On October 20, 1904 the leader of Canada’s first social democratic government and the father of Medicare – Tommy Douglas – was born in Camelon, Scotland. A Baptist minister by calling, Douglas would serve as one of Canada’s first CCF Members of Parliament, Premier of Saskatchewan and the first leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada.
Often called the father of universal healthcare, “Tommy” Thomas Clement Douglas, was a Canadian immigrant from Scotland. He was ill as a boy and was saved from losing a leg thanks to the charity of a doctor who operated for free to save the limb.
Years later, Douglas became active in the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), a political party formed in reaction to the social and economic conditions of the early 20th century that culminated in the Great Depression. He was elected to the House of Commons in 1935, where he served before going on to lead the CCF to election victory in Saskatchewan in 1944. As Premier of Saskatchewan, Douglas led North America’s first social-democratic government.
Over the next two decades, Douglas oversaw the formation of social programs that continue today. He established the publicly-owned Saskatchewan Power Corporation , Canada’s first public automobile insurance program, and a number of Crown Corporations to deliver essential services. He passed laws that allowed government workers to unionize and adopted a Saskatchewan Bill of Rights 18 months before the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
But he is most remembered for establishing Canada’s first publicly run Medicare system in Saskatchewan in 1961. In doing so he became the father of universal health care in Canada.
In 1962, Douglas left Saskatchewan politics to become the first leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada (NDP), created by a merger of the CCF and the labour movement, led by the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). He served as the party’s leader until 1971 and retired from elected politics in 1979.
In 1981 Douglas was appointed to the Order of Canada and in 1985 was awarded the Saskatchewan Order of Merit. He died on February 24, 1986 in Ottawa. In a 2004, CBC viewers voted to crown Tommy Douglas the “Greatest Canadian“.
Happy Birthday Tommy! And thanks for making sure all Canadian’s have affordable healthcare!
This is a great legacy for Canada and one many of us are proud of. But there is still work to do. The work of leaders like Tommy Douglas, groups like the Canadian Health Coalition, political parties like the NDP, and Canadian workers through their unions and the labour movement continues with today’s drive to win a universal prescription drug plan that covers all Canadians regardless of their income, age, or where they live.