Social Classes and Social Credit in Alberta


196 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-1169-5
DDC 971.23'02





Reviewed by David E. Smith

David E. Smith is a political science professor at the University of
Saskatchewan and the author of Building a Province: A History of
Saskatchewan in Documents.


This is a deceptive book: short (less than 200 pages), familiar cover
(photograph of a dispossessed farm family alongside a dusty Chevrolet),
and comfortable (the rise, once again, of Mr. Aberhart’s famous
movement). But appearances can be misleading, for Edward Bell calmly
dissects, and then methodically demolishes, some of the best-known
political scholarship of postwar decades. Equally unsettling, too, is
his indictment of the social sciences in Canada, which, he says, through
an “unreflective repetition of ideas and ‘facts’ can at times take
the form of folk wisdom and rumour.”

Among the works that stand accused are some of the 10 volumes in the
Social Credit series published in the 1950s by University of Toronto
Press. However, it is C.B. Macpherson, author of the elegant and
influential Democracy in Alberta, who spends most of the time in the
dock—for the obvious reason that it is he who has long been treated as
the oracle of prairie protest. Two generations of students stand in
etymological debt to him for cryptic phrases like petit bourgeois
(agrarians) and quasi-colonial (economics), and for a conception of
Social Credit at once rural, small-town, and conservative.

Bell shows that this is far from an accurate assessment. Macpherson, he
charges, “act[ed] on a number of false or at least questionable
assumptions” that led to undemonstrated claims about Social Credit’s
basis of support (middle class), policies (essentially regional), and
objectives (to challenge central Canadian dominance). By contrast, using
polling subdivision data (where available) and what he calls an
“ecological method” to assess social class, Bell demonstrates that
Social Credit drew significant support from working-class districts,
stood for a “fundamental restructuring of the economy,” and sought
to “solve the world’s economic problems.”

How and why this distortion in interpretation occurred, and the
implications it poses for the reputation of Canadian social science, are
matters developed in the text. In the foreword, Maurice Pinard rightly
describes this analysis as “path breaking.”


Bell, Edward., “Social Classes and Social Credit in Alberta,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024,