, the party garnered enough second preference votes to become the largest party in the legislature with 19 seats, one more than the CCF, while the Liberals and Conservatives were practically wiped out. The Socreds persuaded an independent Labour Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) to support them, allowing them to form a minority government.

As not even the Socreds expected to win the election, they now found themselves with the task of electing a leader who would become the province's new premier. Party president Lyle Wicks called a leadership convention at which only elected MLAs could vote. The 19 newly elected Social Credit MLAs chose former BC Conservative MLA W. A. C. Bennett, one of only three Socreds with previous experience in the legislature, to lead the new government over Philip Gaglardi. Bennett had only joined the Socreds in December, doing so with the tacit support of the federal Tory caucus. The federal Tories were displeased that their provincial counterparts had sat out the previous two elections so as not to embarrass their Liberal partners. [1] Nine months into the new term, Bennett changed the electoral system back to first past the post, and deliberately lost a confidence vote in order to force a new election in 1953. At this election, Social Credit won an outright majority.

Although the party was ostensibly the British Columbia wing of the Canadian social credit movement, Bennett jettisoned the old ideology, remembering that the Alberta Socreds had tried and failed to implement it soon after winning their first term in government. Instead, he converted it into a populist conservative party. It became a political vehicle to unite opponents of the CCF/NDP in hopes of shutting it out of power.

The BC Social Credit Party drifted away from both Social Credit and from the federal Social Credit Party as many supporters of the federal Liberals and Tories joined it. While Bennett made sporadic appearances for the federal Socreds, their relationship was tenuous at best. Finally, in 1971, the BC Socreds formally severed their ties to the federal Socreds in order to make it easier for staunch Tories and Liberals to support it at the provincial level. [1]

Despite being a free enterprise party, the Bennett government formed BC Hydro in 1961 by nationalizing the province's largest private hydroelectric concern to make sure that it could not oppose the government's hydroelectric dam construction program. It also formed the BC Ferries in 1958, and established the Bank of British Columbia, which was 25% owned by the provincial government.

Bill Bennett era

Following the party's defeat in the 1972 election by the NDP, W.A.C. Bennett's son, William R. Bennett, took over the leadership of the party, and modernized it, putting populism behind. Instead, the party became a coalition of federal Liberals, Christian conservatives from the province's Bible Belt, and fiscal conservatives from the corporate sector with the latter firmly in control. On its return to power in the 1975 election, the party, for the most part, eschewed the megaprojects of the elder Bennett (with the exception of Expo 86 and the Coquihalla Highway), and embraced a fiscally conservative program.

As a result, the party built up a small political engine that managed to win the 1983 election, in spite of Bennett's controversial "Restraint" program. This was nicknamed the "Baby Blue Machine", and consisted of political advisors primarily imported from the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. It never became a major political apparatus like the Big Blue Machine in Ontario did, as Bennett decided to retire in 1986.

All Socred governments attempted to curb the power of trade unions and also limited social welfare spending.

Bill Vander Zalm era

Bennett retired in 1986 and was succeeded by Bill Vander Zalm, a member of the social conservative wing. Under his watch, social conservatives took control of the party. Vander Zalm easily led the Socreds to a fourth consecutive term in government in the election later that year.

Although it was not apparent at the time, the downfall of the party began almost as soon as Vander Zalm took the premiership. Many moderate Socreds were dissatisfied at the party's social conservative turn. They began drifting to the Liberals, a trend that would come back to haunt the party later. This process was exacerbated by Vander Zalm's eccentricity, and the constant scandals that plagued his government. As well, Vander Zalm allowed his principal secretary, David Poole, to amass a substantial amount of power, despite being unelected. Longtime cabinet minister Grace McCarthy resigned in protest.


Vander Zalm was forced to resign in a conflict of interest scandal in 1991, and was succeeded as party leader and premier by Deputy Premier Rita Johnston, who became the first female head of government at any level in Canada. Johnston then defeated McCarthy in the subsequent leadership election and continued as premier. Johnston had been close to Vander Zalm for several years, leading many to believe her selection as leader had been a mistake. Even NDP opposition leader Mike Harcourt admitted later that he preferred Johnston over McCarthy, as McCarthy would likely have been a much tougher opponent in an election.

