Tommy Douglas Essay Ideas For College

Tommy’s Life Story

The Formative Years

(From the Tommy Douglas Research Institute)


Although he was born in Falkirk, Scotland on Oct. 20, 1904, in some ways the Tommy Douglas Canadians know was born 10 years later in Winnipeg.

By then, his parents Tom and Anne had emigrated to Canada, and to a community that was becoming a focal point of the social gospel – a movement that fused Christianity with the struggle for social justice and greater equality.

Money was tight, and when a bone infection sent Tommy to hospital, the Douglas family couldn’t afford the treatment he needed. He would have lost his leg if not for a visiting surgeon who offered to treat him if the surgeon’s students could observe. The treatment saved Tommy’s leg – and planted the seed for his vision: universally accessible health care.
Although he was born in Falkirk, Scotland on Oct. 20, 1904, in some ways the Tommy Douglas Canadians know was born 10 years later in Winnipeg.

By then, his parents Tom and Anne had emigrated to Canada, and to a community that was becoming a focal point of the social gospel – a movement that fused Christianity with the struggle for social justice and greater equality.

Money was tight, and when a bone infection sent Tommy to hospital, the Douglas family couldn’t afford the treatment he needed. He would have lost his leg if not for a visiting surgeon who offered to treat him if the surgeon’s students could observe. The treatment saved Tommy’s leg – and planted the seed for his vision: universally accessible health care.

Tommy grew up knowing first-hand how hard parents often struggle to make ends meet. He and his two younger sisters dropped in and out of school, taking part time jobs to make whatever contribution they could.

One of those jobs was as a paperboy. And it was while he was delivering newspapers that Tommy Douglas watched RCMP officers firing into a crowd of striking workers, on June 1919 day that came to be known as Bloody Saturday – the violent end of the Winnipeg General Strike. The Mounties shot two men dead and arrested the Douglas family’s pastor, J.S. Woodsworth.

While Tommy faced more than his share of hardship, he also found plenty of opportunities for fun. He was an outgoing teenager, fond of taking small roles in vaudeville and performing monologues at family events. A short, slight boy, Tommy took up boxing – perhaps preparing for the verbal sparring that would often mark his political career.

Then, in 1924, he enrolled in Brandon College, a liberal arts college run by the Baptist Church. He quickly took to the ideas of the social gospel, and found a lifelong friend in Stanley Knowles.

The Baptist church in Weyburn, a small community in Saskatchewan, brought both men out on a trial basis, and they preached on alternate Sundays. When Tommy was ordained in 1930, the church offered him a permanent ministry.

Weyburn was just starting to feel the ravages of drought and economic depression. Douglas preached on Sundays, and spent the rest of the week running relief programs to help ease the growing hardship of local farmers and their families

The Making of a Politician


As the Great Depression tightened its grip on the country, communities like Weyburn suffered tremendously. Tommy Douglas knew that his relief efforts – while important – couldn’t provide a lasting answer to the difficulties families were facing. He buried two young men who died because they couldn’t afford medical care, which only strengthened his belief that he could do more as a politician than from the pulpit.

In 1932, Tommy’s mentor and family pastor, J.S. Woodsworth, urged him to join the Saskatchewan Farmer Labour Party – soon to become the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation. Woodsworth also brought Douglas together with fellow minister M.J. Coldwell, who would become a key ally and lifelong friend.
As the Great Depression tightened its grip on the country, communities like Weyburn suffered tremendously. Tommy Douglas knew that his relief efforts – while important – couldn’t provide a lasting answer to the difficulties families were facing. He buried two young men who died because they couldn’t afford medical care, which only strengthened his belief that he could do more as a politician than from the pulpit.

In 1932, Tommy’s mentor and family pastor, J.S. Woodsworth, urged him to join the Saskatchewan Farmer Labour Party – soon to become the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation. Woodsworth also brought Douglas together with fellow minister M.J. Coldwell, who would become a key ally and lifelong friend.

Tommy ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the provincial legislature in 1934, but the next year voters sent him to Ottawa as one of the first CCF Members of Parliament. That election launched a nine-year career as Weyburn’s M.P., throughout the rest of the Great Depression and much of the Second World War.

But it also led to one of the most painful moments of his political life. Woodsworth, a committed pacifist, could not support Canada’s entry into the Second World War. That put him at odds with the rest of the CCF caucus – including Douglas. Nearly blind and partly paralyzed from a recent stroke, Woodsworth still delivered an eloquent, impassioned speech to Parliament opposing Canada’s declaration of war… and Tommy held Woodsworth’s speaking notes up for his old mentor to read.

M.J Coldwell would go on to lead the national CCF. And in 1942, Tommy Douglas resigned his seat in Parliament and took on Coldwell’s old job: leader of the Saskatchewan CCF.

