Alberta, Past and Present, Historical and Biographical
Vol 1 - Chapter VIII Political History of Alberta-1905-1921
The first Legislative
Assembly of Alberta met at Edmonton on March 15, 1006. Hon. C. W.
Fisher, Cochrane, was elected Speaker and Mr. J. R. Cowell, of Red Deer,
was clerk of the Assembly. Mr. A. J. Robertson, Nanton, led the
opposition of two. The first duty of the Assembly was to organize the
various departments of the public service. Many of the members of the
Civil Service of the Territories were moved from Regina to Edmonton, and
the various records applicable to the new Province transferred to the
One of the burning
questions of the session was the determination of the capital of
Alberta. There was strong rivalry between the cities of Calgary and
Edmonton. The towns of Strathcona, Red Deer and Banff also desired the
honor. The issue was settled by the Assembly by a vote of 16 to 8 in
favor of Edmonton. Important measures of legislation included a complete
revision of the Territorial law on real property, taxation of the right
of way of railways, bonusing the sugar beet industry, and an act to
enable municipalities to establish and operate telephones. The taxation
of railways was very popular with the people, as it was regarded as a
measure particularly aimed at the Canadian Pacific Railway Company,
which had enjoyed exemption from taxation since its incorporation in
1881. The law was contested by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company in
the courts and was held intra vires, only with respect to the Company's
The most important public
measure in 1907 was the decision of the Government to build rural
telephone lines and trunk telephone lines to protect the public from
what the Government alleged was the monopoly of the Bell Telephone
Company. Overtures were made to this Company by the Government towards
purchasing the Bell System in Alberta, but without success. In pursuance
of its policy the Government built five hundred miles of trunk telephone
lines between Lloydminster, Edmonton and Calgary. In matters of
legislation the Railway Act was regarded as very radical, providing as
it did for the acquisition by the Province of any railway under
New measures of taxation
provided for taxing corporations and assessing lands outside of school
districts. The latter taxes were earmarked for the support of education.
Federal elections were
looming up. Both parties held conventions to prepare their organizations
for the approaching political battle. The Conservatives met at Red Deer,
June 27th. The Liberals met four hundred strong at Calgary, October
22nd. These events marked the end of the isolation of Western provincial
politics from federal politics. Both parties lined up behind their
respective federal parties and for many years federal and provincial
issues have been inextricably tangled.
Not much legislation was
attempted in 1908. The most important Acts were the Workmen's
Compensation Act, and an Act to empower the Government to purchase,
lease, construct, maintain and operate telephone and telegraph systems
and to issue debentures for the same. The Government issued four per
cent thirty-year debentures, the first money borrowed by the Province of
Alberta for extension of the Provincial telephone system.
The session of 1909 was a
busy and important one. The life of the first Legislative Assembly was
drawing to a close and legislation for creating machinery for holding an
election was necessary. The Legislative Assembly Act was revised and the
membership of that body increased to 41, one member for each
constituency, excepting Calgary and Edmonton, which were given two
members each. The term of the Assembly was increased from four to five
years. A new Election Act was passed dealing with corrupt practices,
qualification of voters, lists, registration and other matters in a
manner more in keeping with the improvement of the country than was
possible under the old Territorial law. The great question of the
session was railways. The two leaders in the Legislature were equally
emphatic in their public utterances in support of a forward railway
policy. The rapid settlement of the Province in districts remote from
the main lines rendered this the greatest need of the day. Accordingly,
the Government decided upon the policy which seemed very popular in
those days, of guaranteeing the securities of branch lines of the
Canadian Northern, Grand Trunk Pacific, and the Alberta and Great
Waterways Railway Companies.
This involved a total
mileage of 1,761 miles, and a Provincial guarantee of $25,343,000. On
the C. N. R. and G. T. P. lines were guarantees to the extent of 813,000
per mile, the bonds to run for thirty years at four per cent. In the
case of the Alberta and Great Waterways Railway, which was designed to
connect Edmonton with the river system of the North, the guarantee was
for $20,000 per mile, the bonds to run for fifty years at five per cent.
On this policy the
Rutherford ministry appealed to the electors on March 22nd. Meanwhile,
the Conservatives held a Provincial Convention at Red Deer, and issued
what was long afterwards known as the "Red Deer Platform." On the
important questions of the hour there was little difference in the
policies of the two parties. The Government won an overwhelming victory
at the polls, the standing of the parties being one Socialist, three
Conservatives and thirty-seven Liberals. Mr. R. B. Bennett, who had been
defeated in 1905, and though not the official leader of the Opposition,
was the real leader of the Conservatives in the campaign, and was
elected for one of the Calgary seats. He vigorously denounced the
Alberta and Great Waterways project, a portent of the storm he was to
launch in the following session.
On October 3rd the corner
stone of the new Parliament Building was laid by Earl Grey,
Governor-General of Canada. lion. W. T. Finlay, Minister of Agriculture,
resigned on October 21st, on account of ill health, and was succeeded by
Hon. Duncan Marshall. At the same time Premier Rutherford enlarged his
Cabinet by adding two Ministers without portfolio, Hon. W. A. Buchanan
and Hon. P. E. Lessard.
For five years the
politics of the Province had been placid and uneventful and the
administration of public affairs progressive and honest. The session of
1910 witnessed a perturbation and upheaval that split the Liberal party
into two factions, which more than a decade afterwards still regarded
each other with some jealousy and distrust.
The subject of dissension
was the guaranteeing of the bonds of the Alberta and Great Waterways
Railway Company and the details of the agreement made between the
Railway Company and the Government for the construction of the road.
