Meeting Report

January 16, 2011

Tom Swift, PhD

Tommy Douglas: The Greatest Canadian

Tommy DouglasAbout fifteen people enjoyed this fascinating piece of Canadian history.

Tom Swift is a retired history professor from California State University Sacramento. His specialty is Japan, but this time he talked about a much closer country—Canada. He dealt with the introduction of universal health care there and with the history of Tommy Douglas, the man who was, more than anyone else, the father of Canada’s national health system.

Tommy Douglas was born in Britain and moved to Canada as a boy with his parents. While there, he had a leg performed, pro bono, by a surgeon, thus saving the leg from amputation. His parents could not have afforded that operation at the time. This led him to believe that lack of wealth should not be a barrier to obtaining decent medical care. He left school early, but returned later to finish high school and study for the ministry. He was a devout Christian, strongly influenced by the social gospel movement. With the coming of the Great Depression his interest turned to politics. He was one of the founders of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), a social democratic political party later renamed the New Democratic Party (NDP). He served in Canada’s parliament and, in 1944, was elected the premier of Saskatchewan. (A premier of a Canadian province is roughly the equivalent of a governor in the United States.) While in office he gradually introduced health care coverage for the residents of Saskatchewan. The idea caught on nationally and with the help of the Liberal Party health care for all in Canada was passed during the 1960s. Many political compromises were made in the process and there are variations in benefits from province to province, but most Canadians now accept the basics of the system.

The question and answer time yielded many questions and much discussion.

Report prepared by Wayne Luney


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