Remaking Saskatchewan


In 1941, the Saskatchewan CCF lost its leader when George Williams resigned that post and his seat in the Legislature to enlist in the army. The party turned to Tommy Douglas to lead it – and it turned out to be one of the best decisions a political party has ever made.

On June 15, 1944, the CCF – which had never held power in the province – swept to victory under Tommy’s leadership, winning 47 of 53 seats. Saskatchewan had just elected the first social democratic government in North America – and Tommy Douglas began the first of five terms as the province’s Premier.

He faced powerful, wealthy opposition, yet Tommy’s government passed more than 100 bills during that first term. Just two years into their mandate, the CCF had eliminated the sales tax on food and meals and reduced the provincial debt by $20 million. While his opponents tried to tar him as a Communist and radical, the CCF under Tommy Douglas paved roads and brought electrical power (and the modern age) to the family farms of Saskatchewan. They improved health care, increased education spending and expanded the University of Saskatchewan to include a medical college.

Pensioners gained free medical, hospital and dental services; everyone gained free treatment for diseases like cancer, tuberculosis and mental illness. In 1947, Saskatchewan introduced universal access to hospitals for an annual fee of five dollars per person.

The CCF created new government departments such as Labour, Social Welfare and Co-operatives. The cabinet took a 28-per-cent pay cut to help pay the costs. A Crown Corporation Act allowed the creation of provincial air and bus lines; marketing boards for natural resources helped those industries grow and benefit rural communities. And SaskTel offered affordable phone service across Saskatchewan.

But it was Saskatchewan Power that had the biggest impact. In 20 years, the Crown corporation increased the number of rural homes hooked up to electrical power from only 300 to 65,000.

Meanwhile, the CCF improved working conditions, raised the minimum wage, established mandatory holidays, set workers’ compensation standards and set the stage for collective bargaining with the Trade Union Act and the creation of a labour relations board. Over four years, union membership more than doubled.

In just over a decade, the CCF administration – by encouraging economic diversification such as potash mining, steel production and petroleum exploration – oversaw the transformation of the province’s economy. Only one out of every five dollars of wealth created in Saskatchewan in 1944 came from somewhere other than agriculture; that proportion more than tripled by 1957.

But Tommy Douglas and his CCF team were also cautious financial managers. While Tommy wanted passionately to make medical care available to all, it wasn’t until 1959 that he decided Saskatchewan’s finances were healthy enough to sustain it.

He announced a plan that would cover every person in Saskatchewan, offering pre-paid, publicly-administered, high-quality health care. At the time, many doctors and their allies decried his medicare plan as dictatorial and vowed never to accept it; by the mid-1960s, it was such a success that Canada adopted it nationwide.

But by the time medicare was enacted in Saskatchewan in 1962, Tommy Douglas had stepped down as Premier. He wanted to take the success he’d had leading the province to a whole new level.

National Leadership


By the late 1950s, the national Cooperative Commonwealth Federation was in disarray. While the party’s success in Saskatchewan was undeniable, the party’s national prospects seemed to be going from bad to worse. Many of the CCF’s leading lights became convinced that only dramatic action would save the national party from oblivion.

Tommy Douglas was one of the architects of what was to be called the New Party: a formal partnership between the old CCF and the Canadian labour movement. In 1961, he became its leader. (And the New Party gained a new name: the New Democratic Party.)

By the late 1950s, the national Cooperative Commonwealth Federation was in disarray. While the party’s success in Saskatchewan was undeniable, the party’s national prospects seemed to be going from bad to worse. Many of the CCF’s leading lights became convinced that only dramatic action would save the national party from oblivion.

Tommy Douglas was one of the architects of what was to be called the New Party: a formal partnership between the old CCF and the Canadian labour movement. In 1961, he became its leader. (And the New Party gained a new name: the New Democratic Party.)

But his first federal election as a national leader was a difficult one. The NDP won only 19 seats… and Tommy’s wasn’t one of them. It was only by running in a by-election in the British Columbia riding of Burnaby-Coquitlam that Tommy returned to the House of Commons.

He won that seat two more times before being defeated in the Trudeaumania election of 1968; a few months later, he won a by-election in Nanaimo-Cowichan-The Islands. The breakthrough that Tommy and the NDP had hoped for never materialized, but the party was able to steer Lester B. Pearson’s minority government in a more progressive direction.

Then, in 1970, the Trudeau government invoked the War Measures Act. Tommy led the NDP caucus in opposing the act – a principled stand that carried a heavy political cost. A year later, he stepped down as national leader, but stayed on in the House of Commons for eight more years.

