Nellie McClung was no stranger to election campaigning
when she ran for election in 1921. She had long experience
campaigning for the Liberal parties in both Manitoba and
Alberta before she herself sought election.
In Manitoba she campaigned for the Liberals—because the
Conservative party was openly hostile to the concerns of
women, especially the idea of allowing them to vote. When
the Manitoba Liberals formed the government, much of their
success was due to McClung's speeches on the campaign trail.
Even though she claimed to have no party affiliation,
McClung campaigned for Alberta's Liberal party in the 1917
election because the Liberal government had brought in
female suffrage and prohibition. She felt that they had
earned the women's votes by doing so.
In 1921, she finally threw in her lot with the Liberals,
running as a candidate for the party. However, she made it
clear that if elected she would use her own judgment
regardless of party lines and her two priorities were
women's rights and effective enforcement of liquor laws.
While McClung was successful in her bid for election, the
Liberals were defeated—and the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA)
formed the new government, including Irene Parlby in its
Cabinet as a Minister Without Portfolio.
McClung served as a member of the Legislative Assembly
for five years and as she had warned in her election
campaign, she voted as her conscience dictated, sometimes
supporting UFA government measures that the rest of her
party members opposed.
Since women's rights and enforcing the liquor laws were
her priorities, McClung and Parlby often joined forces on
such issues—though the women were known to disagree at times
too. Both women promoted travelling libraries, travelling
medical and dental clinics, and Public Health Nurses. Both
also championed changes to the Dower Act.
Some issues Nellie McClung took an interest in include
providing occupational training for female prisoners;
directing male prisoners' wages to the support of their
families; resisting government attempts to reduce allowances
paid to needy widows and single mothers; equal wages for men
and women—including magistrates; objections to the UFA's
Minimum Wage Act, because it did not provide for women to be
on the administrative board; objections to a plan to deprive
widows who remarried of the pension benefits earned by their
One key issue for McClung was that of liquor laws and
their enforcement. Although prohibition came into effect in
Alberta on July 1, 1916, as a result of a plebiscite, they
were difficult to enforce. As a result, the underground
liquor trade was flourishing. By 1922, a newly elected
official from Calgary told the government that prohibition
needed to be repealed.
The UFA had a reputation for being strong supporters of
prohibition, so McClung was not too worried by this
development, but in 1923, the Legislature received a
51,000-name petition for a referendum on the licensed sale
of beer in Alberta. Despite McClung's efforts to prove that
the petition was flawed, as well as misleading, a referendum
was held, and prohibition repealed.
Nevertheless, in the 1925 election, McClung again ran on
a platform of women's rights and prohibition, this time in
Calgary. Despite her best efforts, with public sentiment
strongly against prohibition she suffered defeat.