During the autumn of 1909 the Railway Company succeeded in selling the
bonds to the firm of J. P. Morgan & Company, of New York and London, at
pal', the proceeds of which, S7,400,000, were deposited in certain banks
in Edmonton to the credit of the Government. The Railway Company, of
which W. R. Clarke, of Kansas City, an aggressive railway promoter, was
President, signed an agreement with the Government on October 25th, for
the construction of the railway. The next step was to organize the
Canada West Construction Company, a subsidiary concern, to build the
road. The Railway Company then assigned its rights in the proceeds of
the bonds to the Construction Company, which, in turn, assigned its
rights to the Royal Bank of Canada as security for advances made to the
Construction Company for work done upon the railway. Meanwhile, the
bonds had been resold to various investors at 110 by the Morgans, or
$740,000 profit. Enemies of the Government jumped to the conclusion that
President Clarke and certain members of the Government secretly
participated in this profit. A good many members of the Legislature, who
apparently thought the Morgans were in the bond business for others, and
not for themselves, were influenced by these insinuations. It was
afterwards proven at the investigation of the Royal Commission that
these charges were untrue.
The Assembly met on
February 10th. A few innocent questions on the order paper in the
opening days of the session were the first signs of the storm that
finally overthrew the Government. On the 14th, Hon. W. TI. Cushing
resigned on the grounds as stated in his letter to Premier Rutherford,
that he had not been consulted in the negotiations leading up to the
agreement, and that the agreement and specifications signed by Premier
Rutherford as Minister of Railways, with the Alberta and Great Waterways
Railway Company, failed to protect the interests of the Province. In his
statement to the Assembly, Premier Rutherford denied these allegations
and asserted the negotiations were concluded with the full concurrence
of the entire cabinet. Overtures were then made by President Clarke of
the Railway on February 23rd to improve the conditions of the agreement
and build a better road than required by the specifications of the
original contract. These overtures were met by a resolution presented by
J. R. Boyle and D. Warnock, purporting to expropriate the rights of the
Railway Company, vest the same in the Province and proceed at once with
the construction of the railway under the supervision of a Commission
appointed by the Legislature. This resolution precipitated the most
furious and acrimonious debate that has ever taken place in the Alberta
Legislature. Public feeling ran high for and against the Government, and
hundreds more than could be accommodated in the galleries struggled for
admittance at every sitting. Mr. Gushing explained the reasons for his
resignation, and stated that the railway could be built according to the
specifications of the contract for $12,000 per mile. In rebuttal Premier
Rutherford submitted the estimate of the Government's Engineer, Mr. R.
W. Jones, of 820,000, and the Company's estimate of $27,000 per mile.
Attorney-General Cross stoutly defended the agreement and the whole
project. Two amendments were offered to Mr. Boyle's resolution. One by
E. H. Riley and J. M. Glendenning was a straight want of confidence in
the Government. The other by J. W. Woolf and John A. McDougall called
for the acceptance of President Clarke's offer to revise the contract
and improve the specifications, and to set aside $1,000,000 as a
guarantee for the completion and operation of the road. The climax of
the debate was reached in the speech of Mr. R. B. Bennett, the leader of
the Conservatives, on March 2nd. lie spoke for five hours and made such
an impression on the Liberal insurgents that they incorporated Mr.
Riley's amendment into Mr. Boyle's resolution. Notwithstanding, the
Government was sustained by a vote of 23 to 15. The insurgents, now
acting with the Conservatives, refused to accept the decision of the
House as final, and with the support of the two strongest Liberal
newspapers in the Province, the Edmonton Bulletin and the Calgary
Albertan, agitated for a new Government led by Chief Justice Sifton,
Hon. Peter Tabot, or Hon. W. H. Gushing. On March 8th, Premier
Rutherford invited Mr. Gushing to return to the Cabinet since a new
agreement was to be made and he was loath to break with his old
colleague. Hon. C. W. Cross refused to stay in the government if Mr.
Gushing returned, and tendered his resignation next day. He was followed
by Hon. W. A. Buchanan. Mi.. Cushing refused to come back and Mr. Cross
withdrew his resignation. These events gave the insurgents and the
Opposition the opportunity they had been seeking, and they promptly
moved a no-confidence motion, which was lost by the narrow majority of
3, the vote standing 20 to 17.
It was clear the Government could not carry on the business of the House
efficiently until the cloud of rumors that filled the country was
dispelled. Oil 14th Premier Rutherford presented and carried unanimously
a resolution drawn up by Attorney-General Cross and Mr. Bennett
appointing a Royal Commission, Hon. D. L. Scott, Hon. Horace Harvey and
Hon. N. D. Black, three Justices of the Supreme Court, to investigate
the relations of the members of the Government, members of the
Legislature and officials of the Government in connection with the
incorporation and organization of the Alberta and Great Waterways
Railway Company, the guaranteeing of the bonds of the Railway, and the
contract for building the railway.
The House voted supplies
for five months and after authorizing the construction of twenty-five
miles of the railway adjourned on March 17th until May 26th. The Royal
Commission had not completed its labors when the House reassembled oil
26th. The Lieutenant Governor informed the members he had accepted
Premier Rutherford's resignation and had called upon Hon. A. L. Sifton,
Chief Justice of Alberta, to form a Government. Mr. Sifton accepted the
responsibility and on June 3rd announced his ministry as follows:
President of the Council,
Provincial rf1.easl1.er and Minister of Public Works, lIon. Arthur Lewis
Sifton; Attorney-General and Minister of Education, Hon. Charles
Richmond Mitchell, Medicine Hat; Provincial Secretary, lion. Archibald
J. McLean, Lethbridge; Minister of Agriculture, lion. Duncan Marshall,
The choice of Mr. Sifton
for Premier was not unanimous among the members of the Assembly. Certain
members wanted ex-Attorney General C. W. Cross, others ex-Minister of
Public Works W. H. Cushing, and J. R. Boyle to be in the new Government.