Tommy Douglas spent his retirement years tending his land in the Gatineau Hills just north of Ottawa, but he remained a vocal, passionate presence in the NDP and in Canadian political life, especially on the subject of medicare. He became a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1981. And he was one of a handful of Canadians named to the Privy Council in 1984, when the Canadian constitution was patriated.

In 1986, Thomas Clement Douglas died of cancer in Ottawa. He was named to the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in 1998. And in 2004, in a voted conducted by the CBC, Canadians elected him the Greatest Canadian of all time.

Tommy Douglas A Remarkable Canadian


Kevin Wong
Winner of the Norm Quan Bursary

When considering the giants of Canadian politics, T.C. Douglas surely stands at the forefront. Tommy Douglas was a remarkable Canadian whose contributions have helped to shape our great nation. Although he is most famous as the founding father of Medicare, the most advanced health-care system in the world, Douglas� contributions to Saskatchewan and Canada were tremendous. Douglas established democratic socialism as a mainstream in Canadian politics and his CCF government became the first socialist government in North America. A visionary who achieved his dreams, Douglas changed the face of Canadian politics. More importantly, Tommy Douglas was a politician who put the good of the people he represented first and foremost.

Tommy Clement Douglas was born on October 20, 1904 in Falkirk, Scotland. In 1911, Tommy, his mother and his sister moved to Winnipeg to join his father who had moved there the previous year. Shortly after settling in Winnipeg, Tommy was diagnosed with osteomyelitis in his right leg. Tommy�s family was not wealthy and subsequently his family could not pay for the best or most immediate treatment. The delay nearly cost Tommy his leg. This experience marked the beginning of Tommy�s quest for universal, public health care. By the time he was 18, Tommy set his sights on a career as a preacher.

In 1924, when Tommy reached 20 years of age, he enrolled at Brandon College in Manitoba. Brandon College, which was founded by the missionary Baptists of Ontario, provided young ministers with the opportunity to receive an educational background. In college, Tommy was active in elocution classes, drama, and debating. His peers accepted Douglas as a natural leader and scholar. During weekends and summer months, Tommy would speak at rural churches. At one such trip Tommy met Irma Dempsey, his future wife. By the time he had left Brandon College, Tommy had earned his Bachelor�s degree in the Faculty of Arts.

In the fall of 1929, Tommy became a minister at Calvary Baptist church in Weyburn, Saskatchewan. The town immediately opened its arms to the young preacher who possessed boundless energy and eloquence. His time in Weyburn allowed Douglas a first hand perspective of the harshness of the Depression in the prairies. Douglas knew that something had to be done for the common man. His experience with the vast unemployment and poverty transformed T.C. Douglas, the clergyman, into a social activist.

By 1932, Douglas helped organize an Independent Labour Party in Weyburn of which he became president. Saskatchewan�s Independent Labour movement was not large in numbers but they began raising awareness for socialist politics. The movement soon evolved into the Farmer Labour Party. The Farmer Labour Party offered hospital care for everyone on an equal basis, including unemployment insurance and universal pension. By July of 1932, the labour parties of the four western provinces formed an alliance under the name Cooperative Commonwealth Federation. The CCF became Canada�s first national socialist party. The Farmer Labour Party now had something it desperately lacked, the backing of a national movement. In 1934, Douglas made his first foray in the Saskatchewan provincial election. Although he lost, this sparked an internal flame which could not be extinguished.

In 1935, Douglas was elected into parliament under the CCF. This was a time of great turmoil for Canadian politics. Nearly all the provincial governments had been tossed out of office as Canadians turned to anyone who promised to lead them out of the troubled times. Along with Douglas, there were only four other members of the CCF caucus. At the tender age of 31, the young Douglas impressed the House of Commons with his fiery, yet relevant, speeches. The CCF, with only five seats, did not have much political clout, but that did not stop Douglas from fighting for legislation to support the western provinces. By the end of the 193 Os, the Depression and World War II had created an opening for popular support towards the CCF and its socialist ideas.

By the end of World War II, Douglas found a new way to support his socialist solution to Canada�s economic problems. Canada had successfully financed a war against a foreign aggression but could not do the same against poverty. "Surely," said Douglas in a radio broadcast, "if we can produce in such abundance in order to destroy our enemies, we can produce in equal abundance in order to provide food, clothing, and shelter for our children."¹

In his two terms in cabinet, Douglas often argued that Ottawa had no effective western farm policy. The CCF, a socialist party, had begun to build momentum at this time. By the early 1940s Douglas began to move away from Federal politics after being frustrated with the slow legislation and lack of progress. By 1942 Tommy Douglas became the leader of the Saskatchewan provincial CCF party although he remained a MP for the Weyburn constituency.

