His proudly working-class and religious family provided a strong background for both his politics and his faith. His family settled in Canada in 1919 in Winnipeg and Douglas witnessed the WINNIPEG GENERAL STRIKE of that year. Leaving school at the age of 14, Douglas began a printer's apprenticeship. He became involved in church work and in 1924 decided to enter the ministry. He was at Brandon College for 6 years, and it was here that he was exposed to and embraced the SOCIAL GOSPEL, a belief that Christianity was above all a social religion, concerned as much with improving this world as with the life hereafter.
When Douglas moved to Weyburn, Saskatchewan, following his ordination in 1930, he found much suffering, for that province had been especially hard hit by economic depression and drought. Douglas soon became involved in ministering to people's physical and spiritual needs, while he pursued further academic studies in Christian ethics. These studies, along with his experience of the GREAT DEPRESSION, led him to conclude that political action was necessary to alleviate the suffering. In 1931 he established a local association of the Independent Labour Party, and 2 years later he attended the first national convention of the new, avowedly socialist CO-OPERATIVE COMMONWEALTH FEDERATION (CCF).
Douglas ran unsuccessfully in the 1934 Saskatchewan election. He was then convinced by friends that he should be a CCF candidate in the federal election of 1935. This time he was successful, partly because he had learned to exploit a special talent - the ability to make people laugh. WWII further convinced Douglas that the socialist case was valid. Although he heard it repeatedly argued in Parliament that money could not be found to put people to work, money was forthcoming to finance a war. During his first 2 terms in Parliament, Douglas earned a reputation as a skilful and witty debater. He claimed as his constituency the underprivileged and exploited, and he took unpopular stands in defence of civil liberties.
In 1944 Douglas resigned his federal seat to contest the Saskatchewan general election. As premier of the province for the next 17 years, he became a symbol of what the socialist alternative promised. His government was innovative and efficient, and pioneered many programs that would later be implemented by others, notably in the field of social services. Douglas resigned as premier in 1961 to lead the federal NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY (NDP), created as a formal alliance between the CCF and organized labour. Douglas was the new party's obvious choice, primarily because of his success in Saskatchewan but also because he was universally regarded as the left's most eloquent spokesman. He was able to inspire and motivate party workers and he could also explain democratic socialism in moral, ethical and religious terms.
Despite these qualifications, Douglas was defeated in the federal election of 1962, largely because of the backlash against the Saskatchewan government's introduction of Medicare, which had culminated in a long and bitter strike by the province's doctors (see SASKATCHEWAN DOCTORS' STRIKE). Winning a seat in a by-election, Douglas went on to serve as leader of the NDP until 1971, when he became his party's energy critic until his retirement in 1979. He was made Companion of the Order of Canada in 1980.
Though Douglas did not realize his dream of a socialist Canada, he and his colleagues had considerable influence on government. Programs such as Medicare, a Canada-wide pension plan and bargaining rights for civil servants were first advocated by Douglas and his party, and these are now more or less firmly in place and universally accepted in Canada.
Author L.D. LOVICK
Links to Other Sites
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T C Douglas
A profile of Tommy Douglas, father of Canada's universal health care system, from the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. A Virtual Museum multimedia website.
Top 10 Things Canadians Should Know About Canada
Click on the 101things.ca link to discover the top 10 things people should know about Canada, a list developed from a national survey of what Canadians felt were the 101 people, places, symbols, events and innovations that most define our nation. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
Saskatchewan’s 1944 CCF Election
Follow the development of the CCF party in this online collection of archival documents and photographs. Focuses on the Progressives, the Farmer-Labor Party, the Regina Convention and more. From the Saskatchewan Archival Information Network.
Face to Face: The Canadian Personalities Hall
"Face to Face" features outstanding Canadians whose ideas and contributions have transformed this country. Click on the photos in "Meet the Personalities" to see their biographies. From the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
Click on the brief profiles of "extraordinary Canadians" and the authors who wrote about them in this Penguin Group (Canada) series. Also includes bios of artists who created the cover art for each book.
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