Happy birthday to the “greatest Canadian”

October 20, 2018

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.

Related Articles

Canada’s unions say slowing job recovery necessitates urgent government intervention

Canada’s job growth is showing signs of slowdown and Canada’s unions are calling on the federal government to quickly lay out its plan to stem long-term unemployment. The latest figures from this morning’s release of Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey demonstrates a weakening jobs rebound. The survey showed a slowing recovery, with employment rising just 0.5 percent in October, a…
Read More

Canada’s workers engage MPs during first-ever Virtual Action Week

By Hassan Yussuff, as published in National Newswatch On any given day of a normal year, Parliament Hill is buzzing with people lobbying elected representatives. According to the federal government’s lobbying commissioner, there were 18,728 monthly communications reports submitted in 2019 20. Those communications reports were generated in large part by paid, registered lobbyists working with large corporations. This year,…
Read More

Canada’s unions launch nation’s first-ever virtual lobby week

OTTAWA – Hundreds of workers from communities across Canada are meeting virtually with their MPs this week, part of the country’s first-ever national Action Week, organized by Canada’s unions. Participants will be calling on elected representatives to push for federal investments towards job creation, health care and child care, among other necessary programs. Over 200 meetings are scheduled. “The pandemic…
Read More