The Social Credit Grassroots Recapture Their Party
Social Credit activists participated in one of the most dramatic leadership selection contests in Canadian political history in 1986. As we noted in the last chapter, the result was to repudiate Bill Bennett's leadership style and his attempts to modernize the party organization. Bill Vander Zalm's victory ultimately represented the recapturing of Social Credit by those party activists who yearned for a return to the original populist party of W.A.C. Bennett. In this chapter, we are able to use the data from the Social Credit convention delegate survey to analyze the dynamics of this internal struggle for the soul of the governing party.
The Social Credit leadership contest was only the second in the party's history. The winner would become both the first non-Bennett to lead the party and the province's premier. The contest was precipitated by the unexpected resignation of Bill Bennett, who knew that his party lagged behind the New Democrats in the polls and that he himself was even less popular than his party. Still, the premier's decision was a shock. Though the majority of the activists thought his governing style remote, there had been no significant challenges to his leadership and there was no obvious successor poised to act.
The battle for succession in the party involved subtle and sometimes not so subtle efforts by many candidates to distance themselves from Bennett and the record of his government. Observers of the contest not only saw the distancing by many candidates from the incumbent leader, they also saw a struggle for control of the party between advocates of closer ties to the Progressive Conservative party and those wishing to preserve the tradition of federal neutrality; between the inheritors of the party's populist tradition