E. H. Riley, Gleichen, resigned his seat as a protest against the
exclusion of Mr. Cushing. The new Ministers all found seats in the
bye-elections June 29th, but Mr. Riley was defeated by a Sifton
supporter, Mr. A. J. McArthur, in Gleichen. Though the supporters of Mr.
Cross were sorely disappointed he generously declared his adherence to
the Sifton Government.
The Royal Commission
completed its investigations oil 7th, and submitted a majority report
signed by Messrs. Justice Harvey and Justice Scott, and a minority
report signed by Mr. Justice Beck, a few days before the legislature met
in November. The majority report considered the Government as mildly
censurable in some of its arrangements and actions, but completely
exonerated Premier Rutherford and Attorney-General Cross from having any
personal interest in the scheme or negotiations. The minority report
exonerated the Government and criticised Mr. Cushjug for his actions in
the affair. Ten have passed, and nothing has ever been discovered that
reflected oil honesty of the members of the Rutherford Government in all
transactions with the Alberta and Great Waterways Railway Company.
Public interest in the
Report of the Commission soon died down in the face of Premier Sifton's
policy in dealing with the Alberta and Great Waterways Railway. In July
the Railway Company defaulted in the payment of the first instalment of
the interest and the Government was corn1)elled to pay it to the Morgans
in London. The company did nothing during the summer toward
construction. President Clarke refused to testify before the Royal
Commission. The Railway Company became very unpopular with the public
and the legislature. On November 24th Premier Sifton introduced a bill
which afterwards passed the House, declaring that the proceeds and
interest accruing from the sale of the bonds of the Alberta and Great
Waterways Railway Company should become part of the general revenue of
the Province and might be expended for any purpose authorized by the
Legislature. The measure was vigorously opposed by ex-Premier
Rutherford, Mr. Cross, Mr. Bennett, the entire Conservative opposition
and a number of Liberals, followers of Mr. Cross, particularly Mr. James
K. Cornwall, who had been instrumental in securing the organization of
the Railway Company to develop the Northland. Immediately after the
passing of the Act the Government served notice on the Royal Bank and
presented a cheque for $6,042,830.06, being the amount standing to the
credit of the Province in a special account and representing the portion
of the proceeds of the Alberta and Great Waterways bonds deposited in
that bank. The bank refused to pay the cheque and the Government
immediately sued the bank for the amount. The litigation dragged on over
two years and at times greatly embarrassed the Government. Although it
is anticipating the events in this chapter, we shall follow the
incidents and turns of this political imbroglio to their conclusion at
The trial of the issue
was heard by Hon. Justice Stewart of the Supreme Court of Alberta in
November, 1911, who gave judgment for the Province. His decision was
upheld by the Court en Banc in April, 1912. Meanwhile, the Railway
Company appealed to the Minister of Justice of Canada to recommend the
disallowance of the Act to the Governor-in-Council. The Minister of
Justice finally decided that the Act should not be disallowed on the
ground that it would be prejudicial to the credit of the Dominion and
not advisable in the interests of the Province to take legislative
measures to prevent the improvident application of the funds. The bank
appealed from the decision of the Alberta Courts in January, 1913, to
the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The Privy Council sustained
the appeal of the Royal Bank and declared that the legislature had no
power to convert the funds raised for the specific purpose of building
the railway into general revenue for other purposes and that the lenders
were entitled to a return of their money if the objects for which the
money was raised were not carried out. This right was a right outside
the Province over which the Legislature had no jurisdiction. The Act was
therefore ultra vires.
The decision was an
embarrassing one for the Government. So confident was the Government of
its position in the case that the Treasurer issued short term Treasury
bills expecting to repay them with the money held up in the banks. It
left the Government with a large temporary indebtedness on its hands
which had to be met and gave the opposition strong party material in the
Legislature and in the elections which followed in April, 1913. The
decision was such a sudden reversal of the Government's policy that
nothing was done in the first session of 1913' and at the conclusion of
the session in March, Premier Sifton promised nothing would be done
without consulting the Legislature. Accordingly, a session was called
early in the fall of that year. The Act passed in 1910, which the Privy
Council declared ultra vires, was repealed, and arrangements were made
with Mr. J. D. McArthur, a well-known and reliable railway contractor,
to proceed with the construction of the Alberta and Great Waterways
Railway, to be completed by the end of 1915. The intervention of the
war, the great increase in the cost of labor and materials, drove the
contractor into bankruptcy and the Government was compelled to take over
the construction of the road under circumstances that rendered the cost
much higher than was originally provided for.
At last the Alberta and
Great Waterways imbroglio was settled. At this date, and after several
years have passed, it is difficult to understand why such acrimonious
dissension should have arisen and why a ministry recently endorsed in a
general election, and with an outstanding record of progressive
legislation and efficient administration should have been forced out of
office. But it was the first experience the Alberta legislature had with
railway companies and railway contractors. The major criticism of the
project by the members of the Assembly and press was that the Railway
Company had no capital of its own. it did not yet occur to these
ingenuous novices that the railways of the West have been built by men
with faith and other people's money—much of it the money of the people
Going back to the events
of 1910 again the Conservatives held a Convention in July and elected
Edward Michener, member for Red Deer, as leader of the Opposition, a
position he held until he was appointed to the Senate in December, 1917.
Mr. R. B. Bennett had retired to contest the Federal riding of Calgary
in the election of September, 1911.