Facing a statutory general election, Johnston was unable to make up any ground. She also had little time to reunite the party following the bruising leadership contest with McCarthy. Social Credit was roundly defeated, losing almost half of its vote from 1986. Johnston herself lost her own seat to NDP challenger Penny Priddy. Furthermore, many moderate Socred supporters defected to the Liberals, continuing a trend that dated back to Vander Zalm's tenure. The Liberals vaulted from no seats in the legislature to the Official Opposition. The combined effect was to decimate the Socreds, who were relegated to third place with only seven seats. More party infighting occurred as McCarthy was elected to replace Johnston.

McCarthy didn't get a chance to get into the legislature until February 1994, when she ran in a by-election for Matsqui, a longtime Socred stronghold. She lost to Liberal Mike de Jong by fewer than 100 votes. After that defeat, Social Credit collapsed with dramatic speed. Four of the six remaining Social Credit MLAs elected in 1991 left the party to join the British Columbia Reform Party, leaving Social Credit without official status in the legislature. McCarthy resigned as leader shortly thereafter, and Larry Gillanders was elected to succeed her. After that, Abbotsford MLA Harry de Jong resigned (and briefly contemplated taking up the leadership of the Family Coalition Party). The BC Liberals took the riding in the ensuing by-election, with Social Credit in a distant third. This left only one Socred in the legislature--Cliff Serwa from Okanagan West, which contained much of the Bennetts' former territory.

Social Credit went into the 1996 provincial election in an extremely precarious position. It had not had a full-time leader in the legislature at any point during the previous session. Even worse, Serwa had announced his retirement, leaving it without any incumbents for the first time since 1952. Gillanders took part in the debate of leaders of major parties, but pulled out of the campaign just before the vote and urged all non-socialist parties to present a united front against the NDP. The party was completely shut out of the legislature, garnering only 0.6 percent of the vote. At this point, the party was largely considered a dead force in BC politics, with most of its remaining members joining Reform or the Liberals. The collapse of the British Columbia Socreds within only one term of losing power was especially remarkable considering their Alberta counterparts managed to stay in the legislature for a decade after their defeat in 1971.

In 2001, at the behest of former leader Vander Zalm, the Social Credit Party merged with other minor provincial right-wing parties to form the Unity Party, but soon left due to dissatisfaction with the way the party was run.

In the 2001 provincial election, what remained of the party ran only two candidates. Grant Mitton achieved a respectable showing in Peace River South, placing second with 1,726 votes (17.4%). The other candidate, party president Carrol Barbara Woolsey, in Vancouver-Hastings, placed 5th of 6 candidates with 222 votes (1.15% of the total). The party hadn't had a full-time leader since 2000; Mitton was the de facto leader during the campaign. Mitton subsequently left to become leader of the British Columbia Party, leaving Woolsey as de facto party leader. In the 2005 election, only two Socreds filed: Woolsey, who won 254 votes (1.28% of the total) in Vancouver-Hastings, and Anthony Yao, who won 225 votes (0.95% of the total) in Port Coquitlam-Burke Mountain.

The party did not field any candidates in the 2009 general election; most of its constituency associations had been de-registered in 2008. In the 2013 election, Woolsey was the only Socred candidate, again in Vancouver-Hastings, receiving 355 votes. Since British Columbia election law mandates de-registration of parties that run fewer than two candidates in two consecutive elections, the party was deregistered by Election BC on June 7, 2013.

