Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ernest Manning and Creating a Theocracy

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

"The will of the people is bound to come into conflict with the will of God" Ernest Manning

Ernest Manning's parents belonged to the United Church and were never particularly pious. (1) But as a young man, he began listening to William Aberhart's radio Bible program, and convinced his parents to allow him to register at the Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute, becoming their first graduate.

Aberhart's brand of Christianity was of the most radical fundamentalism, bordering on the occult. Manning himself, ascribed to much of this, but when he took over the radio broadcasts, he had moderated somewhat, though was still clearly a fundamentalist. He told his audiences that every aspect of their lives could be found in the scriptures and as such they should allow themselves to be directed by the "word of God".

But he also found a new and powerful enemy that he alone could protect good Albertans from: Communism. And that enemy, whether real or imagined, has survived through the generations.

Manning continued Aberhart's tradition with his own weekly National Back to the Bible Hour broadcasts, but the flashy occultism and Bible prophecy were forsaken for stolid anti-communism and godly materialism.
"Godless Materialism Condemned: Convention Speakers Urge Return to God as Necessary to Survival," announced the lead story in the December 1950 Canadian Social Creditor. Essentially, Social Credit had transmutated from a messianic movement dedicated to changing the laws of economics to a moralistic government with a middle-management vision. (2)
Time magazine felt that Alberta was the closest thing to a theocracy in the Western Hemisphere, and indeed it was. Manning was rarely seen but he sold his government's policies on his weekly Bible program, that included his wife and children. Citizens were to accept him on blind faith, just as they did Christianity.

Manning's government is the nearest approach to a theocracy in the Western Hemisphere. The slight (5 ft. 9 in., 135 Ibs.) premier, who practices his own brand of Baptist-fundamentalist evangelism, has been blending religion and politics throughout his public career. Says Manning: "Religion isn't to be kept on a shelf and only taken down on Sundays." A well-thumbed Bible is always open on his desk in Edmonton's Parliament Building. In every public speech, religion, not politics, is the dominant theme. "I abhor the word politician," Manning has repeatedly told Albertans. "I am not here by choice. I would much rather concentrate on my Bible work." (3)
Alf Hooke also speaks of Manning in divine tones:

Like thousands of other people throughout the length and breadth of Western Canada, I looked upon him as a man sent by God to better the conditions of mankind in those dreary depression days. I still believe this to be true. In the same way, I'd come to recognize Premier Manning and believed him to be so saintly and so God-guided that anything he did or anything he recommended to be done had to be right. Time out of number, entirely unknown to him, I had come to his aid in no uncertain way when I heard unscrupulous people criticize him, especially if they stated or even implied that he was a religious bigot concerned only with his own aggrandizement.

My Wesleyan Methodist background always came to the fore, as it did with my immediate family whenever a critical word concerning Mr. Manning was mentioned in their presence. Until her dying day in 1964 my dear mother would listen faithfully to his Sunday broadcasts and thanked God that such a man as Ernest Manning had been chosen to spread Christ's message of brotherly love in our time. He and his family were always included in her nightly prayers.

... All the ministers of his first cabinet had remarked one time or another on this ability and in my zeal to serve him, I had, in my own mind, compared this trait with that of Jesus who, though only twelve years old, had astounded the wise men in the temple in Jerusalem by this same characteristic and the depth of his knowledge .... The old British adage that the king can do no wrong was certainly carried into the realm of Alberta politics to such a degree that the Premier can do no wrong was sincerely believed by thousands. (4)
But not everyone viewed his as the Messiah, something that no one should have done.

All political leaders who survive long enough become the subject of jokes as well as editorial cartoons. Ernest Manning was no exception. According to Barr, two of the popular jokes of the time help reveal Manning's public image: "St. Peter searching through new arrivals for a psychiatrist, then asking him: 'Come in and help us out with the Supreme Being; he thinks he's Manning.' Another, Manning looking for a burial plot. He finds a nice one but protests its high cost. The owner says, 'But sir, it has a lovely view ...' Manning replies, 'You don't seem to understand. I'll only be needing it for three days.' " (5)
Continued: The Mark of the Beast


1. Like Father, Like Son: Ernest Manning and Preston Manning, By Lloyd Mackey, ECW Press, 1997, ISBN: 1-55022-299-6

2. Slumming it at the Rodeo: The Cultural Roots of Canada's Right-Wing Revolution, Gordon Laird, 1998, Douglas & McIntyre, ISBN: 1-55054 627-9, Pg. 47-48

3. Texas of the North, Time Magazine, September 24, 1951

4. 30+5 I know, I was There, A first-hand account of the workings and history of the Social Credit Government in Alberta, Canada 1935-68, by Alfred J Hooke, Douglas Social Credit Secretariat

5. Preston Manning and the Reform Party, by Murray Dobbin, Goodread Biographies/Formac Publishing, 1992, ISBN: 0-88780-161-7, pg. 3

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