The second session of
1910 marked the first move on the part of the Liberal party in the
Province to modify its position of 1905 on the question of the public
lands, mines and other natural resources held by the Dominion pursuant
to the Alberta Act. A motion presented by A. Bramley-Moore and James K.
Cornwall was unanimously supported. But the motion was withdrawn,
Premier Sifton stating that the Government was preparing a formal demand
for the transfer of the natural resources to Alberta. This attitude had
been adopted by Premier Sifton as soon as he became Premier a few months
before, and apparently he found the rank and file of the party willing
A number of bye-elections
were held in 1911, all going against the Government. The new members of
the Opposition were: Messrs. T. M. Tweedie, Calgary; H. W. Riley,
Gleichen; Robert Patterson, Macleod; and J. S. Stewart, Lethbridge. The
session held the following year was the first in which the Government
was opposed by a regularly organized, effective opposition.
The policy of encouraging
railway construction by a guarantee of bonds was continued. During the
session over 1,800 miles of railway lines were assisted in this way, as
(1) Grand Trunk Pacific,
Bickerdike to the coal fields on the Embarras River, 58 miles, at
$20,000 per mile.
(2) Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia, Edmonton to Peace River
Valley, along the south shore of Lesser Slave Lake to Dunvegan, 350
miles, at $20,000 per mile.
(3) Canadian Northern Railway:
(a) Athabaska Landing to Fort McMurray, 175 miles at $15,000 per mile.
(b) From above line eastward to Lac la Biche, 40 miles, at $15,000 per
(c) Athabaska Landing to Peace River Landing, 100 miles, at $15,000 per
(d) Onoway to Pine River Pass, 250 miles, at $20,000 per mile.
(e) Edmonton to St. Paul de Metis, 100 miles at 813,000 per mile.
(f) Bruederheim to Vermilion, Wainwright and Medicine Hat, 200 miles, at
$13,000 per mile.
(g) Calgary to Brazeau River, 100 miles, at $13,000 per mile.
(h) Camrose to eastern boundary, 80 miles, at $13,000 per mile.
(i) Cochrane to Edmonton, 100 miles, at $15,000 per mile.
(j) Calgary towards Saskatoon, 130 miles, at $13,000 per mile.
The total railway
securities guaranteed by these Acts involved $25,755,000. The total
railway mileage guaranteed in the Province at that date was 3,074 miles
Very few guarantees were
given by the Legislature after this session. It will be noticed the
Canadian Pacific Railway did not share in this catalogue of guarantees
so lavishly bestowed on the Canadian Northern Railway Company. It was a
fine example of the methods of the Canadian Northern Railway interests
in pre-empting territory for their lines to forestall their competitors.
Many of these lines were never built on account of the intervention of
the war, and happily for the taxpayers of the Province of Alberta, the
Canadian Northern Railway Lines have been taken over by the Government
of Canada and thus a heavy burden in annual interest charges has been
thrown upon broader shoulders.
The Cabinet was enlarged
in 1912 to include eight members. Two new departments were organized.
The municipal legislation of the session of that year and the necessity
of assisting and supervising the extension of local Government rendered
a department of Municipal Affairs necessary. The Railway Acts and the
pledging of the credit of the Province to guarantees of bonds made it
advisable to create a new Department of Railways which was combined with
Telephones. Besides the necessities of the public service there was also
the pressure of party factions that induced Premier Sifton to stabilize
his position as leader of the Liberal Party by taking in Hon. C. W.
Cross and some of the leaders of the old insurgent group that overthrew
the Rutherford Government, but had been left out of Mr. Sifton's first
cabinet, two years before. The new ministry was announced May 4th as
follows: Premier and Minister of Railways and Telephones, lion. Arthur
Lewis Sifton; Attorney-General, Hon. Charles Wilson Cross; Minister of
Public Works, Hon. Charles Richmond Mitchell; Provincial Secretary, Hon.
Archibald J. McLean; Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Duncan Marshall;
Provincial Treasurer, Hon. Malcolm MacKenzie; Minister of Education,
Hon. John Robert Boyle; Minister of Municipal Affairs, Hon. Charles
The bye-elections were
held on May 27th. All the new Ministers carried their seats, but with
reduced majorities. On the same date a bye-election was held in Cardston,
where Mr. Martin Woolf, the Liberal candidate, succeeded Mr. J. W. Woolf,
who had resigned his seat to reside in the United States. Protests, the
first in Alberta, were filed against the return of Mr. Cross and Mr.
MacKenzie, citing charges and alleging various kinds of political
corruption. The petition against the election of Mr. Mackenzie was
dismissed by the Supreme Court, while the one against Mr. Cross was
before the courts when the General Election was held in the spring of
The results of the
bye-elections, though strongly in favor of the Government, indicated
that the Conservative Party was gradually recovering from the sweeping
defeats of 1905 and 1909. A Provincial general election was now in
sight. A Provincial Convention of the Conservative Party was held in
Calgary on March 6th and 7th, attended by four hundred delegates. An
elaborate platform covering Provincial and Federal issues was adopted.
In the light of subsequent events some of the principles and policies
adopted are exceedingly interesting. The Convention declared for an
independent audit of the provincial accounts as soon as the party
succeeded at the polls. Since that date the Liberal Party has been
defeated, and its successor, the United Farmers' Party, has carried out
this policy, and made an independent audit. The Convention pledged
itself to legislation embodying the principle of the Initiative,
Referendum and Recall. In the following year the Sifton Government
passed the Direct Legislation Act, providing for the Initiative and
Referendum, omitting the Recall. The law was never invoked except in
case of restricting the sale of intoxicating liquors in 1915. The
Initiative, the Referendum and especially the Recall, have never been
popular with the old line parties in the Province. Few Conservatives in
Alberta today adhere to this plank of their platform adopted in 1912.
