Born:

October 20, 1904

(Falkirk, Scotland)

Died:

February 24, 1986

Education:

MA, McMaster University (1933)

Awards & Honours:

1985: Saskatchewan Order of Merit

1983: Honorary LLD, Trent University

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Picture of Thomas Douglas

Championed a universal system of health care in Canada

Sketch of Tommy Douglas

One of Canada’s most respected visionary politicians

The Honourable Thomas "Tommy" Douglas envisioned, built and tirelessly promoted our national system of healthcare. His proposal in 1959 for a universal, pre-paid and publicly administered health care system in Saskatchewan introduced the first program of its kind in North America. The Saskatchewan plan prompted the federal government to initiate a national strategy to subsidize socialized medicine and support provinces in the shift to a universal system.

Throughout his long career, Tommy Douglas spearheaded many more innovative and pioneering programs that improved the economy in Saskatchewan. His government established provincial air and bus lines, introduced collective bargaining and created many official panels and governing bodies including lumber, fish and marketing boards. His immense impact extended beyond Saskatchewan, and ultimately benefited all Canadians.

Key Facts

Witnessed profound suffering as a Baptist clergyman in Saskatchewan during the 1930s Depression

His government passed the Saskatchewan Bill of Rights in 1947

Became the first leader of the New Democratic Party

Voted the Greatest Canadian in a CBC viewer poll in 2004

Became known as the Father of Canadian Health Care

Professional timeline

Impact on lives today

Tommy Douglas was an esteemed politician who advocated for the well-being of all through his noteworthy 44-year career as an elected official. His efforts established democratic socialism in mainstream Canadian politics for the first time in history. Today, he is remembered for his unwavering commitment to stand by his beliefs on critical issues, especially universal healthcare, and for his natural ability to lead and instill hope in Canadians.

Picture of Thomas Douglas

1998

  • The Honourable Thomas Douglas posthumously inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame

    Hull, Québec

  • Served as leader of the NPD until his resignation in 1971

    He remained as the NDP’s Energy Critic until his retirement from politics in 1979.

  • National Medicare was introduced

    Health Policy, Public Health, Health Promotion & Advocacy

    Today, Canada’s program universal medical insurance is administered through the Canada Health Act, a piece of legislation that still includes the principles for which Tommy Douglas advocated: public administration, accessibility, universality, and comprehensiveness.

  • The Canada Medicare Act was introduced in the House of Commons

    Health Policy

    Tommy Douglas and the NDP played a crucial role in supporting the passage of Canada’s national system of medical insurance.

  • Aware of the potentially devastating impact of medical costs of Saskatchewan families, Tommy Douglas was not satisfied with a hospital insurance plan

    Health Policy

    In 1961, his government passed the Saskatchewan Medical Care Insurance Act. A pioneer again, the Saskatchewan plan was the first comprehensive health insurance plan in Canada.

  • Became leader of the federal New Democratic Party

    His vision for medical care for all was not limited to the citizens of Saskatchewan. His move back into federal politics reflected a strong desire to spread universal health care across the country.

  • Saskatchewan introduced a hospital insurance plan

    Health Policy

    The first hospital insurance plan in Canada, it soon covered 810,000 people. In time, the plan became a model for federal government’s national program of hospital insurance. Ottawa’s Hospital Insurance and Diagnostic Services Act was passed in 1957.

  • Resigned his seat in the federal legislature

    Running in the Saskatchewan provincial election that same year as the leader of the CCF, he led the party to a decisive victory. Upon election, Tommy Douglas gave himself the health portfolio. He remained premier of the province for the next 17 years.

  • Won his first federal election as a Canadian Commonwealth Federation (CCF) Candidate

    It has been suggested that one of his keys to election success was his ability to make people laugh. Despite being new to politics, Tommy Douglas gave sixty speeches in his first session of parliament.

  • Earned his BA at Brandon College

    After becoming disillusioned with the study of sociology in the United States, Douglas returned to Canada and completed an MA at McMaster University.

  • A medical emergency as a child inspired Tommy Douglas’s vision of Medicare

    When Douglas badly injured his leg and his family could not afford care, Dr. R. J. Smith offered the family a deal; he would operate on the leg free of cost if his medical students can watch the procedure. This experience informed Douglas’ beliefs that medical care is a basic human right deserved by all Canadians.

1979

Courage, my friend; ‘Tis not too late to build a better world.