Resources

Politics

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Mormons/Brigham Y. Card

Before they migrated to Canada, the Cache valley colonists had been used to participating actively in political affairs, and they expected to do so in the new land. Card had been an alderman, a county selectman (manager), and a school trustee for many years. His wife, Zina, had represented Mormon women in Washington, D.C. lobbying senators and government officials on behalf of women’s suffrage. Women in Utah had voted equally with men since 1870 until they were disenfranchised in 1887 during the anti-polygamy crusade, and female immigrants to Canada were prepared to be politically involved in the new country. Once the Lee Creek colony was assured of permanency in 1890, Card urged all settlers to take out citizenship and participate fully in civic life. He himself supported the Conservative Party and attended its 1896 convention, but he deplored the backroom morality of party politics and declared that Mormons should be free to vote for either national party. Most chose the Liberals, but over the years they have supported a variety of political parties.

There have been Mormon political landmarks at every level of government, beginning with the incorporation of Cardston on 2 July 1901, which effectively separated church leadership from civic responsibility. Card was elected the first mayor with a council of six, as stipulated in territorial legislation. All Mormon towns founded in Alberta continued this pattern of local government. Women were first elected as councillors in the 1970s, and Ruth Nalder became mayor of Raymond in 1989, the first Mormon woman known to have held that office. In mayoralty contests in Alberta’s three largest cities, several members of the community have been returned for double terms: David H. Elton in Lethbridge in 1935–41, Don H. MacKay in Calgary in 1950–59, and Cecil J. Purves in Edmonton in 1977–83.

A second landmark was at the territorial or provincial level. John W. Woolf, a Cardston rancher, was elected to the Legislative Assembly of the North-West Territories as an independent in 1902 and to the Alberta legislature as a Liberal when the province was established three years later. Since then some eighty Mormons have run for provincial office, standing for parties that ranged from the United Farmers of Alberta in 1921 and Social Credit in 1935 to the Western Canada Concept Party in 1982. Twenty-four, representing fourteen constituencies, have been elected, and five have served as cabinet ministers.

Given their numbers in Alberta, Mormons have been fairly well represented politically ever since their arrival, but they cannot be considered a strong force in provincial politics. On major issues of the day, such as women’s suffrage, farm security, education, health, provincial control of natural resources, and financial reform, Mormons and non-Mormons have had few differences. On other questions, including liquor sales, gambling, Sunday store opening, abortion, commercialized sex, and pornography, Mormons have been one of a number of groups in opposition. Despite their wide range of political views, there has been a tendency for the media and some non-Mormon politicians to stereotype them as right-wing, fundamentalist Christian, or from the “Bible belt,” though their self-reliance and patriotism are generally acknowledged.

At the federal level, Ontario schoolteacher Agnes Macphail was the first woman elected to Parliament when she ran as a candidate for the Progressive Party in 1921. A member of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, she was challenged as to whether she was Christian at her first nomination meeting. She later sat in the Ontario legislature, one of the first two women to do so. In 1935 John Horne Blackmore from Raymond was elected to the House of Commons in the riding of Lethbridge on behalf of the Social Credit Party, initiating a pattern of western protest by Mormons in Ottawa. He was re-elected until the Conservative sweep of 1958 led by John Diefenbaker. Solon E. Low, also originally from Raymond, became the national leader of the Social Credit Party and a member of Parliament in 1945; he too was defeated in 1958. For a number of years, there were no Mormons in the House of Commons, but in 1993 Dr Grant Hill in Macleod and Jack Ramsay in Crowfoot, both converts, successfully stood for the Reform Party in ridings where Mormons formed a small minority.

Political activity by individual Mormons has tended not to differ greatly from that of the country as a whole, and voter turnout has been close to the national average. The Mormon Church does not usually discuss political issues in its curricular or media materials. A major exception was a social-science course for Canadian Mormon women given by the Relief Society in the years 1954–57. Though Mormons in Canada are rarely involved in political developments in the Utah homeland or the United States as a whole, some high-ranking American church leaders have been concerned about Canadian politics and have on occasion counselled Canadian Mormons and their leaders. The politics of the United Farmers of Alberta, which was based in American populism, was considered compatible with the outlook in Utah and evoked little concern. But Social Credit was viewed with great alarm by Mormon leaders, leading an apostle in 1935 to warn Canadian co-religionists about parties with unsound economic policies. Despite attempts by members in Canada to explain the party’s platform, Utahans were not reassured and likened its position to the New Deal or to socialism, both of which they condemned. Doubts about members of the Social Credit Party, if not their politics, were removed when two prominent Albertans were called as general authorities of the church. Mormons in Canada have also been asked to explain social reforms relating to old age pensions and family allowances.

Canadian Mormons generally accept the church’s position on the inspired nature of the American constitution. Some have attempted to see Canada’s constitution in the same way. In 1982 the Freeman Educational Institute of Calgary distributed a book entitled Canada Can Now Have a Model Constitution, written by W. Cleon Skousen, a Republican from Raymond, Alberta, and founder of the Freeman Institute in Washington, and Robert N. Thompson, former leader of the Social Credit Party. This work, an appeal to conservative thinkers in Canada that portrayed the constitution of 1982 as seriously flawed, anticipated a number of the issues raised during the debate over the Charlottetown accord ten years later and carried into the platform of the Reform Party. Nevertheless, the range of Mormon political thought in Canada has extended beyond such conservatism, which is rather a reflection of the Canadian west with an acculturated Mormon component.