But the principle has been adopted in its entirety by the Farmers' Party
and many members of that Party in the Assembly have placed their
resignations in escrow in the hands of the United Farmers' Executive of
the districts they represent.
The new Parliament
Buildings were opened this year (1912) by H. R. H. the Duke of Connaught
and celebrated by a state dinner, followed the next day by a Grand Levee
in the Assembly Hall. The new buildings were erected on the site of the
Hudson's Bay Fort, which stood there from the early years of the 19th
The last session of the
second Legislature opened on February 10th. It was a very busy session
and the program of legislation indicated the approach of the elections.
A redistribution bill was passed increasing the number of constituencies
to 56. Acts were passed establishing Agricultural high Schools,
Consolidated Schools, Co-Operative Associations, Assistance to the
Farmers' Co-Operative Elevator Company, Direct Legislation. Increased
taxing powers were given to towns and villages and an act designed to
protect farmers from harsh treatment at the hands of implement dealers,
the Farm Machinery Act was put on the Statute Book. The opposition was
very critical of the Government's railway policy, and presented a
resolution condemning the exemption of the railways guaranteed by the
Government from taxation. The resolution was defeated by a straight
party vote, Mr. Sifton declaring that it was the policy of the Liberal
Government to encourage railway construction, and that at a time when
nearly 3,500 miles of railways had been guaranteed by the Province it
was had policy to begin taxing them.
The elections were held
on April 17th, 1913, and resulted in the return of 38 Liberals and 18
Conservatives. Mr. C. R. Mitchell, Minister of Public Works, was
defeated by Mr. Nelson Spencer, Medicine Hat, and Mr. A. G. MacKay, who
was Mr. Cross' running mate in Edmonton, was defeated by Mr. A. F.
Ewing. George Lane, the famous rancher, who was elected in Bow Valley
over H W. Riley, resigned in favor of the Minister of Public Works. Mr.
Mitchell was returned in the bye-election and so held his seat in the
Cabinet. A crop of petitions grew out of the election, the most notable
being in the Clearwater Constituency against the return of H. W.
McKenney, the objection alleged being how could 105 votes be polled in a
Constituency that had only 74 voters residing in the whole Constituency.
The petition against Mr. A. S. Shandro, of Whitford, was successful, and
Mr. Shandro was unseated. Mr. Shandro was the first Austrian-born
citizen of the Province to be elected to the Legislature of Alberta. He
was born in Galicia, emigrating to Canada when a lad. He rapidly
assimilated Canadian ideas and methods, and soon became a leader among
his people. He represented the almost wholly- Russian Constituency of
Whitford until 1921. A notable addition to the Legislature this year
occurred in the return of Mr. A. G. MacKay in the deferred election in
Athabasca. Mr. MacKay had formerly been leader of the Liberal Party in
Ontario and quickly rose to a commanding position in the Legislature of
At the opening of the new
Legislature in September, Hon. C. W. Fisher was elected speaker for the
third time, an honor that he held until his death at the end of the
session of 1919. The principal business was the settlement of the
Alberta and Great Waterways Railway question by the execution of an
agreement to build the railway with Mr. J. D. McArthur, according to the
Act of Incorporation of the Railway Company. Other legislation of
importance was the taxation of the Unearned Increment on land. The new
measure imposed a tax of five per cent at the time of registration upon
the increased value of the land excluding the improvements. A new Libel
and Slander Act was passed and Juvenile Courts established.
After the session Mr. Wilfred Gariepy, member for Beaver River, was
taken into the Cabinet as Minister of Municipal Affairs. Hon. Mr.
Stewart was transferred to the Department of Public Works. Hon. Mr.
Mitchell, who held the latter portfolio, became Provincial Treasurer.
Premier Sifton had acted as Treasurer since the death of Hon. Malcolm
MacKenzie in the previous March, but now desired to give his sole
attention to the extension of railways and telephones.
The financial position of
the Province was stated by the Premier on September 30th, to be a total
outstanding indebtedness of $15,741,981. The total amount of authorized
railway bond guarantees was 868,631,800, of which 830,124,700 were
issued. The assets of the Province were estimated at $110,378,000.
The beginning of 1914
marks the advent of a more settled period in Alberta politics than
characterized the events of the previous four years. Premier Sifton, by
fearless and dexterous leadership triumphed over all his difficulties.
Intellectually brilliant, a master of men, and endowed with a canny
insight into their minds, familiar by long residence in the country with
its deepest problems, a reformer, sometimes of an iconoclastic turn, and
often arrogantly democratic, he was an ideal leader. He was implicitly
trusted and sometimes feared by his colleagues in the Cabinet. He was
always master of the House. His followers on the back benches believed
he could lead them safely through every attack of the opposition, and he
always did. He rarely left the House during a sitting. During a
protracted debate, he generally tilted his chair backward into a
comfortable position. A dry cynical smile froze on his face, making it
impossible for an opponent to detect the working of his mind. If the
House was in Committee he sat in the same position, nonchalantly smoking
his black cigar, and except for an occasional raising of his eyebrows
and the flashing of his piercing eyes, he sat as motionless as a statue
and as silent as a sphinx. But when the moment came for him to reply he
seemed to boil over with indignation and poured out a torrent of
scathing ridicule, bitter taunts or inexorable logic, whichever he
deemed necessary to rout his opponents.
Political events in 1914
were eclipsed by the war. In January the members of the Opposition
visited Ottawa in a body to confer with the Federal Government and
Dominion Conservative leaders on such questions as naturalization,
Provincial control of lands, the chilled meat industry, technical
education and other matters.
