TOMMY DOUGLAS was selected by Canadians as the “Greatest Canadian”. Today is the anniversary of his birth in 1904.
Doulglas was a Baptist minister strongly influenced by the Social Gospel movement in the 1920s. His seminary education only augmented his direct personal experiences:
- As a child he suffered a broken leg furthered burdened by complications. For a time the only cost-effective prescription was amputation until a noted orthopedist took an interest and volunteered his time. Douglas said years later that he then saw the need to separate healthcare from funding declaring that no one should lose a leg because they could not afford care.
- As a youngster sitting atop a roof in downtown Winnipeg, Tommy witnessed workers on strike being assaulted, injured and shot by police under the orders of capitalists seeking to bust the union. This injustice led him to commit himself to the promotion and protection of civil rights and liberties.
- Finally, as a grad student during the Depression, he interviewed men in the transient camps who had once been bankers, lawyers and doctors and were now forced to beg for food. He saw what supposedly objective economic forces could do to real people.
Soon after ordination, Douglas joined the COOPERATIVE COMMONWEALTH FEDERATION (CCF), a democratic Socialist Party contesting elections in Canada. The CCF had developed from the Nonpartisan League organized in the United States which had spurred Farmer-Labor politics in Minnesota and North Dakota and set the stage for the development of the New Deal. In 1944, he led the CCF to electoral victory in Saskatchewan thus organizing the first democratic Socialist government in North America. This was followed by continuing electoral success up to 1960 during which time he succeeded in several legislative accomplishments:
- Extended electrification to farms and the rural areas of the Province
- Provided low-cost publicly-run auto insurance
- Adopted Medicare coverage for all Saskatchewan citizens
- Introduced the first Bill of Rights in Canada
- Paid off the public debt accumulated by Conservatives and left a budget surplus
The Federal Government soon followed up on Tommy Douglas’ achievement in Saskatchewan by adopted his program for the entire nation in 1966. It remains the most popular program provided by Government in Canada and is sustained by overwhelming support.
Passing away in 1986, Douglas is known as the father of Canadian MEDICARE and also as the grandfather to the actor KIEFER SUTHERLAND (Father-in-law to Donald Sutherland).