Thomas Clement Douglas, affectionately know as Tommy Douglas was the founder of Canadian Medicare. He is considered by many Canadians as one of the “Greatest Canadians.” He was awarded the Order of Canada in 1980.
Name: Thomas Clement Douglas
Birth Date: October 1904 – February 1986
Job Functions: Pastor, Politician
Fields: Religion, Politics, Healthcare
Known For: Father of Canadian Medicare
Thomas Clement Douglas was a man with many talents. While he was growing up he belonged to a debating team and was very good at it. That skill served him well later in politics. While living in Brandon, Manitoba, Douglas took up boxing, and won the lightweight championship for Manitoba in 1922 and 1923. He also took up public speaking and was a lay preacher. In 1924, Douglas enrolled at Brandon College. After a break in his education, he resumed and graduated in 1930 and became an ordained minister in June of that year. Douglas married Irma Dempsey, a fellow graduate.
Following his ordination as minister, Douglas relocated to Weyburn, Saskatchewan, where he was greeted with much suffering – the province had been hit hard because of the drought and the economic depression. He ministered to both the spiritual and physical needs of the people, and at some point concluded that political action was needed to alleviate the human suffering.
In 1931, Douglas established the Weyburn Association of Independent Labour Party (ILP), which merged shortly with the United Farmers of Canada to form the Farmer-Labour Party. In 1932 at a convention held in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, that Douglas attended, the socialist Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) party was born. James Shaver Woodsworth was the first leader of the CCF, and a mentor to Tommy Douglas.
In 1933, Douglas received his Masters of Art in sociology from McMaster University, and the following year ran unsuccessfully in the Saskatchewan provincial election. Friends convinced him to run federally in the 1935 elections, which he successfully did. Douglas was successful this time around because he focused on his strengths – he had the ability to build rapport, make people feel comfortable and laugh. Douglas also used his skill as a debater in Parliament. His constituents were the exploited and underprivileged.
Douglas served in the Canadian House of Commons (1935–44) as a member of the socialist Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF).
In 1944, Douglas resigned from federal politics to run for premier in Saskatchewan. He was a premier of Saskatchewan (1944–61). The CCF took 47 of the 52 seats in the legislature and 52 percent of the popular vote – residents were ready for change. The province was close to bankruptcy in 1944, so as the new premier, Douglas had to find creative ways to stimulate the Saskatchewan economy. Along with Clarence Fines, the provincial treasurer, they carefully engineered an economic recovery.
For instance, they increased old age pension, removed claims against estates under $2,000 and caveats from property for seniors, all election promises. During Douglas’ leadership as Saskatchewan premier, he introduced many social and economic reforms, including the groundwork for medicare – in 1961, the Saskatchewan Medical Care Insurance Act was made law. The CCF government also passed the right to collective bargaining in 1944.
Douglas was all for broadening the CCF and built links with the Canadian Labour Congress and in 1961 the National Democratic Party (NDP) was born. He resigned his seat as premier to run as the head of the new party. Douglas was defeated in the federal election in 1962, primarily because of backlash by the doctors who went on a long and bitter strike because of the introduction of medicare in the province. Douglas and his party stood strong and united and in the end, residents had free health care, free treatment of cancer, tuberculosis, polio, venereal disease, and mental illness.
Douglas served as head of the NDP from 1961 to 1971, after which he served as the NDP’s energy critic until 1979 when he retired. Saskatchewan’s innovated medicare program was a Canadian reality in 1967. Douglas won the Order of Canada in 1980.
Tommy Douglas did a lot for Canadians, but his greatest accomplishments were during his time as Premier of Saskatchewan.
Why Tommy Douglas’ Contribution Matters
Many Canadians now take their free healthcare for granted, and Douglas and his party had that vision for a national healthcare system over half a century ago and advocated for it.
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Encyclopedia of World Biography
Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia
Biography of Thomas Clement Douglas http://www.cupe1975.ca/bursary/burs8.html
The Canadian Encyclopedia