The first war session met
on October 7th and lasted fifteen days. When the war broke out a Liberal
Convention was in session at Calgary with five hundred delegates. It
decided to abandon party action. Dr. Michael Clark, M. P., fathered a
resolution which was unanimously endorsed by the Convention, declaring a
party truce in the face of the crisis that threatened the Empire. At the
opening of the Legislature this truce was ratified by both parties in a
unanimous resolution, pledging the entire resources of the Province to
the Empire and its Allies, in what the resolution stated was a struggle
for the "continuity of democratic civilization".
A number of
non-contentious Acts were passed this session. The extra Judicial
Seizures Act provided that every distress, excepting for taxes, must be
made by a sheriff, or his bailiff, who must have a proper warrant under
heavy penalties for infraction. The Foreclosure and Sale Act materially
reduced costs and expenses of litigation in enforcing rights under
mortgages, agreements for sale, and other encumbrances. The costly
method of writs and pleadings was replaced by a simple procedure. Taxes
were increased and new ones imposed on pool-rooms, bowling alleys,
travellers for liquor houses, bartenders, circuses, travelling shows and
clubs. The pessimism induced by the catastrophe of the war put the House
and the people in a proper Puritan spirit to accomplish such reforms
without discord. A tax was imposed on uncultivated lands of one per cent
of their assessed value. It affected over 20,000,000 acres of land in
the Province, held for the most part by speculators. A tax of
two-and-one-half cents per acre was levied on timber lands. Considerable
legislation was passed for the relief of the people in war time. The
Government did not impose a moratorium, but Premier Sifton announced
there would be no seizure or sale permitted under any document without
the Order of a Judge, and he warned certain loan companies if they took
advantage of war conditions to renew loans for long terms at increased
rates, means would be found to prevent them from doing any further
business in the Province—a characteristic Siftonian threat.
The Direct Legislation
Act gave the Prohibitionists an opportunity to take the first step to
abolish the bar and curtail the liquor trade. On October 12th they
presented a petition signed by 23,000 electors, and submitted a
Prohibition Liquor Act. On October 19th, in accordance with that
request, Premier Sifton without opposition, provided for the submission
of the Act by a referendum on July 21, 1915. The Prohibitionists, led by
the Alberta Temperance and Moral Reform League, contested the issue with
the Licensed Victuallers' Association throughout the summer of 1915, and
finally won by a vote of 58,295 for prohibition and 37,509 against. A
bye-election was held in Wetaskiwin in the fall of 1914, clue to the
death of Chas. H. Olin. He was succeeded by H. J. Montgomery, the
For some time there had
been growing in the Province an agitation for some supervision of the
issue of municipal debentures and the sale of shares of the various
Joint Stock Companies. In the session of 1915 legislation was passed
creating the Board of Public Utility Commissioners, with very wide
powers over these and other matters, in regulating the actions of
municipal and public service corporations.
The party truce of 1914
began to disappear in the session of 1916. Mr. Edward Mitchener,
supported by eager and able lieutenants, particularly Mr. T. M. Tweedie,
Mr. A. F. Ewing and Dr. G. D. Stanley, led a vigorous opposition against
the Government, but without avail. The administration of the Liquor Act
by the Attorney-General's Department was specially singled out for
attack this session by Dr. Stanley of High River. A Royal Commission was
asked for to investigate charges in which it was alleged that the agents
of the Government had collected funds from the licensees of hotels for
election purposes; that the licensees of hotels had paid large sums to
the agents of the Attorney-General, in order to escape prosecutions
under the Liquor Act; and also had obtained concessions in connection
with liquor licenses. The Government offered to have these charges
investigated by the Public Accounts Committee, and pledged that if
sufficient evidence was found it would order a judicial enquiry. With
respect to the charges of stifling prosecutions, Premier Sifton
challenged the Opposition to commence criminal proceedings in the Courts
and all expenses of the prosecution would be paid by the Government. He
further illuminated the Assembly with the statement that he knew these
charges had been in secret circulation a year before and were being used
by some of the hotelkeepers as a threat to deter the Government from
passing a prohibitory law.
The construction of the
Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia Railway and of the Alberta and
Great Waterways Railway were other matters that the Opposition wanted
investigated by a Royal Commission. A resolution to this effect was
introduced April 17th by Dr. T. H. Blow, of Calgary. This was the first
of a yearly phillipic against the railway policy of the Government by
this indefatigable member, until he left the Legislature in 1921.
Another resolution asked for the investigation of the conduct of four
ministers for alleged interference with the regular administration of
justice in dismissing a certain Justice of the Peace and releasing
certain prisoners. The ministers were able to refute these charges very
easily and both resolutions were defeated. Then Mr. R. E. Campbell, of
Rocky Mountain, proposed a vote of censure against Premier Sifton for
permitting alleged payment of unfair wages and bad treatment by the
contractors of the Alberta and Great Waterways Railway respecting
employees on this railroad. In these debates, the bitterest heard in the
Assembly since the Alberta and Great Waterways affair in 1910, the
defence of the Government fell mainly on Premier Sifton, who displayed a
courage and resourcefulness that won him the solid and enthusiastic
support of every Liberal member in the Assembly.
It is questionable if men
of more parliamentary experience would have followed the same course as
the members of the Opposition did that session. But it may be taken as
the first wholesome sign that parliamentary government was developing
iii the Legislature. Under British practice the party system is
necessary and vigorous, fearless opposition is as indispensable for good
government as a strong cabinet backed up by a safe majority.
The Sale of Intoxicating
Liquors Act was passed without discussion, almost without a comment,
except that Premier Sifton said that it would be enforced. This Act
carried out the terms of the petition of the prohibitionists, endorsed
by the plebiscite of the previous year. It abolished the sale of
intoxicating liquors as beverages, and provided for the sale of such by
Government Vendors under the certificate of a medical practitioner.
