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Tommy Douglas


The Honourable
 Thomas Clement Douglas 
PC, MP, CC, SOM, MA, LL.D (hc)

The Honourable Thomas Clement Douglas

In office
July 10, 1944 – November 7, 1961
Preceded by William John Patterson
Succeeded by Woodrow S. Lloyd

In office
1935 – 1944
Preceded by Edward James Young
Succeeded by Eric Bowness McKay

In office
1944 – 1961
Preceded by George Crane
Succeeded by Junior Staveley

In office
1962 – 1968
Preceded by Erhart Regier
Succeeded by riding dissolved

In office
1968 – 1979
Preceded by Colin Cameron
Succeeded by riding dissolved

Born October 20, 1904(1904-10-20)
Scotland Falkirk, Scotland
Died February 24, 1986 (aged 81)
Canada Ottawa, Ontario
Political party CCF/NDP
Spouse(s) Irma Dempsey
Profession Baptist minister
Religion Christian (Baptist)

Thomas Clement "Tommy" Douglas, PC, CC, SOM (20 October 1904 – 24 February 1986) was a Scottish-born Baptist minister who became a prominent Canadian social democratic politician. As leader of the Saskatchewan Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) from 1942 and the seventh Premier of Saskatchewan from 1944 to 1961, he led the first socialist government in North America and introduced universal public healthcare to Canada. When the CCF united with the Canadian Labour Congress to form the New Democratic Party, he was elected as its first federal leader and served in that post from 1961 to 1971. He is warmly remembered for his folksy wit and oratory with which he expressed his determined idealism, exemplified by his fable of Mouseland.

In 1930 Douglas married Irma Dempsey, a music student at Brandon College. They had one daughter, actress Shirley Douglas, and they later adopted a second daughter Joan, who became a nurse. His grandson is the actor Kiefer Sutherland.[1]

He was voted "The Greatest Canadian" of all time in a nationally televised contest organized by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 2004. His candidacy was advocated by CBC's George Stroumboulopoulos.

The miniseries Prairie Giant: The Tommy Douglas Story, was filmed between February and May 2005 and aired on CBC Television in two parts on March 12 and 13, 2006.



[edit] Early life

Tommy Douglas was born in Falkirk, Scotland in 1904. In 1910, his family emigrated to Canada, where they settled in Winnipeg. Just before he left Scotland, Douglas fell and injured his knee. Osteomyelitis set in and he underwent a number of operations in Scotland in an attempt to cure the condition. Later however, in Winnipeg, the osteomyelitis flared up again and Douglas was sent to hospital. Doctors there told his parents his leg would have to be amputated. Fortunately, a well-known orthopedic surgeon took an interest in his case and agreed to treat the boy for free if his parents would allow medical students to observe. After several operations, Douglas's leg was saved. This experience convinced him that health care should be free to all. "I felt that no boy should have to depend either for his leg or his life upon the ability of his parents to raise enough money to bring a first-class surgeon to his bedside," Douglas told an interviewer many years later.[2]

During World War I, the family returned to Glasgow. They came back to Winnipeg in 1919, in time for Douglas to witness the Winnipeg General Strike. From a rooftop vantage point on Main Street, he witnessed the police charging the strikers with clubs and guns, a streetcar being overturned and set on fire. He also witnessed the RCMP shoot and kill one of the workers.[3]

At the age of fifteen, Douglas began an amateur career in boxing. In 1917 Tommy used the One Big Union Gym to train his skill, fighting bouts that included wrestling as well. Douglas appeared with Canadian heavyweight champ Jack Taylor, and the U.S. champion, Ed "Strangler" Lewis. Weighing 135 pounds, Douglas fought in 1922 for the Lightweight Championship of Manitoba; and after a six round fight won the title. Douglas sustained a broken nose, a loss of some teeth, and a strained hand and thumb. Douglas successfully held the title the following year.

