A Great Canadian Thomas Clement Douglas

It’s the twentieth of October 1904 in Falkirk, Scotland. Annie Clement brings her son Thomas Clement Douglas into the world. This night holds the wonder of birth and new life, but untouched is the notion that this child would become the man who would bring revolutionary ideas to reality in Saskatchewan and eventually most of Canada. Six years later the family would immigrate to Canada, but not before little Tommy has a fall and badly injures his knee. He undergoes a surgery before they leave Scotland. When the family arrives in Winnipeg, Manitoba the injury flares up again and his parents are told they will need to amputate his entire leg. Luckily for Tommy a good-willed doctor hears of the situation and intervenes. This experience opens their eyes to the world of healthcare and its inaccessibility to the majority of the Canadian Citizens.

As a young man Tommy was full of ambition and dreams, he worked hard, even dropping out of school to pursue a job. During this time he attended night school to continue to educate himself and eventually decides to return to full time school to become an ordained minister. In 1924, the 19-year old Douglas started at Brandon College to work towards becoming a minister. During the six years he attended the school he was strongly influenced by the Social Gospel, a term referring to the movement of Christian values combined with social reform. The professors at the College challenged the students to think critically and question their fundamental beliefs, arguing Christianity was just as concerned with social justice as salvation. This is a revolutionary idea in itself, to most Christians.

When Douglas graduated from College he settled in Weyburn, Saskatchewan. At the time was the most impoverished province of the country. Douglas arrived with high hopes, a young wife and the untarnished idealism of youth. He was the minister of the Calvary Baptist Church. With the Depression looming in the near future Douglas became one of the leading activists in the area, joining the CCF (Co-operative Commonwealth Foundation). He endeavored to practice what he preached. In the election of 1935, he was elected to the Canadian House of Commons. The passion and inability to stand by had led him from the pulpit to a life of politics and participation.

With charisma and passion Douglas led the CCF to power in Canada. In the elections of 1944, the party won forty-seven of fifty-three seats in the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly. They formed the first democratic Socialist government in Canada and the idea spread to all of North America. 1953, Douglas was the premiere of Saskatchewan and as such attended the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II that June. He would go on to win the next five consecutive provincial elections up to the year 1960. During his time in office he kept his promises to the province, he brought about changes such as SGI, the same one we still buy our insurance from, a Power Corporation that extended the reach of electricity, a program to offer free hospital care to all citizens- the very first in Canada, and the Saskatchewan Bill of Rights, which preceded the Universal Human Bill of Rights by eighteen months. It was clear to see this man had grand ideas for the good of people, but not only that, he brought them to life in Saskatchewan, the poorest of poor at the time.

Tommy Douglas’ biggest and most important contribution to the Country was the innovation and creation of Medicare. This was the idea that possessed him most strongly. Douglas put all of his effort into making this vision become reality. In the summer of 1962, Medicare was the forefront issue between the Saskatchewan Government, the North American medical establishment and the healthcare practitioners of the province. The physicians of Saskatchewan went on Strike called the 1962 Doctor’s strike and put the battle on hold. They were convinced their interests were being overlooked, and the change would incur an income decrease and unnecessary government interference in medical decisions, despite Tommy’s promise that this wouldn’t happen. The Medicare Dream had plenty of opposition at the time, mostly the medical establishment that believed they were going to be put out of work by bringing in cheaper foreign workers to make Medicare happen. The opposition used a lot of racist imagery to try to scare the public out of the idea. At this time, however, the issue was brought to federal light and despite Douglas no longer being in office (he had retired in 1961) the bill was passed in 1962 after both John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson had helped out.

Written by: Tierra Marasse