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Robert N. Thompson and Political Realignment

by Geoffrey Olson

Page 1  | 

'My remarks are directed to all who believe in the importance of the individual in a free society, who are concerned with the inordinate growth of centralized, paternalistic, governmental power and who are willing to rise and do something about it... a mobilization of conservative intellectual resources is urgently called for.' Commonsense for Canadians contains selections of speeches made by Bob Thompson between 1960 and 1965.Robert Thompson (b. 1914) grew up in Innisfail, Alberta, during the 1920s. His political career began with his nomination as the Social Credit candidate in 1935. Unfortunately for this ambitious young man, he had not yet reached the age of majority, so Premier William Aberhart did not approve his nomination. This minor setback did not stop Thompson from becoming Youth Leader for Social Credit, and he actively campaigned for Social Credit until he could run for the party.

However, Thompson's political ambitions were again delayed in 1940, after his name was put forward with three other potential candidates for the federal riding of Red Deer. Thompson maintains that he withdrew for two reasons: (1) he felt that Jack Shaw could best represent the riding; and (2) that he had an obligation to volunteer with the RCAF to fight against the Axis Powers in WWII. After joining the RCAF, Thompson eventually received a posting that had long-term implications for his career. In February 1944, the air force posted him as commander of the newly formed Imperial Ethiopian Air Force. This appointment led to a 15-year public service career in Ethiopia and the Sudan. Perhaps the highlight of these early years was accompanying the Duke of Harar on a trip to Europe and North America. Thompson had the enviable opportunity to introduce the duke to his home town of Innisfail. While a highlight for Thompson and Innisfail, this excursion also introduced the nation to Robert Thompson.

In 1958, Thompson returned to Alberta from Africa. Over the next few years he re-acquainted himself with the Social Credit party. In 1961, he became president of the Federal Social Credit party and Leader of the federal party. In an era of dynamic politics, Thompson played the role of a pawn in a game that stretched beyond his political career. Thompson was Premier Ernest Mannin'=s hand-picked leader of the national Social Credit forces, and in 1962 the people of Red Deer elected him their Member of Parliament. Thompson's rise to power led to a split with the Quebec wing, the Créditistes, led by Réal Caouette. While Thompson was willing to lead by Manning's example, Caouette was a charismatic leader who often overshadowed Thompson in the House of Commons. Caouette also followed the teaching of Major Douglas, something the Alberta wing had eliminated after Aberhart's death.

By the mid-1960s Ernest Manning had become increasingly concerned with the direction political ideology was heading in Canada. The apparent move to the left by Pearson worried Manning, who was a staunch anti-socialist. The country moved away from the traditional liberal/conservative philosophies of a passive role in the social welfare system to an activist role. This troubled the provincial premier. Manning had a black-and-white view of political ideology, so his policies and speeches addressed the need to avoid communism in any form and oppose help for any socialist/communist country. Through this he developed a significant idea about Canada's political landscape. He believed that the Liberals and Conservatives were moving too far to the left. Manning also believed that two distinct political parties could better serve Canadian's interests than five or six could. One way to achieve this was to develop two distinct political parties, one of a socialist nature and the other a conservative nature. Manning believed that a two-party system would provide the electorate with a clear choice on which ideology should form the government.

During 1967-68 Manning entered into negotiations with factions of the federal Progressive Conservative party to achieve this ideological goal. The anticipated result was the apparent amalgamation of the two national parties. Unfortunately, these negotiations failed, but Thompson played a symbolic role in the 1968 election. While Manning's negotiations did not lead to an understanding between the two parties, it did allow Thompson to run as the Conservative candidate for Red Deer in 1968. In May 1968, Thompson announced that he would seek the Progressive Conservative nomination for the federal riding of Red Deer. He not only achieved the support of Ernest Manning in this endeavour, but the Social Credit party executive voted to support him by a count of 14 to 1. However, the local Progressive Conservative party association bitterly opposed him.

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