[edit] Education

Tommy Douglas started elementary school in Winnipeg. He completed his elementary education after returning to Glasgow in 1914, then entered high school where, among other things, he studied elocution. While his father fought as a poorly paid soldier in World War I, Douglas supplemented the family income by taking a variety of part-time jobs. He worked as a soap boy in a barber shop, rubbing lather into tough whiskers, then dropped out of high school at 13 after landing a good-paying job in a cork factory. The owner offered to pay Douglas's way through night school so that he could learn Portuguese and Spanish, languages that would enable him to become a cork buyer. However, the family returned to Winnipeg when the war ended and Douglas entered the printing trades. He served a five-year apprenticeship and worked as a linotype operator finally acquiring his journeyman's papers, but decided to return to school to pursue his ambition to become an ordained minister. [4]

[edit] Brandon College

In 1924, the 19-year-old Douglas enrolled at Brandon College, a Baptist school affiliated with McMaster University, to finish high school and study theology. During his six years at the College, he was influenced by the social gospel movement, which combined Christian principles with social reform. Liberal-minded professors at Brandon encouraged students to question their fundamentalist religious beliefs. Christianity, they suggested, was just as concerned with the pursuit of social justice as it was with the struggle for individual salvation. Douglas took a course in socialism at Brandon and studied Greek philosophy.[5] He came first in his class during his first three years, then competed for gold medals in his last three with a newly-arrived student named Stanley Knowles. Both later became Baptist preachers and prominent left-wing politicians.[6] Douglas was extremely active in extracurricular activities. Among other things, he became a champion debater, wrote for the school newspaper and participated in student government winning election as Senior Stick, or president of the student body, in his final year.[7]

Douglas financed his education at Brandon College by conducting Sunday services at several rural churches for $15 a week. A shortage of ordained clergy forced smaller congregations to rely on student ministers. Douglas reported later that he preached sermons advocating social reform and helping the poor. "[T]he Bible is like a bull fiddle," he said, "you can play almost any tune you want on it." He added that his interest in social and economic questions led him to preach about "building a society and building institutions that would uplift mankind."[8] He also earned money delivering entertaining monologues and poetry recitations at church suppers and service-club meetings for five dollars a performance.[9] During his second and third years at the College, he preached at a Presbyterian church in Carberry, Manitoba. There he met a farmer's daughter named Irma Dempsey who would later become his wife.[10]

[edit] M.A. thesis on eugenics

Douglas graduated from Brandon College in 1930, and completed his Master's degree (M.A.) in Sociology from McMaster University in 1933. His thesis entitled The Problems of the Subnormal Family was on eugenics.[2] The thesis proposed a system that would have required couples seeking to marry to be certified as mentally and morally fit. Those deemed to be "subnormal" because of low intelligence, moral laxity or venereal disease would be sent to state farms or camps while those judged to be mentally defective or incurably diseased would be sterilized.[11]

Douglas rarely mentioned his thesis later in his life and his government never enacted eugenics policies even though two official reviews of Saskatchewan's mental health system recommended such a program when he became premier and minister of health.[12] By that time, many people questioned eugenics after Nazi Germany had embraced it to create a "master race".[13] Instead, Douglas implemented vocational training for the mentally handicapped and therapy for those suffering from mental disorders.[14] (It may be noted that two Canadian provinces, Alberta and British Columbia, had eugenics legislation that imposed forced sterilization. Alberta's law was first passed in 1928 and not repealed until 1972, while B.C. enacted its legislation in 1933.)[15]

