A Brief History of Tommy Douglas
Tommy Douglas, the so-called “Greatest Canadian,” was actually born in Scotland in 1904. At age six, his family relocated to Winnipeg, Manitoba. Later, Douglas became a Baptist minister before becoming a politician. Most what of is taught or written about Tommy Douglas is blatant propaganda. The goal of this post is to give a more rational outlook on the man’s works and accomplishments. Although best remembered for his socialist policies, other items – such as his Masters thesis on eugenics – are equally important for defining who Tommy Douglas was and the kind of world he wanted to create.
Coming of Age and Master’s Thesis.
In 1924, at age 19, Douglas enrolled at Brandon College to study theology. Heavily influenced by the Social Gospel movement, which yearned to rid society of “social evils” in order to bring about the Second Coming, Douglas was taught to view Christianity not only as a struggle for individual salvation, but an engine for social change. He also took a course on socialism. Despite his left-leaning views, he made money by preaching. Although, the word “preaching” may be a stretch, as Douglas’ sermons advocated political and social reforms. “The Bible is like a bull fiddle,” Douglas once said, “you can play almost any tune you want on it.” This interpretation laid the basis for Douglas’ justification to preach about “building a society and building institutions that would uplift mankind,” rather than traditional Christian topics.
Douglas graduated from Brandon College in 1930 and completed his Master’s degree in Sociology from McMaster University in 1933. His thesis, entitled The Problems of the Subnormal Family, endorsed eugenics. Eugenics is a pseudoscience aimed at “improving” the human population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of “desirable” heritable characteristics. In Douglas’ system, the state would require couples seeking to marry to be certified as mentally and morally fit. What constitutes a couple whom are mentally and morally fit are, of course, determined by the discretion of state bureaucrats. Anyone considered “subnormal,” such as those with low intelligence, moral inferiority or STD’s, would be sent to concentration camps or state-owned collectivized farms. While those judged by the central planners to be mentally defective or incurably diseased would be sterilized. Later, as premier of Saskatchewan, two reviews of the province’s mental health system recommended a program similar to Douglas’ system. Fortunately, majority opinion had turned its back on eugenics after the disastrous results of Nazi Germany. Douglas’ government never implemented the system described in his Master’s thesis.
In 1931 Douglas was attending the University of Chicago, continuing his studies in sociology, although he never did complete his PhD thesis. He performed field work, however, and was a first-hand witness to the Depression-era “hobo camps.” When Douglas interviewed the men who once belonged to America’s middle class, he wrote that, “it was impossible to describe the hopelessness.” He was outraged at the Socialist Party for sitting around quoting Marx and Lenin while waiting for a revolution instead of instigating one. He wrote, “I’ve no patience with people who want to sit back and talk about a blueprint for society and do nothing about it.”
Premier of Saskatchewan.
In 1935, Douglas and his wife Irma were living in Weyburn, Saskatchewan. Douglas joined the newly formed Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) party and was elected to the House of Commons. The CCF, a self-described democratic-socialist party famous for its Regina Manifesto, called for “a planned and socialized economy in which our natural resources and principal means of production and distribution are owned, controlled and operated by the people.” That is to say, the state; the manifesto concluded that, “No CCF Government will rest content until it has eradicated capitalism and put into operation the full programme of socialized planning which will lead to the establishment in Canada of the Co-operative Commonwealth.”
In 1942 Douglas was elected the leader of the Saskatchewan CCF and in 1944 led the party to power, winning 47 of the 53 seats in the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan. In his first term, Douglas’ government enacted a series of socialist “reforms” including the creation of the state-owned Saskatchewan Power Corporation, aimed at providing electricity province-wide. He monopolized automotive insurance in the hands of the state, as well as the creation of a large number of Crown Corporations, many of which competed with the private sector, often winning in this competition of resources. He unionized public sector employees and monopolized hospitals in order to provide “free” health-care.
