When Lt.-Gov. J.C. Bowen refused to give royal assent to the Alberta Press Act in 1937, the Provincial Government retaliated by cutting off the water, power and telephone to Government House.

Michael Dawe: Alberta newspapers quick to oppose constraints on their freedom

On Jan. 16, the Lacombe Globe published its last issue. The development was not entirely unexpected.

However, with the Globe having been continuously published for 119 years, it is sad to see one of the oldest businesses in central Alberta come to an end.

The Lacombe Globe had earned a distinguished record over its many decades of operation. One particularly notable accomplishment came in the early 1930s, when the editor, C.B. Barney Halpin, courageously took on the activities of the Ku Klux Klan in central Alberta. He faced several threats of violence in response.

In September 1935, Halpin sold the Globe to Harry J. Ford and L.S. Walker. However, the days of the newspaper tackling issues of national significance did not end.

In 1937, the Lacombe Globe took part in the fight against an attempt by the provincial Social Credit government to impose official censorship on Alberta’s newspapers.

Social Credit had swept to a massive victory in the August 1935 election. Albertans had been suffering from a severe economic depression since the fall of 1929. While the Social Credit theories offered hard-to-understand solutions to the crisis, traditional economics didn’t seem to work either.

In the end, hope triumphed over doubt as to whether Social Credit would actually work.

Winning an election was one thing. Governing a near-bankrupt province in the midst of the Depression was a much bigger challenge.

Premier William Aberhart soon found himself in sharp disagreement with C.H. Douglas, the originator of Social Credit theory, as to what should be done. The government defaulted several times on its debts. Its promise to pay Albertans a $25 per month “dividend” proved impossible to implement.

Serious infighting broke out between the Aberhart and Douglas factions of the Social Credit movement.

A hotbed of the “insurgency” was central Alberta.

The inexperienced government also made a number of bad blunders with its attempts to implement its policies. Not surprisingly, this fostered near universal criticism in the press.

Finally, in the fall of 1937, the government brought in a series of bills to “implement” Social Credit. Previous bills had been disallowed by the federal government as being beyond the limits of provincial jurisdiction (i.e., unconstitutional).

The Alberta government was not going to give in to the “hostile” forces of the Ottawa government and banks. It was determined to try again.

It also added the Accurate News and Information Act. This legislation required newspapers to be licensed and to publish any statement issued by the Alberta Social Credit Board to “correct or amplify” any articles on the policies and activities of the government.

All sources of information for any news item or comment had to be provided in writing to the government on demand.

Finally, the government, on the recommendation of the chair of the Social Credit Board, could prohibit the publication of any newspaper for any period of time that the government wished.

The Lacombe Globe joined in the outcry against the Press Act.

On Sept. 30, 1937, it published an editorial under the banner, “Freedom Must Be Preserved.”

Editor Harry Ford wrote “the Social Credit government has overstepped its powers. It has brought down legislation in defiance of the Canadian Constitution, which, if enforced, would do away with the civil rights of a certain class of people, deny them access to the courts and destroy the freedom of the press.”

The lieutenant governor, J.C. Bowen, refused to give royal assent to the new bills. The government, in retaliation, cut off the utilities to Government House, forcing the lieutenant governor to move out of his official residence.

The federal government then referred the bills to the Supreme Court for a ruling on their legality.

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled the bills unconstitutional in the spring of 1938. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London, England, later concurred with the decision of the Canadian Supreme Court.

In May 1938, Columbia University awarded the first Pulitzer Prize ever given outside of the United States to the Edmonton Journal and all the other Alberta newspapers that had joined the fight against the Press Act.

The Lacombe Globe, as well as the Red Deer Advocate, were among those that joined in the receipt of the prize.

Red Deer historian Michael Dawe’s column appears Wednesdays.

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