[edit] PhD research in Chicago

In the summer of 1931, Douglas continued his studies in sociology at the University of Chicago. He never did complete his PhD thesis, but was deeply disturbed by his field work in the Depression-era "jungles" or hobo camps where about 75,000 transients sheltered in lean-to's venturing out by day to beg or to steal. Douglas interviewed men who once belonged to the American middle class --- despondent bank clerks, lawyers and doctors. "There were little soup kitchens run by the Salvation Army and the churches," Douglas said later. "In the first half hour they'd be cleaned out. After that there was nothing...It was impossible to describe the hopelessness."[16] Douglas was equally disturbed that members of the Socialist Party sat around quoting Marx and Lenin, waiting for a revolution while refusing to help the destitute. "That experience soured me with absolutists," Douglas said. "I've no patience with people who want to sit back and talk about a blueprint for society and do nothing about it."[17]

[edit] From pulpit to politics

Two months after Douglas graduated from Brandon College, he married Irma Dempsey and the two moved to the small town of Weyburn, Saskatchewan where he became an ordained minister at the Calvary Baptist Church.[18] Irma was only 19, while Douglas was a young-looking 25.[19] With the onset of the Depression, Douglas became a social activist in Weyburn, and joined the new CCF organization. He was elected to the Canadian House of Commons in the 1935 federal election.

After the outbreak of World War II, Douglas enlisted in the wartime Canadian Army. He had volunteered for overseas service and was on a draft of men headed for the Winnipeg Grenadiers when a medical examination turned up his old leg problems. Douglas stayed in Canada and the Grenadiers headed for Hong Kong. But for that ailment, he would have been with the regiment when its members were killed or captured at Hong Kong in December 1941.

[edit] Premier of Saskatchewan

The Leader Post announces the CCF victory, 1944.

Despite being a federal Member of Parliament and not yet an MLA, Douglas was elected the leader of the Saskatchewan CCF in 1942 but did not resign from the House of Commons until June 1, 1944. He led the CCF to power in the June 15, 1944 provincial election, winning 47 of 53 seats in the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan, and thus forming the first democratic socialist government in not only Canada, but all of North America.

Douglas and the Saskatchewan CCF then went on to win five straight majority victories in all subsequent Saskatchewan provincial elections up to 1960. Most of his government's pioneering innovations came about during its first term, including:

  • the creation of the publicly owned Saskatchewan Power Corp., successor to the Saskatchewan Electrical Power Commission, which began a long program of extending electrical service to isolated farms and villages;
  • the creation of Canada's first publicly owned automobile insurance service, the Saskatchewan Government Insurance Office;
  • the creation of a large number of Crown Corporations, many of which competed with existing private sector interests;
  • legislation that allowed the unionization of the public service;
  • a program to offer free hospital care to all citizens—the first in Canada.
  • passage of the Saskatchewan Bill of Rights, legislation that broke new ground as it protected both fundamental freedoms and equality rights against abuse not only by government actors but also on the part of powerful private institutions and persons. (The Saskatchewan Bill of Rights preceded the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations by 18 months).

Premier Douglas was the first head of any government in Canada to call for a constitutional bill of rights. This he did at a federal-provincial conference in Quebec City in January, 1950. No one in attendance at the conference supported him in this. Ten years later, Premier Lesage of Quebec joined with Premier Douglas at a First Ministers' Conference in July, 1960, in advocating for a constitutional bill of rights. Thus, respectable momentum was given to the idea that finally came to fruition, on April 17, 1982, with the proclamation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.[20]

Thanks to a booming postwar economy and the prudent financial management of provincial treasurer Clarence Fines, the Douglas government slowly paid off the huge public debt left by the previous Liberal government, and created a budget surplus for the Saskatchewan government. Coupled with a federal government promise in 1959 to give even more money for medical care, this paved the way for Douglas's most notable achievement, the introduction of universal medicare legislation in 1961.

