Making Medicare:  The History of Health Care in Canada, 1914-2007 Back to Timeline Back to Timeline
Key Players: 1958-1968 Key Players: 1948–1958 Key Players: 1958-1968 Key Players: 1968-1978

Al Johnson

Born in Insinger, Saskatchewan in 1923, Albert Wesley Johnson has been a civil servant, public policy adviser and academic. Educated at the University of Saskatchewan, the University of Toronto and Harvard University, Johnson served as Deputy Provincial Treasurer and Secretary to the Treasury Board in Tommy Douglas’s government from 1952 to 1964. Having observed the conflict between the doctors and the government over the implementation of the provincial medicare plan, Johnson used his knowledge of finance and federal–provincial relations to propose a new approach to medical services insurance when he served as Assistant Deputy Minister of Finance for the federal government from 1964 to 1968.

Photo:  A. W. (Al) Johnson

A. W. (Al) Johnson, the pre-eminent public servant from Saskatchewan, at the Department of Finance, whose vision of co-operative federalism steered the medical insurance proposal into its final form.
Photographer: Myrtle E. Hardy, Courtesy of P. Jane Johnson

As Tom Kent noted, the paternalism of the Hospital Insurance and Diagnostic Services Act was no longer appropriate in the mid-1960s; therefore, Johnson’s suggestion that “the federal government did not need to legislate the details of a shared-cost program . . . [but] needed only to define, clearly, the principles of what it meant by medicare” was an effective solution to the constitutional roadblock (Tom Kent, A Public Purpose [Montréal and Kingston: McGill–Queen’s University Press, 1988], pp. 366–67). Thus, in July 1965, when Prime Minister Lester Pearson announced the four principles for funding medicare, premiers such as Joey Smallwood, Louis Robichaud, Jean Lesage and Ross Thatcher supported them, while John Robarts, Duff Roblin and W.A.C. Bennett gave conditional approval. Robert Stanfield and Walter Shaw rejected the plan because of lack of funding, while Ernest Manning opposed it on ideological grounds. But Johnson’s strategy proved effective in laying the foundation for the Medical Care Act of 1966 and its implementation.

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    Date Created: March 31, 2010 | Last Updated: June 14, 2011