Equally unanimous were the passing of the Equal Suffrage Act, the first
in Canada, the only dissentient in the Assembly being Mr. Lucien
Boudreau, the member for St. Albert, a strong French-Canadian riding,
and an Act for the Relief of Volunteers and Reservists, which provided a
moratorium for all who had enlisted for service in the war. The effect
of the war was apparent in the shortage of teachers, over six hundred
having enlisted. The fear of alien outrages led the Government to insure
the Parliament Buildings against such risks, with Lloyd's, for
In the session of 1917
the Opposition increased their determination to fight the Government and
its policies. The debate on the address was the longest before or since
that time. A series of resolutions condemning the Government's
administration of railways, telephones, the Civil Service and other
matters were submitted by the Opposition, and defeated by the
Government's supporters. These debates brought out the strength of both
parties and served as fine political propaganda for the elections, which
took place on June 17th, shortly after the prorogation of the Assembly.
By this time several
members of the Assembly were overseas with the Canadian Expeditionary
Forces, viz.: Brigadier-General J. S. Stewart, C. M. G., D. S. O., of
Lethbridge, Commanding 3rd Canadian Artillery Division; Major C. S.
Pingle, Redcliffe; Major R. B. Eaton, Hand Hills; Captain R. E.
Campbell, Rocky Mountain; Lieutenant F. A. Walker, Victoria; Lieutenant
G. E. L. Hudson, Wainwright; Lieutenant J. E. Stauffer, Didsbury; Pte.
Gordon Macdonald, Pembina.
recognized the patriotism and services of these members by passing a
Special Act electing them again to the new Legislature elected June 17th
of that year.
Provision was also made
by a Special Act for the representation of the Soldiers and Nursing
Sisters of Alberta for electing two members at large. The result of the
elections was the return of thirty-three Liberals, nineteen
Conservatives, two representatives of the Non-Partisan League (Mrs. L.
C. McKinney, Claresholm, and James Weir, Nanton), and Captain Robert
Pearson and Nursing Sister Roberta McAdams, representing the soldiers
and nursing sisters overseas. Mrs. McKinney and Miss McAdams were the
first women ever elected to a Canadian or British Assembly. The
Legislature now had fifty-eight members, compared to forty-one in 1909,
and twenty-five in 1905.
After the election the
stress of the war overshadowed Provincial affairs. The absolute
necessity of maintaining the Canadian Divisions in France up to strength
precipitated the Conscription issue and led to the formation of the
Union Government for Canada.
Premier Sifton had been
from the beginning an ardent advocate of a vigorous prosecution of the
war and desired to subordinate everything to secure a successful
termination. The prospect of a bitter party campaign throughout the
Dominion of Canada and the consequences of a strictly party enforcement
of Conscription, induced Alberta's premier to join the Union Government.
He was succeeded by Hon. Charles Stewart, a member of the Assembly since
1909, and of the Ministry since 1913. The vacancy thus created was
filled by the appointment of Hon. G. P. Smith, member for Camrose since
1909 to the Portfolio of Provincial Secretary.
The Stewart Ministry was
sworn in on October 16th as follows: Premier, President of the Council
and Minister of Railways and Telephones, lion. Charles Stewart; Minister
of Public Works, Hon. A. J. McLean; Minister of Education, lion. J. R.
Boyle; Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Duncan Marshall; Attorney-General,
Hon. C. W. Cross; Minister of Municipal Affairs, Hon. Wilfred Gariepy;
Provincial Treasurer, Hon. C. R. Mitchell; Provincial Secretary, Hon. G.
Two Alberta vacancies in
the Senate were filled before the end of the year by the acceptance of
these honors by Mr. Edward Mitchener, leader of the Opposition in the
Assembly, and by Mr. W. J. Harmer, Deputy Minister of Railways and
Telephones for Alberta. A notable event of the year was the
establishment and organization of the Alberta Provincial Police to take
the place of the Royal North West Mounted Police.
There was little
political controversy in Provincial affairs in 1918. Alberta, in common
with the rest of the Dominion, was making supreme effort to win the war.
The Province gave liberally to the Patriotic and Red Cross Funds, and
assisted in the reestablishment of Returned Soldiers. Mr. George Hoadley
was elected Leader of the Opposition by a caucus of the Conservative
members a few days after the opening of the Legislature. Many of the
members from overseas were in attendance this session, but the House
deeply grieved the death in action of Lieutenant J. E. Stauffer. An
important Act of the session was the Hospitals Act, which provided for
the formation of Hospital Districts and the establishment of hospitals
therein, supported by local taxation. The Supreme Court of Alberta
rendered an important judgment relating to the law of divorce in
Alberta. The judgment established the competency of Alberta Supreme
Court to grant divorces on the ground that the Matrimonial Causes Act,
passed by the British Parliament in 1857, was in force in Alberta by
virtue of the North West Territories Act, which enacted that the laws of
England as they existed prior to July 15th, 1870, should be in force in
the North West Territories until the same were repealed or altered by
Cabinet changes occurred
on the dismissal of Attorney-General Cross on August 22nd, by Premier
Stewart, and the elevation of Hon. A. G. Mackay to a seat in the
Cabinet. Hon. J. R. Boyle was appointed Attorney-General, Hon. A. G.
Mackay became Minister of Municipal Affairs and Public Health. Hon. G.