[edit] Medicare

Douglas's number one concern was the creation of Medicare. In the summer of 1962, Saskatchewan became the centre of a hard-fought struggle between the provincial government, the North American medical establishment, and the province's physicians, who brought things to a halt with the 1962 Saskatchewan Doctors' Strike. The doctors believed their best interests were not being met and feared a significant loss of income as well as government interference in medical care decisions even though Douglas agreed that his government would pay the going rate for service that doctors charged. The medical establishment claimed that Douglas would import foreign doctors to make his plan work and used racist images to try to scare the public.[citation needed] Their defenders have also argued that private or government medical insurance plans covered 60 to 63 percent of the Saskatchewan population before Medicare legislation was introduced.[citation needed]

An often forgotten political fact is that though Douglas is widely hailed as the father of Medicare, he had retired from his position as Saskatchewan's premier, turned over this job in 1961 to Woodrow Lloyd and took the leadership of the federal New Democratic Party.

The Saskatchewan program was finally launched by his successor, Woodrow Lloyd, in 1962. The success of the province's public health care program was not lost on the federal government. Another Saskatchewan politician, newly elected Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, decreed in 1958 that any province seeking to introduce a hospital plan would receive 50 cents on the dollar from the federal government. In 1962, Diefenbaker appointed Justice Emmett Hall—also of Saskatchewan, a noted jurist and Supreme Court Justice—to Chair a Royal Commission on the national health system - the Royal Commission on Health Services. In 1964, Justice Hall recommended the nationwide adoption of Saskatchewan's model of public health insurance. In 1966, the Liberal minority government of Lester B. Pearson created such a program, with the federal government paying 50% of the costs and the provinces the other half.

[edit] Federal NDP leader

When the CCF allied with the Canadian Labour Congress to form the New Democratic Party (NDP) in 1961, Douglas defeated Hazen Argue at the first NDP leadership convention and became the new party's first leader. Douglas resigned from provincial politics and sought election to the House of Commons in the riding of Regina City in 1962, but was defeated. He was later elected in a by-election in the riding of Burnaby—Coquitlam, British Columbia.

Re-elected as MP for that riding in the 1963 and 1965 elections, Douglas lost the redistricted seat of Burnaby—Seymour in the 1968 federal election. He won a seat again in a 1968 by-election in the riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan—The Islands, following the death of Colin Cameron, and represented it until his retirement from electoral politics in 1979.

While the NDP did better in elections than its CCF predecessor, the party did not experience the breakthrough it had hoped for. Despite this, Douglas was greatly respected by party members and Canadians at large as the party wielded considerable influence during the minority governments of Lester Pearson. In 1970, Douglas and the NDP took a controversial but principled stand against the implementation of the War Measures Act during the October Crisis.

[edit] Late career and retirement

In 1962, Douglas received an honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Saskatchewan. He resigned as NDP leader in 1971, but retained his seat in the House of Commons. He served as the NDP's energy critic under the new leader, David Lewis. He was re-elected in the riding of Nanaimo–Cowichan–The Islands in the 1972 and 1974 elections.

He retired from politics in 1978 and served on the board of directors of Husky Oil, an oil and gas exploration company.

In 1980 he was awarded a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa by Carleton University in Ottawa.

The Douglas-Coldwell Foundation was established in 1971. In 1981, Douglas was made a Companion of the Order of Canada. In 1985, he was awarded the Saskatchewan Order of Merit. In the mid-1980s, Brandon University created a students' union building in honour of Douglas and his old friend, Stanley Knowles.

In June 1984 Douglas was injured when he was struck by a bus but he quickly recovered and on his 80th birthday he claimed to The Globe and Mail that he usually walked up to five miles a day.[21] By this point in his life his memory was beginning to slow down and he stopped accepting speaking engagements but remained active in the Douglas-Coldwell Foundation.

He became a member of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada on November 30, 1984. In 1998, he was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.

