Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Tommy Douglas and Universal Health Care

On November 16, 2013, I attended a panel discussion on ‘Living the Dream: a healthy society for all, how a focus on health can revive Canadian democracy’, hosted in downtown Ottawa by the Douglas-Coldwell Foundation.

I attended mainly to learn about adding dental and prescription drugs to our national health care, and I had a personal interest in Douglas and gratitude for his work.

I grew up in Saskatchewan when Tommy Douglas (1904-1986) was in office and co-led the battle to give us universal health care in 1962. I personally briefly met him once. In 2013 he was honored with a commemorative stamp on the 50th anniversary of our Medicare legislation.

It happened that the birth of my daughter was expected during the 1962 Doctors’ Strike in Saskatchewan against the new socialized medicine. We were relieved when an English doctor came to deliver her in our apartment.

When I had my open heart surgery in 2006, I was again very thankful that Canada provided universal health care. I got excellent care.

Living the Dream

At the meeting, I heard 3 panelists assert that
  • our future as a nation depends on healthy citizens, and
  • our health insurance can be improved if we work together
Dr. Ryan Meili, a Saskatchewan physician, said, ‘whether you live long depends greatly on the health system.... Other determinants of health include income, housing, food, and employment.’ International healthcare data show that Canada compares well in longevity and costs in a 2008 comparison of 8 countries, surpassed by Japan.

Dr. Vincent Lam, a Toronto physician who wrote a biography of Tommy Douglas, said ‘we must dream boldly in how to achieve our dream.’ He quoted a conversation with actress Shirley Douglas (daughter of the late Tommy Douglas), who recalled that her Dad, at the end of his political career said that ‘one day we will go to the moon’ and we did; and ‘one day we will have a publicly-funded health care in Canada’ and we have.

Dennis Gruending, panel moderator, said that ‘living the dream is possible if we set our minds to do it.’ Dennis pointed out that the current Conservative government of Stephen Harper established expensive border services, built new prisons and enlarged the military. ‘If it can do that, surely it can find the resources to ensure the fulfillment of our dream in getting a full proper universal health care for our citizens in this country, as Tommy Douglas had envisaged it more than 50 years ago.’

In 2004 Tommy Douglas was crowned the ‘Greatest Canadian’ undoubtedly for his hard work to pass the first universal health care act in North America — for which all Canadians are most thankful. But we can improve it.

This ‘Father of Medicare’ was a Baptist minister, a federal Member of Parliament and Premier of Saskatchewan for 5 terms, up to 1960. Like many Canadians, he believed full health care was a human right that superseded private interests. We should unite to realize that dream by adding dental and drug services!


  1. Gunter Schaarschmidt4 February 2014 at 06:34

    I personally do not believe that putting more money into the Canadian health care system is the only way to repair it. A much bigger problem is the enormous bureaucratic mechanism that the system has developed into. More money without reducing the bureaucracy will just increase its inefficiency. I share your admiration for Tommy Douglas, Koozma. I emigrated to Canada in 1962 so felt his impact on Canada, especially in the Prairies. Wish we had more politicians like him today.

  2. I'm also visiting this site regularly, this web site is really nice and the users are genuinely sharing good thoughts.