Due to the booming post-war economy, Douglas’ government slowly paid off Saskatchewan’s debt and ran budget surpluses. Supporters of the Douglas may point to this period in history as proof of socialism’s superiority over laissez-faire. But as Henry Hazlitt popularized, this line of thinking ignores the long-term effects for everybody. What Douglas’ government did from 1944 to 1960 was promote the short-term interests of one or a few groups at the expense of everyone else. Simply, Douglas’ government was one giant broken window fallacy.
The Saskatchewan Coup.
A 1962 doctor’s strike in Saskatchewan didn’t keep Douglas from taking his socialism to the federal level. He took over the federal New Democratic Party and advocated for a national health-care system. Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, another Saskatchewan politician, saw the popularity in “free” health-care and introduced a plan to give all province’s 50 cents on every dollar they spend on health-care. Diefenbaker appointed Justice Emmett Hall, also of Saskatchewan and a jurist of the Supreme Court of Canada, to head a Royal Commission on a national health-care system. Not surprisingly, the Commission recommended the nationwide adoption of Saskatchewanâ€™s model of state-owned and state-run health-care. The Liberal minority government of Lester B. Pearson implemented the program and Canadians have been paying for this bureaucratic coup d’Ã©tat ever since. The coercive monopoly has resulted in long waiting lines, a shortage of doctors, a ballooning budget, and effective propaganda against “privatization.” Canadians easily have one of the worst health-care systems in the developed world. In 2012, it was calculated that Canada’s “free” health care is costing the average individual $11,000 a year. This is the legacy of Tommy Douglas.
Federal NDP Leader and Death.
The CCF transformed into the New Democratic Party and Tommy Douglas took the lead. He alternated between winning and losing House of Commons seats, until 1969 when he won a British Columbia riding and held it till his retirement. Although the NDP did better than the CCF, the party never experienced the breakthrough its supporters were aiming for until 2011. Despite this, Douglas’ party wielded considerable influence on Lester B. Pearson’s minority governments.
Douglas opposed Trudeau’s War Measure Act in 1970, even though political friends and foes and the media intelligentsia supported the Act. Despite taking heat for his stand, Douglas was later honoured for not endorsing the police state.
He resigned as the NDP leader in 1971 and retired from politics in 1979. After politics, he sat on the board of directors of Husky Oil (now Husky Energy), an Alberta oil and gas exploration company. In 1981 he was appointed to the Order of Canada and in 1985 awarded the Saskatchewan Order of Merit. In 1984 he was hit by a bus, but recovered and lived to be 81.
He died of cancer in Ottawa on February 24th 1986. 18 years later, CBC – the state-broadcaster – conducted a contest that crowned Douglas the “Greatest Canadian.”
In the opinion of this writer, Tommy Douglas is the Greatest Canadian. If Canada is defined as arbitrary lines on a map, with a history that is indelibly linked to railroad financiers and British bankers, and a national identity that borders on a civic religion – then yes. In the spirit of the statist propaganda that the nation-state relies on, Tommy Douglas really is the Greatest Canadian.
Stewart, Walter. Tommy: the life and politics of Tommy Douglas. Toronto: McArthur & Company, 2003. Print.
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Tommy Douglas A Remarkable Canadian
Winner of the Norm Quan Bursary
When considering the giants of Canadian politics, T.C. Douglas surely stands at the forefront. Tommy Douglas was a remarkable Canadian whose contributions have helped to shape our great nation. Although he is most famous as the founding father of Medicare, the most advanced health-care system in the world, Douglas� contributions to Saskatchewan and Canada were tremendous. Douglas established democratic socialism as a mainstream in Canadian politics and his CCF government became the first socialist government in North America. A visionary who achieved his dreams, Douglas changed the face of Canadian politics. More importantly, Tommy Douglas was a politician who put the good of the people he represented first and foremost.
Tommy Clement Douglas was born on October 20, 1904 in Falkirk, Scotland. In 1911, Tommy, his mother and his sister moved to Winnipeg to join his father who had moved there the previous year. Shortly after settling in Winnipeg, Tommy was diagnosed with osteomyelitis in his right leg. Tommy�s family was not wealthy and subsequently his family could not pay for the best or most immediate treatment. The delay nearly cost Tommy his leg. This experience marked the beginning of Tommy�s quest for universal, public health care. By the time he was 18, Tommy set his sights on a career as a preacher.
