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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



The Medical Care Act, 1966

After his electoral disappointment in the fall of 1965, Prime Minister Pearson shuffled his Cabinet and appointed Allan J. MacEachen, a Cape Breton academic who had been involved in federal politics since the 1950s, as his new Minister of National Health and Welfare. One of the new breed of Liberal who believed that the state had a role to play in ensuring social security and equality, MacEachen was now facing a Cabinet in which deficit control and a pro-business orientation were evident. Nevertheless, when he introduced the Medical Care Act in the House of Commons on July 12, 1966, MacEachen opened his argument by stating:

The government of Canada believes that all Canadians should be able to obtain health services of high quality according to their need for such services and irrespective of their ability to pay. We believe that the only practical and effective way of doing this is through a universal, prepaid, government-sponsored scheme.

In response, the Conservative and Social Credit Opposition condemned the government for overriding provincial jurisdiction, being fiscally irresponsible, undermining doctor–patient relationships and, according to Robert Thompson, the federal Social Credit leader, indulging in “the false philosophy of the welfare state. In my opinion, the government does have a responsibility to assist those who are unable to provide for their own needs. If we accomplish that then we are meeting our responsibilities as our brother’s keeper” (Canada, House of Commons Debates, Hansard [July 12, 1966], p. 7564). On the other side, the NDP, led by Stanley Knowles, chided the government for bringing in legislation that merely provided for medical services insurance. Where were the other components, such as home care, extended care, pharmaceutical benefits and dental care, which the Hall Commission had identified as part of a comprehensive system? But, as NDP Member of Parliament Grace McInnis, daughter of party founder and long-time advocate of sickness insurance J. S. Woodsworth, stated:

All of us in this corner have been looking forward to getting this legislation before us because we hope, at long last, we are going to be able to turn health care from being a business for profit as it has been under private agencies, into a service for the people of Canada. (Canada, House of Commons Debates, Hansard [July 12, 1966], p. 7605)

With NDP support, the Liberals were able to get the bill through its first reading.

Photo:  Alan MacEachen, Minister of National Health and Welfare in  Lester B. Pearson’s government

Alan MacEachen, Minister of National Health and Welfare in Lester B. Pearson’s government, shown shortly after he introduced the Medical Care Act in July 1966.
© Library and Archives Canada, PA-117121. Photographer: Duncan Cameron.



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