Although usually associated with the end of the Social Credit dynasty in 1971, this son of the southeast’s greatest legacy was that of being a man of uncommon personal integrity:
Who is the next Harry Strom?
Variations of this question, an obscure political reference for most Albertans, have become popular in recent years as opponents of the provincial government invoke Strom’s name as a metaphor for regime change in Alberta.
Harry Strom, for the uninitiated, has the unfortunate distinction of being the third, and last, Social Credit Premier in the province’s history.
Having succeeded the long-serving Premier Ernest Manning in 1968, Strom inherited a government mired in a rut after more than three decades in power.
Reluctant to overhaul a party suspicious of change, Premier Strom was also in tough against the dynamic Peter Lougheed, whose Progressive Conservative Party eventually defeated the Socreds in the 1971 election.
Strom may have presided over the end of a dynasty, but in his defense, he was hardly a political animal
Born in 1914 at Burdett, Harry Edwin Strom was the son of Swedish-born homesteaders from Minnesota. Educated at Ballman and Burdett schools, and at high school in Calgary, he returned to the farm in 1931 to assist his mother, who had been widowed three years earlier.
For two decades, Strom continued farming in partnership with his brother, Walter. He later followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a municipal councillor in the M.D. of Forty Mile
After more than a decade of community involvement, Strom made the jump to provincial politics in 1955. As a husband and father of six, he did so reluctantly, at the urging of friends and neighbours.
Elected easily as Social Credit MLA for Cypress, Harry Strom distinguishing himself as both a capable member and Cabinet Minister in the Manning administration.
Following Manning’s retirement in 1968, Strom, at the urging of the Socred “Young Turks”, including Preston Manning, pursued the leadership of the party. He did so again with reluctance, and only after a younger candidate failed to materialize.
Emerging as Social Credit leader late in 1968, the farmer from Burdett became the first-ever born-and-bred Albertan Premier, and remains the only Premier to hail from the southeast.
Widely acknowledged as a man of great character and personal integrity, Harry Strom was also very frugal.
According to John J. Barr, a chief-of-staff in Strom’s administration, the Premier usually kept his entourage down to one or two staffers when journeying to Ottawa. While there, he avoided five star accommodations, choosing instead a hotel that served a 25-cent breakfast in its basement cafeteria.
A proud Albertan, Strom recognized the need for a strong regional alliance to counterbalance Western interests against those of the squeaky wheels of Confederation.
He was also a man without pretense, noted for changing his clothes in the front seat of the car on his way to events. Hubcap jokes aside, Strom even preferred to drive his own campaign bus during the fateful election campaign of ’71.
In the end, Strom proved more at ease on a horseback than in the Premier’s chair. A consummate municipal politician, he connected with the voters one-on-one, but the individual connections never translated into widespread support on the provincial stage.
Following the Social Credit defeat in 1971, Strom served for a time as opposition leader, but resigned in February 1973, one month after the PC government tripled the position’s salary.
Retiring from politics in 1975, the reluctant Premier spent his final years on the ranch, and continued his lifelong devotion to the Evangelical Free Church until his passing on October 2, 1984.
Honest and humble, Harry Strom understood what it meant to be a public “servant”.
His legacy of integrity lives on.
View the article in the April 20, 2012 edition of the Prairie Post online here.