Tommy Douglas


Tommy Douglas sculptureThomas Clement Douglas, byname Tommy Douglas (b. Oct. 20, 1904, Falkirk, Scotland - d. Feb. 24, 1986, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), Canadian politician.  

Tommy Douglas was a little man with a big heart. In his 44 years as an elected representative, his loving work on behalf of the individual men and women of Canada changed forever the nature of our society. Tommy Douglas fought for Canadians. His achievements are indeed legendary.


Short in stature, Douglas lacked neither brains nor courage. Throughout his long political career, he built a reputation for a devastating wit and oratory, and universal respect for always standing by what he believed, no matter how unpopular.


Douglas was born on October 20, 1904, in Falkirk, Scotland. His family emigrated to Canada in 1910, settling in Winnipeg. They returned to Glasgow during the first world war, and once again moved to Winnipeg when Douglas was 14.

He started work then as an apprentice printer, working for the Winnipeg Free Press and the Grain Trade News. Earlier, at 13 and still in Glasgow, he had worked in a whiskey factory.


By the age of 19, he not only had earned his journeyman's card as a printer, but was already gaining a reputation as a Baptist preacher at his first church in Austin, Manitoba. It was here that he became friends with J.S. Woodsworth, a Methodist preacher and the future CCF leader.


He earned a bachelor's degree at Brandon College, where he was a classmate of Stanley Knowles, and did post-graduate work at McMaster university, earning an MA.


The Political Years


In 1934, Douglas made his first venture into electoral politics by running unsuccessfully as a provincial candidate for the Farmer-Labour Party in Saskatchewan.


The following year, running as the CCF candidate in the federal constituency of Weyburn, Tommy Douglas won. He would serve as a MP for nine years.

In 1941, he was elected President of the Saskatchewan provincial party, and became provincial leader when George Williams went overseas during the Second World War. With an election seeming imminent by 1942, Douglas activated a shadow cabinet of party committees and organized sitting MLAs under C.M. Fines.


Douglas resigned his federal seat to lead the Saskatchewan CCF and, in the memorable election of June 15, 1944 he led the party to a massive victory, winning 47 of 53 seats. At the age of 39, he became head of the first democratic socialist government in North America.


The Government Years


As Premier of Saskatchewan he presided over the birth of public hospitalization and medicare. Through his five terms as Premier, Douglas pioneered reforms which made Saskatchewan society both progressive and prosperous.


More than 100 bills, 72 of them aimed at social or economic reform, were passed during the CCF's first year in power. By the end of two years, they had removed the sales tax from food and meals and managed to reduce the provincial debt by $20 million.

New departments were established which reflected the government's priorities. These included the new Deparment of Co-operatives, the Department of Labour and the Department of Social Welfare. To pay for the new departments, all the CCF cabinet ministers took a 28 per cent pay cut.


In 1944, pensioners were granted free medical, hospital and dental services, and the treatment of diseases such as cancer, tuberculosis, mental illness and venereal disease was made free for all.


In 1947, Douglas introduced universal hospitalization at a fee of $5 per year per person. "It is paid out of the treasury. Instead of the burden of those hospital bills falling on sick people, it is spread over all the people," Douglas said. In 1959, twelve years later, when the province's finances seemed to him to be strong enough, Douglas announced the coming of the medicare plan. It would be universal, pre-paid, publicly administered, provide high quality care, including preventive care, and be accepted by both providers and receivers of the medical service.


A Crown Corporation Act opened the way to such achievements as provincial air and bus lines. The Timber Board took control of lumbering, so the industry could prosper without destroying the forests. Later, fish and fur marketing boards were established.

However, no Crown corporation had as big an impact during the Douglas years than the Saskatchewan Power Corporation. Prior to the Douglas Administration, only 300 rural households had electrical power. By 1964, 65,000 farm households had been hooked up to the electrical grid built by SaskPower.


SaskTel provided affordable, quality and near universal phone access across the province.


The CCF introduced the Trade Union Act, which made collective bargaining mandatory and extended the rights of civil servants. The Act was described by Walter Reuther as "the most progressive piece of labour legislation on the continent." Other labour legislation set standards for workers' compensation, minimum wages, mandatory holidays and a labour relations board. Union membership rose 118 per cent in just four years.


Building on the 1944 campaign slogan of Humanity First, the first CCF budget devoted 70 per cent of its expenditures to health, welfare and education. School districts were enlarged to a more efficient size; teachers' salaries were raised; the University of Saskatchewan was expanded to include a medical college.


Industrial development and economic diversification were major goals of the Douglas government. The Administration helped private investors to develop potash mining, a steel mill and pipeline company, as well as encouraging development in oil and gas. When Douglas took power, 80 per cent of the province's GDP was generated by agriculture. By 1957, agriculture accounted for only 35 per cent of economic activity, even though a million more acres of farm land were under production.


Tommy Douglas was born at Sunnybrae, Camelon, in Falkirk, Scotland - a house owned by the family of TV inventor John Logie Baird - on October 20, 1904. He was the son of Thomas Douglas (21 Nov 1878 - 4 January 1936), an iron moulder, former soldier, and socialist, and Annie Clement, of Highland origins, who was deeply religious with a poetic gift. The Douglases emigrated to Winnipeg, Canada, in 1910. He was brother of Anne Douglas and Isabel Douglas

During World War I Douglas' father rejoined his regiment, and the family spent the war years in Glasgow. They returned to Winnipeg after the war. The young Tommy Douglas apprenticed as a printer and won the lightweight boxing championship in Manitoba in 1922 and 1923. He was persuaded to resume his education at Brandon College, graduating in 1930 as "senior stick" or head of the student body. That June he was ordained in the Baptist church at Weyburn, Saskatchewan.

He married (?June 1930) a fellow graduate, Irma Dempsey, a farmer's daughter from Carberry. He and his wife lived in Ottawa. Their two daughters, Shirley and Joan, established their own careers and families. Shirley, an actress and political activist, married actor Donald Sutherland.

Tommy’s grandson Kiefer was born in London, while his parents were working in Britain. Kiefer, who plays federal agent Jack Bauer in the hit TV show 24, has also been politically active.
In May 2004, in Edinburgh, his stepdaughter, Michelle Kath, married actor Adam Sinclair

In 1984 Douglas was hit by an Ottawa bus but recovered. He died of cancer February 24, 1986.

See also:
•  Tommy Douglas is top citizen

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