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Tommy Douglas

Born in Falkirk, Scotland, Thomas Clement (“Tommy”) Douglas (1904–1986) immigrated permanently to Canada with his family in 1919 and became a Baptist minister, a provincial and federal politician, and the first Co-operative Commonwealth Federation Premier of Saskatchewan in 1944. As a child, Douglas injured his leg and developed osteomyelitis, an inflammation of the bone. His family’s inability to afford medical care would have cost him his leg, except that Dr. R. J. Smith, a distinguished surgeon, offered to operate for free if his students could watch. Although grateful for Dr. Smith’s help, Douglas later said: “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” (Lewis H. Thomas, ed., The Making of a Socialist: The Recollections of T. C. Douglas [Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1982], p. 7). Douglas’s feeling that people’s health and well-being should be independent of their ability to pay for medical care developed into a belief in socialism and led to a life in politics. His political successes as Premier of Saskatchewan enabled him to introduce provincial hospital insurance in 1947 and led to the 1962 introduction of medicare in Saskatchewan by his successor, Woodrow Lloyd. In a 1958 interview, Douglas said: “I’m sure that the standard of public morality we’ve helped build will force government in Canada to approve complete health insurance.” By 1972, Douglas’s conviction that no one’s health should depend on wealth was translated into a national policy, as medicare became a reality in Canada.

Photo:  Tommy Douglas presents the first hospital card to a pensioner in 1946

Tommy Douglas presents the first hospital card to a pensioner in 1946. The Saskatchewan health plan for people needing social assistance was the first step towards universal health care in the province.
Saskatchewan Archives Board, R-A3256

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