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Bennett and the Premiers

All the provincial premiers pleaded with Prime Minister Bennett to fund relief more generously in 1933 but, as he told the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in November that year, he did not think that Canada was ready for national health insurance, because as a young and developing country it did not need a system of “state medicine.” Instead, he highlighted the preventive work being done by insurance companies and provincial health departments, and indicated that the provinces were free to develop their own approaches. As conditions worsened, provincial premiers and health ministers all sought to persuade him to change his position. As L.-A. Taschereau, the Premier of Quebec, remarked: “We intend to shirk none of the responsibilities resting upon us for the promotion of health among our people, and, that being well understood, shall gladly accept Ottawa’s support” (“Human Rights to Health,” Liberty 11, No. 50 [December 15, 1934]). Likewise, F. R. Davis, Nova Scotia’s Minister of Health, commented: “We favour leadership and expenditure of more money by the Dominion government. Health in general should be regarded as a national undertaking” (“Human Rights to Health”). But for individuals like Dr. Norman Bethune, Secretary of the Montreal Group for the Security of the People’s Health, and non-governmental agencies such as the Canadian Social Hygiene Council, Prime Minister Bennett’s views were no longer acceptable because in their eyes health was “not a question of provincial rights but rather of human rights” (Canada, Library and Archives Canada, Record Group 29, Vol. 1062, File 502-1-1, Part 3).

Photo: This chart shows what Canada spent on medical treatment ($300 million) and preventive health measures ($6 million) in 1934.

This chart shows what Canada spent on medical treatment ($300 million) and preventive health measures ($6 million) in 1934.
From Liberty, Vol. 11, No. 50 (December 15, 1934). Library and Archives Canada, RG 29, Vol. 1062, File 502-1-1, Part 3.

“The people are ready for socialized medicine. The obstructionists to the people’s health security lie within the profession itself. Recognize this fact.”

—Dr. Norman Bethune to the Montreal Medico-Chirurgical Society, April 17, 1936

Photo: Dr. Norman Bethune

Dr. Norman Bethune
The Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. Artist: Irma Coucill.

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