Douglas died of cancer on February 24, 1986 at the age of 81 in Ottawa.[22]

[edit] Honorary Degrees

Tommy Douglas Received Honorary Degrees from several Universities including

[edit] Artistic depiction

In the two CBC Television mini-series about Pierre Trudeau, Trudeau and Trudeau II: Maverick in the Making, Tommy Douglas is portrayed by Eric Peterson. In the biography mini-series, Prairie Giant: The Tommy Douglas Story, which aired on March 12 and 13, 2006, also on CBC, Douglas was played by Michael Therriault. The movie was widely derided by critics as being historically inaccurate. Particularly, the movie's portrayal of James Gardiner, premier of Saskatchewan from the late 1920s to mid-1930s, was objected to by political historians and the Gardiner family itself. In response, the CBC consulted a "third party historian" to review the film and pulled it from future broadcasts, including halting all home and educational sales. Prairie Giant was shown in Asia on the Hallmark Channel on June 11 and June 12 2007.[23][24]

Douglas was also the subject of a 1986 National Film Board of Canada documentary Tommy Douglas: Keeper of the Flame, which received the Gemini Award for Best Writing in a Documentary Program or Series.[25]

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ "Shirley Douglas 2004 Inductee". Archived from the original on 10 February 2009. 
  2. ^ Thomas, Lewis H. (editor). (1982) The Making of a Socialist: The Recollections of T.C. Douglas. Edmonton: The University of Alberta Press, pp.6-7.
  3. ^ This incident influenced Douglas in his commitment to protect fundamental freedoms in a Bill of Rights on his election as Premier of Saskatchewan in 1944. See, Ken Norman, The Saskatchewan Bill of Rights, The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan, 2005, Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center, at page 798; [1]
  4. ^ Shackleton, Doris French. (1975) Tommy Douglas. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, pp.18-30.
  5. ^ Shackleton, pp.31-32.
  6. ^ Margoshes, Dave. (1999) Tommy Douglas: Building the New Society. Lantzville, British Columbia: XYZ Publishing, p.34.
  7. ^ Margoshes, p.36.
  8. ^ Shackleton, pp.30-32.
  9. ^ Stewart, Walter. (2003) The Life and Political Times of Tommy Douglas. Toronto: McArthur & Company, p.54.
  10. ^ Margoshes, pp.32-33.
  11. ^ Stewart, p.80.
  12. ^ Stewart, p.80.
  13. ^ Margoshes, p.63.
  14. ^ Stewart, p.81.
  15. ^ Black, Edwin. (2003) War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, p.242.
  16. ^ Shackleton, p.50. Also see Stewart, p.75.
  17. ^ Shackleton, p.51.
  18. ^ Stewart, pp.67-68.
  19. ^ Shackleton, p.46.
  20. ^ Barry L. Strayer, "Patriation of the Constitution and the Charter: 25 years after", The Timlin Lecture, February 20, 2007, University of Saskatchewan, at p. 14.
  21. ^ "Douglas is well after accident". Globe and Mail: p. 8. October 26, 1984. 
  22. ^ Tommy Douglas from
  23. ^ "CBC pulls Tommy Douglas movie". CBC. June 12, 2006. Retrieved 2008-12-02. 
  24. ^ Wood, James (June 12, 2006). "CBC pulls Tommy Douglas movie". Edmonton Journal. Retrieved 2007-04-30. 
  25. ^ Swerhone, Elise (1986). "Tommy Douglas: Keeper of the Flame". Documentary. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 2009-10-22. 

[edit] References

  • Black, Edwin. (2003) War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows. ISBN 1-56858-258-7
  • Margoshes, Dave. (1999) Tommy Douglas: Building the New Society. Lantzville, British Columbia: XYZ Publishing. ISBN 0-9683601-4-9
  • Shackleton, Doris French. (1975) Tommy Douglas. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited. ISBN 0-7710-8116-2
  • Stewart, Walter. (2003) The Life and Political Times of Tommy Douglas. Toronto: McArthur & Company. ISBN 1-55278-459-2
  • Thomas, Lewis H. (editor). (1982) The Making of a Socialist: The Recollections of T.C. Douglas. Edmonton: The University of Alberta Press. ISBN 0-88864-070-6

[edit] External links

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