In 1944, the CCF, under Douglas, won the provincial election to become the first socialist government in North America. The CCF election slogan was "Humanity First" and his government�s budget was to have 70% of expenditure to social services. Douglas�s emphasized that his brand of socialism depended on political and economic democracy. Saskatchewan listened. In 1944, the old age pension plan included medical, hospital and dental services. Douglas� government radically changed the education system and established larger school units and provided the University of Saskatchewan with a medical school. In his first four years in government, Douglas paid off the provincial debt, created a province wide hospitalization plan, paved the roads, and provided electricity and sewage pipes to the common man.

In 1948, when time for a re-election had come, opponents took advantage of the cold war and the widespread fear of communism. This was dirty politics at it�s worst and it swayed the public. Douglas fought back with radio telecasts, a medium which he could reach the public with his oratory skill. In one such telecast Douglas said "Don�t let them deceive you again. If you let them fool you once, shame on them. If you let them fool you twice, shame on you."² Although he defended his government�s outstanding record, it was Douglas� sincerety and his committment to the people of Saskatchewan which prevailed. Douglas� first re-election proved to be the most difficult. He would be re-elected for three more terms to serve Saskatchewan as Premier for 17 years. In his latter terms as Premier, Douglas saw the province through prosperous times. Douglas would not see great changes in legislation like his first term until the inception of Medicare.

In 1961, the CCF joined with big labour unions to create the New Democratic Party in which Douglas was elected leader. The NDP platform remained consistent with that of the CCF with minor changes. The forming of a new party provided the CCF with a self-renewal. The NDP attracted new supporters and triggered a new movement of democratic socialism. Douglas� New Democratic Party was gaining momentum on a national level but there were troubles at home.

The North American Medical Establishment tried to defy Medicare, Douglas�s top priority project, and Saskatchewan became an intense battleground. This turbulent time was marked by the Doctor�s Strike as the physicians of the province protested socialized healthcare. However, the striking doctors were no match for Douglas. When the dust settled with the resolution of the strike, Medicare in Saskatchewan was born. Douglas showed Canada two things: that it was possible to develope and finance a universal Medicare system and that the medical profession could be confronted. Had Douglas not have made these first ground breaking steps, national Medicare would never have happened.

In 1962, Douglas was struck with a devastating blow. Running in the Regina contituency, Douglas, the leader of the NDP party, was defeated. Fortunately, a New Democrat MP in British Columbia resigned his seat in favour of Douglas. Immediately Douglas began his by-election campaign on the west coast. By mid October, he was back in the House of Commons representing the Burnaby-Coquitlam riding. As leader of the NDP, Douglas fought hard for socialist legislature on federal level but never achieved the success he found as Premier of Saskatchewan under the CCF. By 1971, Douglas resigned as Leader of the NDP, although he remained the party�s energy critic which he took on in 1969.

In 1976, Douglas announced that he would not seek re-election and bowed out of Canadian politics. Douglas spent much of his retirement in the national NDP headquarters as an independent missionary for the cause of socialism. Weeks before his death, weakened by cancer, Douglas made one final trip to Parliment Hill. Tommy Douglas passed away on February 24, 1986. At his memorial service, the Liberal leader, John Turner, and the Conservative prime minister, Brian Mulroney, led a standing ovation for this courageous man.

During his 42 years in politics, Tommy Douglas proved himself as an outstanding Canadian leader. He is largely responsible for our central banking, old age pensions, unemployment insurance, and our universal Medicare. When asked why he stayed with NDP when he could have done better with a more powefful party, Douglas simply replied, " I have watched politicians for the last forty years drop their principles in order to get power only to find that those who paid and controlled the party which they joined prevented them from all the things they really believed in."³ To the end of his days Tommy Douglas was true to himself, to what he stood for, and to the people he represented.

Endnotes

1. McLeod, Thomas. & McLeod, Ian. (1987) Tommy Douglas: The Road to Jerusalem Hurtig Publishers. Pg. 42

2. Elsie Swerhone (1980) Tommy Douglas: Keeper Of The Flame National Film Board of Canada

3. Elsie Swerhone (1980) Tommy Douglas: Keeper Of The Flame National Film Board of Canada

Bibliography

1. McLeod, Thomas. & McLeod, Ian. (1987) Tommy Douglas: The Road to Jerusalem Hurtig Publishers.

2. Whelan, Ed. & Whelan, Pemrose. (1990) Touched by Tommy Whelan Publications.

3. Lovick, L.D. (1975) Tommy Douglas Speaks Oolichan Books.

4. Thomas, Lewis H. (1982) The Making of a Socialist: The Recollections of T.C. Douglas The University of Alberta Press.

5. Elsie Swerhone (1980) Tommy Douglas: Keeper Of The Flame National Film Board of Canada


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