Tommy Douglas: Check In

“At that time Saskatchewan had the fewest hospital beds per capita in Canada. The ultimate goal should be kept in mind, said Sigerist: “to provide complete medical services to all the people of the province, irrespective of their economic status, and irrespective of whether they live in town or country.” [… Soon,] within seven years Saskatchewan had the most hospital beds per capita in Canada.”

The world-changing public health care program started from a vision, that everyone regardless of their class can receive world-class medical services, born from the visionary that is Tommy Douglas. Douglas’s family had always been part of the working class, and when he was young, he had not the resources to find a doctor to perform surgery on his infected legs. His legs would have been amputated if a renowned orthopedic surgeon hadn’t passed by and offered his service free of charge. Since then, the seed grew so that when Douglas had the power to change the world, he did so for the people. Douglas was all about the socialist movements, aimed at the workers who are not respected and protected by rights. Worker’s lives in the early 20th century are hard, as they have not the money to provide for themselves even the basic necessities of life. Their lives are in the hand of big corporations, which benefit from tariff and price control. Nowadays, Canadians can all receive decent health care regardless of class and race, a feat that even in the present world is scarcely seen.

“workers in the building trades had become increasingly frustrated. The cost of living had jumped by 73 % since the beginning of the war, while their wages had risen only 13%. They wanted better wages and the right to form unions and bargain collectively. […] Business leaders spread the baseless rumour that Bolsheviks were behind the action, and the Winnipeg Citizen reported that the strike constituted a “determined attempt to establish Bolshevism and the rule of the Soviet.” (23)

This passage strikes me as significant since workers are unequally treated, and that they are also not allowed to protest. They are not given a voice. To protect their interests, corporations would spread fake news and later, strikers are silenced by force, resulting in death and blood. Voices supporting the protest are arrested soon after. It is a very different society from our own now, and once again, we see that workers have no rights. If they are not being treated fairly and are struggling to make ends come, especially later in the 1930’s, why are they still not allowed to voice their concerns? Do they even have a voice then? The answer would be no. The society was focused on the upper classes and the corporations, and the workers are not respected. A couple more steps and we would arrive at fascism. Today, it is different and at least everyone is given a voice and a right to peacefully demonstrate. We have a society that is built on its people, and Canada is still developing to support and equalize its peoples. Without many of the CCP’s or NDP’s early policies (worker’s rights, old age pension, healthcare, co-op), this process would be significantly delayed and perhaps our society will be a lot more racist and unequal for our citizens.

“I recognized then that if you came to a choice between losing freedom of speech, religion, association, thought, and all the things that make life worth living, and resorting to force, you’d use force” – Tommy Douglas (89)

This is a conclusion that Douglas drew during the onset of World War 2. The party leader of the CCP then was a pacifist, who opposed all military activities. Douglas argued that the basis of Canadian society is the values that we possess, and if fascism from the Axis powers takes over, we would cease to be ourselves and the values that we had held would evaporate under force. Pacifism would not matter if we do not use force, as there would be no means for anyone to act or speak anymore. There were many with this idea, but not many had expressed it as elegantly as Douglas did. This was an occasion when Douglas develops as a mature politician and realizes that his ideas are important and valid and that ideas and values should never yield to authority.

One of the great legislative advances of the government was the passage in 1947 of the Saskatchewan Bill of Rights. It protected freedom of conscience, opinion, religion, expression, and […] preceded the United Nations’ adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by a year and came a full thirteen years before the Canadian Bill of Rights. […] Even prior to the end of the Second World War, the CCF invited Japanese-Canadian internees to resettle in Saskatchewan, at a time when most parts of Canada were trying to keep [them away].” (143)

Many of the innovative ideas by the CCF had Douglas, and most importantly, the people behind it. These new concepts that aimed to equalize Canadians and improve life for most of Canadians would not have been possible without leaders who care about the people. Douglas was the essence of the CCF, as Woodrow Lloyd remarked, “[…] I doubt if we could win an election without Tommy Douglas.” This relates to our current world as individuals are given the opportunities to speak, and under this hat, everyone can succeed or make themselves known. With Douglas’s vision, Saskatchewan was turned from a province loaded with debt and unhappy citizens to a booming, front-facing multicultural world. Canada had led the world towards universal human rights, and Douglas is the pioneer behind the wheel. It shows how Canada is a country built by people who are different, yet the same when they unite as a nation.

“Douglas’s style of campaigning: while the ethos was socialist, he distilled from it a number of understandable, achievable goals that had a direct relevance to people’s lives.”

The norm of political campaigning is to fill the crowd with exaggerated promises and wild demonstrations, especially at that time, but Douglas set a new record by using terms and goals that are not only understandable, but most importantly, relatable to the public. It is easy to see how the CCF won the provincial election that year, despite Liberals and all major newspapers calling them “Communism in North America”, and then “Bolshevism of the Soviet” or “Fascism”. Douglas revolutionized the election campaigns first pioneered by Macdonald, and he suggested a way for future campaigns to be carried out by all parties. It also shows how Douglas was at his core a peoples person, keeping with the principle that the people are the ones who have the vote, and they are the ones who need to see change.


 

The overarching idea in this book is of respecting the rights of every single person. The wealth of a nation may be concentrated in a select few individuals, but ignoring the other is a huge mistake for a political party or a nation. The power of the people, when added up, is formidable as many dictators have experienced in their country’s rebellions. When a leader cares about its people and provides for their outcries, it improves the society to be more humane and ultimately, more prosperous. Canada’s current state as a post-national state clearly demonstrates that we are becoming a country that respects the ideas of individuals, and works to embrace the differences in nations. It is undeniable how much of this is due to socialist individuals advocating for more unheard of voices.


Lam, Vincent. Tommy Douglas. Penguin Canada, 2013.

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