In 1924, when Tommy reached 20 years of age, he enrolled at Brandon College in Manitoba. Brandon College, which was founded by the missionary Baptists of Ontario, provided young ministers with the opportunity to receive an educational background. In college, Tommy was active in elocution classes, drama, and debating. His peers accepted Douglas as a natural leader and scholar. During weekends and summer months, Tommy would speak at rural churches. At one such trip Tommy met Irma Dempsey, his future wife. By the time he had left Brandon College, Tommy had earned his Bachelor�s degree in the Faculty of Arts.
In the fall of 1929, Tommy became a minister at Calvary Baptist church in Weyburn, Saskatchewan. The town immediately opened its arms to the young preacher who possessed boundless energy and eloquence. His time in Weyburn allowed Douglas a first hand perspective of the harshness of the Depression in the prairies. Douglas knew that something had to be done for the common man. His experience with the vast unemployment and poverty transformed T.C. Douglas, the clergyman, into a social activist.
By 1932, Douglas helped organize an Independent Labour Party in Weyburn of which he became president. Saskatchewan�s Independent Labour movement was not large in numbers but they began raising awareness for socialist politics. The movement soon evolved into the Farmer Labour Party. The Farmer Labour Party offered hospital care for everyone on an equal basis, including unemployment insurance and universal pension. By July of 1932, the labour parties of the four western provinces formed an alliance under the name Cooperative Commonwealth Federation. The CCF became Canada�s first national socialist party. The Farmer Labour Party now had something it desperately lacked, the backing of a national movement. In 1934, Douglas made his first foray in the Saskatchewan provincial election. Although he lost, this sparked an internal flame which could not be extinguished.
In 1935, Douglas was elected into parliament under the CCF. This was a time of great turmoil for Canadian politics. Nearly all the provincial governments had been tossed out of office as Canadians turned to anyone who promised to lead them out of the troubled times. Along with Douglas, there were only four other members of the CCF caucus. At the tender age of 31, the young Douglas impressed the House of Commons with his fiery, yet relevant, speeches. The CCF, with only five seats, did not have much political clout, but that did not stop Douglas from fighting for legislation to support the western provinces. By the end of the 193 Os, the Depression and World War II had created an opening for popular support towards the CCF and its socialist ideas.
By the end of World War II, Douglas found a new way to support his socialist solution to Canada�s economic problems. Canada had successfully financed a war against a foreign aggression but could not do the same against poverty. "Surely," said Douglas in a radio broadcast, "if we can produce in such abundance in order to destroy our enemies, we can produce in equal abundance in order to provide food, clothing, and shelter for our children."¹
In his two terms in cabinet, Douglas often argued that Ottawa had no effective western farm policy. The CCF, a socialist party, had begun to build momentum at this time. By the early 1940s Douglas began to move away from Federal politics after being frustrated with the slow legislation and lack of progress. By 1942 Tommy Douglas became the leader of the Saskatchewan provincial CCF party although he remained a MP for the Weyburn constituency.
In 1944, the CCF, under Douglas, won the provincial election to become the first socialist government in North America. The CCF election slogan was "Humanity First" and his government�s budget was to have 70% of expenditure to social services. Douglas�s emphasized that his brand of socialism depended on political and economic democracy. Saskatchewan listened. In 1944, the old age pension plan included medical, hospital and dental services. Douglas� government radically changed the education system and established larger school units and provided the University of Saskatchewan with a medical school. In his first four years in government, Douglas paid off the provincial debt, created a province wide hospitalization plan, paved the roads, and provided electricity and sewage pipes to the common man.