P. Smith was transferred to the Department of Education, and Hon.
Wilfred Gariepy accepted the office of Provincial Secretary. On
September 25th Mr. Gariepy resigned and Hon. Jean Coté, member for
Grouard, was appointed in his place. A bye-election in Red Deer
constituency to fill the vacancy caused by the elevation of Mr. Edward
Michener to the Senate resulted in the return of Mr. J. J. Gaetz, a
Liberal, against Mr. F. W. Galbraith, independent Liberal, but described
by his opponent as a Unionist.
The year 1919, possibly
as a result of relief from the strain of the war, witnessed important
political developments. The farmers made up their minds to fight the old
political parties and formed the United Farmers of Alberta Political
Association as the announcement of its formation ran "to supervise
political organization in Federal and Provincial constituencies." The
Liberal party held a Convention in Calgary, declaring a stand against
continuance of a Coalition Government after the conclusion of the war,
and adopted a clear-cut party platform. At the opening of the session of
the Legislature, Mr. James Ramsey, Junior member for Edmonton, was
elected leader of the Opposition by the Conservative members of the
Assembly. The strength of the Farmer Movement revealed itself in the
constituency of Cochrane held November 3rd, when Mr. Alex. Moore, the
Farmer candidate, easily won the election against the best efforts of
the Liberal organization—a premonition of the startling success of the
Farmer Party in the next general elections.
In the session of 1920 C.
S. Pingle, member for Redciiff, was elected Speaker of the Assembly, and
Mr. A. F. Ewing, senior member for Edmonton, leader of the Opposition.
difficulties of the Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia Railway and
the Alberta and Great Waterways Railway gave serious concern to the
Government. During the session $1,000,000 had been voted by the Assembly
for the Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia Railway and $100,000 for
the Alberta and Great Waterways Railway. Finally the Government was
forced to assume control of both railways, after the refusal of the
Federal Government to take them over and incorporate them in the
National System. Arrangements were completed with the Canadian Pacific
Railway Company in July to operate the Edmonton, Dunvegan and British
Columbia Railway under lease for five years and a company was organized
for this purpose, Mr. D. C. Coleman, of the Canadian Pacific Railway,
President, and Mr. J. A. Macgregor, an able Canadian Pacific Railway
Superintendent, as General Manager. It was decided by the Government to
operate the Alberta and Great Waterways Railway as a Government railway.
The complex and
unsatisfactory financial state of many of the municipalities in the
Province compelled the Government in the session of 1920 to provide for
the appointment of several special bodies to adjust matters of municipal
finance, and assessment. The most important of these was the Municipal
Finances Commission, composed of Honourable Justices Harvey, Beck and
Hyndman of the Supreme Court of Alberta, and Mr. H. M. E. Evans, of
Edmonton. An Assessment Equalization Board, composed of J. H. Lamb,
Deputy Minister of Municipalities, W. J. Jackman, Secretary of Rural
Municipalities, investigated assessment policies of the municipalities
and reduced them to a basis of reasonable uniformity.
The Government renewed
its demand upon the Federal Government for the transfer of the Crown
lands, minerals and royalties within the Province to the Province on a
different basis to that of Previous demands. By the terms of the demand
of 1920 the Government of Alberta was willing to pay back to the
Dominion of Canada the monies received in lieu of lands if a proper
accounting were made of the various revenues taken from the Crown lands
of the Province since 1905 by the Dominion of Canada, and if the same
were paid over to the Province of Alberta.
Hon. A. G. Mackay died on
April 24th, deeply lamented by the Assembly and country. Hon. C. R.
Mitchell took charge of the Department of Municipal Affairs and of
Public Health, which he administered until the defeat of the Government
the following year.
The political activities
of the United Farmers continued with growing vigor and numbers. The
membership increased from 18,135 in 1918 to 33,000 in 1921, and although
the United Farmers of Alberta Political Association was disbanded at the
Annual Convention in 1920 it did not halt or disorganize the plans of
the United Farmers to obtain political control of the Province. The
United Farm Women's Association, under Mrs. Marion L. Sears, who had
succeeded Mrs. Walter Pariby in the Presidency, was potent in rallying
the women electors to the support of the Farmers' cause. The precipitous
fall of the price of farm products, the Young-Fordney tariff, which
excluded Canadian cattle from the United States market, caused just
discontent among all classes of farmers. A conviction voiced by Mr. H.
W. Woods, President of the United Farmers of Alberta in the words:
"Agriculture has not been fostered to a degree commensurate with its
rational importance" steadily grew stronger. At the Annual Convention of
1921 a Provincial political platform was adopted and it was resolved to
contest every rural constituency in the next elections with Farmer
candidates. The elections followed, July 17th. The distinctive features
of the election were the absence of criticism of the Government's policy
by the Farmer candidates and the precision and power of the Farmer
organization. The result was thirty-nine Farmers, fourteen Liberals,
four Labor, three Independents, one Conservative.
On the 26th of July, a
Convention of the Farmer members-elect was held in Calgary to choose a
leader. The choice fell upon Mr. Herbert Greenfield. Mr. Greenfield was
not a candidate. He was a prominent member of the Executive of the
United Farmers of Alberta. The Stewart Ministry held office until the
Greenfield Ministry was formed. On August 13th Premier Greenfield
announced his Cabinet as follows: President of the Council, Provincial
Treasurer, and Provincial Secretary, Hon. Herbert Greenfield;
Attorney-General, Hon. J. E. Brownlee; Minister of Agriculture, Hon.
George Hoadley; Minister of Municipal Affairs and of Public Health,
lion. R. G. Reid; Minister of Education, Hon. Perrin Baker; Minister of
Railways and Telephones, Hon. Vernon W. Smith; Minister of Public Works,
Hon. Alex. Ross (Labor); Minister without Portfolio, Hon. Mrs. Walter
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