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History: 1958-1968 PUBLIC OR PRIVATE? VOLUNTARY OR COMPULSORY? : HOSPITAL CARE FOR CANADIANS, 19481958 CONFLICT AND COMPROMISE: CREATING THE MEDICAL CARE AC, 1958–1968 FROM COST CONTROL TO HEALTH PROMOTION: IMPLEMENTING MEDICARE, 19681978


Saskatchewan Leads the Way

In Saskatchewan, Tommy Douglas and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) had been in power since 1944, but the promise made then to provide comprehensive health care coverage to all citizens had been stymied by lack of funds. When Saskatchewan began to receive federal funding under the Hospital Insurance and Diagnostic Services Act, the government was able to move to the next component: medical services insurance. As Douglas pointed out to voters during a provincial by-election in 1959:

The Government of Saskatchewan is convinced that the time has arrived when we can establish a prepaid medical care plan in our march toward a comprehensive health insurance program that will cover all our people, and will ensure a high standard of medical care to every citizen of Saskatchewan . . . If we can do this — then I would like to hazard a prophecy that, before 1970, almost every other province in Canada will have followed the lead of Saskatchewan, and we shall have a national health insurance program from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Once more Saskatchewan has an opportunity to lead the way. Let us therefore have the vision and the courage to take this forward step believing that it is another advance toward a more just and humane society.(Thomas H. McLeod and
Ian McLeod, Tommy Douglas: The Road to Jerusalem [Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1987], p. 195)

To develop the provincial plan, Douglas outlined five principles that would provide the foundation for provincial funding: prepayment, universal coverage, high quality of service, public administration and a plan that was “acceptable both to those providing the service and those receiving it.”

With the appointment of an Advisory Planning Committee on Medical Care in April 1960, the Saskatchewan government was moving to public discussion of an increasingly controversial topic: provincially funded medical care insurance. In contrast to their position in the 1940s, Canadian doctors were no longer as supportive of public funding for prepaid medical insurance. In Saskatchewan, almost one-third of doctors had emigrated from Great Britain, and many had bitter memories of the introduction of the National Health Service. Thus, the provincial election in the spring of 1960 became a testing ground for each side in this debate. To Douglas and his supporters, the medical services insurance plan was simply the logical next step on the road to comprehensive health services.

Photo:  Tommy Douglas at the CCF Convention in 1960

Tommy Douglas at the CCF Convention in 1960, when provincially funded medical care insurance was the most contested topic. Douglas is wearing a poppy on his lapel.
Western Development Museum, 1960-9J2



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    Date Created: March 31, 2010 | Last Updated: April 21, 2010