Party leaders

  • Andrew Henry Jukes, 1937-48, leader of the Union of Electors faction, 1948-49.
  • No leader as such of the Social Credit Party/Social Credit League emerged until the 1952 election. However, Eric Martin and Lyle Wicks were the most obvious figures of a collective leadership. At the 1952 party convention Wicks, W.A.C. Bennett and Rev. Hansell were nominated for the party leadership. Wicks and Bennett both withdrew in favour of Hansell who was the hand-picked choice of Alberta Social Credit leader and Premier Ernest Manning. Following the election, Wicks, who was party president, called a second leadership convention at which only Social Credit MLAs could vote. This was won by Bennett.
  • Reverend Ernest George Hansell, M.P. for Macleod (Alberta), leader for the 1952 election.
  • W. A. C. Bennett (July 15, 1952 - November 24, 1973) *
  • William R. Bennett (November 24, 1973 - July 30, 1986) *
  • William Vander Zalm (July 30, 1986 - April 1, 1991) *
  • Rita Johnston (April 2, 1991 - March 7, 1992) *
  • Jack Weisgerber (interim) (March 7, 1992 - November 6, 1993)
  • Grace McCarthy (November 6, 1993 - May 1994)
  • Lyall Franklin Hanson (interim) (May 1994)
  • Cliff Serwa (interim) (May - November 1994)
  • Larry Gillanders (November 4, 1994 - May 24, 1996)
  • Ken Endean (interim) (May 1996 - March 1997)
  • Mike Culos (April 1997 - April 2000)
  • Eric Buckley (April 2000 - October 2000)

Eric Buckley left Social Credit in October 2000 to join the British Columbia Party. The position of party leader has been vacant since that time.

Other prominent Socred politicians

Electoral results

In the 1937 election, the British Columbia Social Credit League endorsed candidates, but none were elected.

1937 election
Number of candidates Seats Popular vote %
18 0 4,812 1.15%

In the 1941 election, no candidates ran under the social credit banner.

In the 1945 election, an alliance of social credit groups nominated candidates. None were elected.

1945 election
Number of candidates Seats Popular vote %
16 0 6,627 1.42%

In the 1949 election, three different social credit groups nominated candidates. None were successful.

1949 election
Name of party Number of candidates Seats Popular vote %
Social Credit Party 7 0 8,464 1.21%
Social Credit League 9 0 3,072 0.44%
Union of Electors 12 0 2,790 0.40%
Total of social credit groups 28 0 14,326 2.05%

In subsequent elections, only the Social Credit Party of British Columbia emerged as the only social credit party, although it quickly abandoned social credit theories.

Election Party leader Number of candidates Seats Popular vote Final round (1952-53 only)
Previous After % Change Number % Change Number %
1952 Rev. Ernest George Hansell 47 0 19 - 209,049 27.20% +25.99% 203,932 30.18%
1953 W.A.C. Bennett 48 19 28 - 274,771 37.75% +10.55% 300,372 45.54%
1956 W.A.C. Bennett 52 28 39 39.3% 374,711 45.84% +8.09%
1960 W.A.C. Bennett 52 39 32 -17.9% 386,886 38.83% -7.01%
1963 W.A.C. Bennett 52 32 33 +3.1% 395,079 40.83% +2.00%
1966 W.A.C. Bennett 55 33 33 - 342,751 45.59% +4.76%
1969 W.A.C. Bennett 55 33 38 +15.2% 457,777 46.79% +1.20%
1972 W.A.C. Bennett 55 38 10 -73.7% 352,776 31.16% -15.63%
1975 Bill Bennett 55 10 35 +250% 635,482 49.25% +18.09%
1979 Bill Bennett 57 35 31 -11.4% 677,607 48.23% -1.02%
1983 Bill Bennett 57 31 35 +12.9% 820,807 49.76% +1.53%
1986 Bill Vander Zalm 69 35 47 +34.3% 954,516 49.32% -0.44%
1991 Rita Johnston 74 47 7 -85.1% 351,660 24.05% -25.27%
1996 Larry Gillanders 38 7 - -100% 6,276 0.40% -23.65%
2001 (vacant) 2 - - - 1,948 0.12% -0.27%
2005 (vacant) 2 - - - 479 0.02% -0.10%
2013 (vacant) 1 - - - 384 0.02% 0.00%

See also


  1. ^ a b Morley, J. Terence; Ruff, Norman J.; Swanson, Neil A.; Wilson, R. Jeremy; and Young, Walter D., The Reins of Power: Governing British Columbia, p. 91, Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver, 1983

External links

  • BC Social Credit Party
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