Douglas | M.J.
Woodsworth | Tommy's Team
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Along with JS Woodsworth,
first CCF Leader, Tommy Douglas stands as one of the
most important heroes of our movement. Douglas was the
first socialist leader of a government on this continent.
He was the first leader of the federal NDP. He was the
father of medicare in Canada. It is hard to imagine
a figure more important to the development of the NDP
and to socialism in Canada. History has been kind to
Tommy Douglas, though he never became Prime Minister,
and he is as highly regarded by the general public now
as ever before.
Tommy Douglas was a
little man with a big heart. In his 44 years as an elected
representative, his loving work on behalf of the individual
men and women of Canada changed forever the nature of
our society. Tommy Douglas fought for Canadians. His
achievements are indeed legendary.
Short in stature, Douglas
lacked neither brains nor courage. Throughout his long
political career, he built a reputation for a devastating
wit and oratory, and universal respect for always standing
by what he believed, no matter how unpopular.
Douglas was born on
October 20, 1904, in Falkirk, Scotland. His family emigrated
to Canada in 1910, settling in Winnipeg. They returned
to Glasgow during the first world war, and once again
moved to Winnipeg when Douglas was 14.
He started work then
as an apprentice printer, working for the Winnipeg Free
Press and the Grain Trade News. Earlier, at 13 and still
in Glasgow, he had worked in a whiskey factory.
By the age of 19, he
not only had earned his journeyman's card as a printer,
but also was already gaining a reputation as a Baptist
preacher at his first church in Austin, Manitoba. It
was here that he became friends with J.S. Woodsworth,
a Methodist preacher and the future CCF leader.
He earned a bachelor's
degree at Brandon College, where he was a classmate
of Stanley Knowles, and did post-graduate work at McMaster
University, earning an MA.
In 1934, Douglas, a
Baptist Church Minister in Weyburn, made his first venture
into electoral politics by running unsuccessfully as
a provincial candidate for the Farmer-Labour Party in
While he was deliberating
over the next move, the superintendent of the Baptist
Church in Western Canada told him he had to choose between
politics or the church-he couldn't have both.
That ultimatum did
not prevent Douglas from running again in the 1935 federal
election, as the CCF candidate in the federal constituency
of Weyburn, when he became one of the first CCF members
to sit in the House of Commons. He would serve as a
MP for nine years.
In 1941, he was elected
President of the Saskatchewan CCF provincial party, and
became provincial leader when George Williams went overseas
during the Second World War. With an election seeming
imminent by 1942, Douglas activated a shadow cabinet
of party committees and organized sitting MLAs under
Douglas resigned his
federal seat to lead the Saskatchewan CCF and, in the
memorable election of June 15, 1944 he led the party
to a massive victory, winning 47 of 53 seats. At the
age of 39, he became head of the first democratic socialist
government in North America.
As Premier of Saskatchewan
he presided over the birth of public hospitalization
and medicare. Through his five terms as Premier, Douglas
pioneered reforms which made Saskatchewan society both
progressive and prosperous.
More than 100 bills,
72 of them aimed at social or economic reform, were
passed during the CCF's first year in power. By the
end of two years, they had removed the sales tax from
food and meals and managed to reduce the provincial
debt by $20 million.
New departments were
established which reflected the government's priorities.
These included the new Deparment of Co-operatives, the
Department of Labour and the Department of Social Welfare.
To pay for the new departments, all the CCF cabinet
ministers took a 28 per cent pay cut.
In 1944, pensioners
were granted free medical, hospital and dental services,
and the treatment of diseases such as cancer, tuberculosis,
mental illness and venereal disease was made free for
In 1947, Douglas introduced
universal hospitalization at a fee of $5 per year per
person. "It is paid out of the treasury. Instead
of the burden of those hospital bills falling on sick
people, it is spread over all the people," Douglas
said. In 1959, twelve years later, when the province's
finances seemed to him to be strong enough, Douglas
announced the coming of the medicare plan. It would
be universal, pre-paid, publicly administered, provide
high quality care, including preventive care, and be
accepted by both providers and receivers of the medical
A Crown Corporation
Act opened the way to such achievements as provincial
air and bus lines. The Timber Board took control of
lumbering, so the industry could prosper without destroying
the forests. Later, fish and fur marketing boards were
However, no Crown corporation
had as big an impact during the Douglas years than the
Saskatchewan Power Corporation. Prior to the Douglas
Administration, only 300 rural households had electrical
power. By 1964, 65,000 farm households had been hooked
up to the electrical grid built by SaskPower.
SaskTel provided affordable,
quality and near universal phone access across the province.
The CCF introduced
the Trade Union Act, which made collective bargaining
mandatory and extended the rights of civil servants.
The Act was described by Walter Reuther as "the
most progressive piece of labour legislation on the
continent." Other labour legislation set standards
for workers' compensation, minimum wages, mandatory
holidays and a labour relations board. Union membership
rose 118 per cent in just four years.
Building on the 1944
campaign slogan of Humanity First, the first CCF budget
devoted 70 per cent of its expenditures to health, welfare
and education. School districts were enlarged to a more
efficient size; teachers' salaries were raised; the
University of Saskatchewan was expanded to include a
and economic diversification were major goals of the
Douglas government. The Administration helped private
investors to develop potash mining, a steel mill and
pipeline company, as well as encouraging development
in oil and gas. When Douglas took power, 80 per cent
of the province's GDP was generated by agriculture.
By 1957, agriculture accounted for only 35 per cent
of economic activity, even though a million more acres
of farm land were under production.
"If ever a politician had neglected his own constituency,
it was I," wrote Douglas in an article prepared
shortly before his death. "I had told my people
before they nominated me that if I was going to be any
use to the party, I'd have to spend 95 percent of my
time on the road."
Tommy Douglas political
achievements included his most memorable, North America's
first government-run medical care insurance plan; also
public automobile insurance, rural electrification,
and a host of other innovative social programs.
In his writings, Douglas
says he was labeled as "a rather dangerous radical
in the community of Weyburn, stirring up the unemployed
to ask for more money and sticking my nose into places
where it was none of my business." But Tommy Douglas
felt it was his business.
When he died on February
24, 1986, at the age of 81, Douglas was heralded as
"a man who did good deeds in a naughty world."
In 2004, nearly twenty
years after his death, Tommy Douglas was voted “The
Greatest Canadian” in a national CBC Television contest.
Among the nominees who Douglas edged out for the title
were Lester Pearson, Pierre Trudeau and Terry Fox.
Member of Parliament 1935-1940
Premier of Saskatchewan 1944-1961
Member of Parliament 1962-1979
Under Tommy Douglas,
the government of Saskatchewan brought about the following
Provided full medical,
dental and drug coverage to those needing state assistance.
of education for all
Introduced free air
ambulance service which was essential to the north.
First to provide universal
coverage for hospitalization.
First to introduce
a budget bureau to provide long-term planning.
First to introduce
First government to
allow collective bargaining for all workers including
First Arts Board in
First to introduce
a Farm Security Act in North America.
First to grant the
right to vote at age 18.
First to introduce
the 8-hour work day, the 5-day work week, and paid holidays
First Small Claims
Court in North America.
First Bill of Rights
First universal Medicare
plan in North America.