In 1948, when time for a re-election had come, opponents took advantage of the cold war and the widespread fear of communism. This was dirty politics at it�s worst and it swayed the public. Douglas fought back with radio telecasts, a medium which he could reach the public with his oratory skill. In one such telecast Douglas said "Don�t let them deceive you again. If you let them fool you once, shame on them. If you let them fool you twice, shame on you."² Although he defended his government�s outstanding record, it was Douglas� sincerety and his committment to the people of Saskatchewan which prevailed. Douglas� first re-election proved to be the most difficult. He would be re-elected for three more terms to serve Saskatchewan as Premier for 17 years. In his latter terms as Premier, Douglas saw the province through prosperous times. Douglas would not see great changes in legislation like his first term until the inception of Medicare.
In 1961, the CCF joined with big labour unions to create the New Democratic Party in which Douglas was elected leader. The NDP platform remained consistent with that of the CCF with minor changes. The forming of a new party provided the CCF with a self-renewal. The NDP attracted new supporters and triggered a new movement of democratic socialism. Douglas� New Democratic Party was gaining momentum on a national level but there were troubles at home.
The North American Medical Establishment tried to defy Medicare, Douglas�s top priority project, and Saskatchewan became an intense battleground. This turbulent time was marked by the Doctor�s Strike as the physicians of the province protested socialized healthcare. However, the striking doctors were no match for Douglas. When the dust settled with the resolution of the strike, Medicare in Saskatchewan was born. Douglas showed Canada two things: that it was possible to develope and finance a universal Medicare system and that the medical profession could be confronted. Had Douglas not have made these first ground breaking steps, national Medicare would never have happened.
In 1962, Douglas was struck with a devastating blow. Running in the Regina contituency, Douglas, the leader of the NDP party, was defeated. Fortunately, a New Democrat MP in British Columbia resigned his seat in favour of Douglas. Immediately Douglas began his by-election campaign on the west coast. By mid October, he was back in the House of Commons representing the Burnaby-Coquitlam riding. As leader of the NDP, Douglas fought hard for socialist legislature on federal level but never achieved the success he found as Premier of Saskatchewan under the CCF. By 1971, Douglas resigned as Leader of the NDP, although he remained the party�s energy critic which he took on in 1969.
In 1976, Douglas announced that he would not seek re-election and bowed out of Canadian politics. Douglas spent much of his retirement in the national NDP headquarters as an independent missionary for the cause of socialism. Weeks before his death, weakened by cancer, Douglas made one final trip to Parliment Hill. Tommy Douglas passed away on February 24, 1986. At his memorial service, the Liberal leader, John Turner, and the Conservative prime minister, Brian Mulroney, led a standing ovation for this courageous man.
During his 42 years in politics, Tommy Douglas proved himself as an outstanding Canadian leader. He is largely responsible for our central banking, old age pensions, unemployment insurance, and our universal Medicare. When asked why he stayed with NDP when he could have done better with a more powefful party, Douglas simply replied, " I have watched politicians for the last forty years drop their principles in order to get power only to find that those who paid and controlled the party which they joined prevented them from all the things they really believed in."³ To the end of his days Tommy Douglas was true to himself, to what he stood for, and to the people he represented.
1. McLeod, Thomas. & McLeod, Ian. (1987) Tommy Douglas: The Road to Jerusalem Hurtig Publishers. Pg. 42
2. Elsie Swerhone (1980) Tommy Douglas: Keeper Of The Flame National Film Board of Canada
3. Elsie Swerhone (1980) Tommy Douglas: Keeper Of The Flame National Film Board of Canada
1. McLeod, Thomas. & McLeod, Ian. (1987) Tommy Douglas: The Road to Jerusalem Hurtig Publishers.
2. Whelan, Ed. & Whelan, Pemrose. (1990) Touched by Tommy Whelan Publications.
3. Lovick, L.D. (1975) Tommy Douglas Speaks Oolichan Books.
4. Thomas, Lewis H. (1982) The Making of a Socialist: The Recollections of T.C. Douglas The University of Alberta Press.
5. Elsie Swerhone (1980) Tommy Douglas: Keeper Of The Flame National Film Board of Canada
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