Tommy Douglas as the Key Figure in Canadian Politics

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Before World War II health care across Canada for the most part was both privately provided and funded. This was changed in 1932 when the Great Depression hit Saskatchewan, and a Baptist Minister named Tommy Douglas joined the Co-Operative Commonwealth Federation. Tommy saw the suffering that the Great Depression caused the people of Saskatchewan, he believed that he could do more to help people as politician than he could a minister. Tommy set out on his political journey with a vision to create not only a better Saskatchewan but a better Canada. After becoming premier of Saskatchewan, Tommy, Douglas continued to make waves in Canadian politics as a representative of all people.”Tommy Douglas had a new vision for the role of government; he believed that it had the responsibility to improve the lives of ordinary people”. His remarkable leadership and compassion for all citizens has forever changed Canada and his legacy lives on through his life achievements, the most prominent being Canada’s publicly funded health care system. Devoting his life to politics Douglas never abandoned his religious roots or his desire to help those whose financial situation left them without a safety net in medical emergencies. Tommy Douglas led the rebellion against an older much uglier version of Canada. Douglas is the known as the “father of canadian medicare”, a simple but revolutionary idea. Medicare was what Tommy Douglas campaigned for, he had a fighting spirit and dedication to social equality ideals which drove his political career.

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Tommy Douglas was born in Falkirk Scotland in 1904 into a working class family, his father was an Iron molder who joined many others seeking a better life in Canada. Douglas was ten when him and the rest of his family joined his father in the Winnipeg.Thing’s in the new country were far from good and his father was constantly in and out of work. At the age of 12 Tommy developed a bone infection that landed him in the hospital where he was faced with the loss of his leg. Douglas’s family inability to pay for the treatment would have cost him his leg.Luckily for Douglas a doctor offered to take on his case for free as long as he would pose as an exhibit for his students. As Tommy got better it seemed that conditions around him got worse. Tommys father along the side of many other men living in Canada joined the British army to fight in World War One. During the war Tommy went to work as an apprentice printer to help support his mother in the absence of his father. When Tommy’s father and thousand of other veterans returned from the war both food and jobs were limited. Then came the winnipeg general strike after things climaxed over word of Labour Unions and Radical politics. Tommy was a teenager at the time and watched as police shot strikers from the rooftops of buildings. Tommy carried these memories with him as he searched for a group of people who shared his passion for social justice.”In 1924, he enrolled at Brandon College to finish his high school studies and study theology. Furthermore, he took up a course in socialism and studied Greek philosophy. Meanwhile, to support his education, he took to working as a student minister, preaching sermons and advocating social reforms”. At the beginning of the Great Depression Douglas found himself as the minister of Calvary Baptist Church in Weyburn Saskatchewan.

The preacher turned social activist, used the struggle that he witnessed in the great depression to build his political platform.With approximately half the population of saskatchewan on releaf,Douglas worked his hardest to help better the lives of his parishioners.Through another preacher J.S Woodsworth, Douglas maintained his political interest and contacts beyond his home of Wayburn. Woodsworth was a leader of the Winnipeg general strike and had a goal of trying to unite the various socialist of Canada into one party.On July 22,1933 in Regina Saskatchewan, J.S Woodsworth held a national convention and the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) was born.The political policies drawn up by the CCF became known as the Regina Manifesto. The primary goal of this document was to eradicate capitalism and replace it with a planned socialist government. “Members believed capitalism led to inequality and greed and they wanted to make governments responsible for social and economic planning to even out the playing field”.The Regina Manifesto was a milestone in Canadian political history as it called for things such as government takeover of banks,transportation and communication but most importantly the manifesto called for free health care. The Cooperative Commonwealth Federation was more than just a party it was a movement and Douglas was active in it from the start.For some Canadians the idea of a socialist government was terrifying some saw it as communism trying to sneak it’s way in. However the ideals of the CCF were firmly against communism they believed they could achieve social justice through democratic elections rather than a revolution. Tommy was elected into the House of Commons in 1935 as a member of the CCF. Douglas was likeable and continued to gain support for his party in constituencies all across the nation. By the middle of World War II Douglas returned to his home of Saskatchewan as leader of the CCF. Douglas leads the CCF to a victory in 1944, kicking off five terms as Premier of Saskatchewan. As Premier Douglas brought electricity to family farms and provided a much needed expansion on the Saskatchewan health care system. As a long time believer in universal health care in 1959 Douglas was able to make his Medicare program public.

This plan covered every person in Saskatchewan with pre-paid publicly administered health care. One thing that to this day makes Canada unique, is our publicly funded health care system.This system being one of Tommy Douglas’s most iconic attributes to our country. Medicare was born in Saskatchewan on July 1, 1962, it was a difficult birth as it was the first universal comprehensive single payer medical insurance plan in North America. The entire insurance industry was determined to stop Medicare in it’s tracks as they feared that it would gain popularity and spread nationwide, and they were right. Within 10 years all of Canada was covered by a medical insurance plans based on the Medicare launched in Saskatchewan by Douglas. Medicare developed in two stages the first stage being the hospital insurance plan and Diagnostics Act of 1957. This gave the “Canadian government authority to enter into an agreement with the provinces to establish a comprehensive, universal plan covering acute hospital care and laboratory and radiology diagnostic services.” The second stage was happened nine years later when the Medical Care Act of 1966 extended health insurance to cover even more doctor services. In this time Douglas had resigned as premier of Saskatchewan to lead the newly formed federal party the New Democratic Party (NDP). This party was created as an alliance between the CCF and organized labour. Douglas was the obvious choice for leader of this new party because of the unbelievable success he had Premier of Saskatchewan.Douglas was a unique leader ” he was able to inspire and motivate party workers and he could also explain democratic socialism in moral, ethical and religious terms.” Despite Douglas qualifications he was defeated in the federal election of 1962.

Douglas lost this election largely due to Saskatchewan reaction to the government's introduction of Medicare. The backlash of medicare cumulated into a very long and unpleasant strike by provincial doctors. Although the Saskatchewan Doctors’ Strike initially lead to Douglas defeat he end up winning a seat in by-election and went on to lead the New Democratic Party until 1971. After stepping down as leader Douglas then became his party’s energy critic until his retirement in 1979. Douglas strived to provide Canada with its greatest gift universal health. His work and vision have contributed to well being of all.To this day his vision continues to evolve to better the lives of the average Canadian. This accomplishment making him one of Canada's most remarkable Canadians. Tommy’s vision has made it possible for all Canadians to access the care they require regardless of their financial status. Not only was Douglas was great politician but he was also a compassionate and humble man who used his personal experience to make every day in Canada better and healthier. It is his dream of a improved Canada that has built the foundation of Canadian ideals.

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