Premier of Saskatchewan 1944-1961
Have you ever read a book and it changes your life? Seriously, some have a bigger impact than others but reading “Tommy Douglas, The Road To Jerusalem” during the COVID quarantine in the spring of 2020 aided my evolving views on public policy. It gave me a fresh perspective to reflect and absorb. Another book I highly recommend which is about Saskatchewan is False Expectations by Dale Eisler, even a better.
If you grew up in Saskatchewan in the 60’s and 70’s or even the ‘80’s you knew who Tommy Douglas was. He is best known to be the Father of Medicare and was crowned Canada’s Greatest Canadian by a CBC on-line poll on a television show in 2004. Those two honours alone stand as a testament to a man who forever changed the landscape of this Province, and the country for that matter, forever.
Knowing of these accomplishments was one thing, having worked with him would have been another and reading a book co-authored by a man who did work with him is likely the next best thing. Obviously, this book will have a positive bias, you can find others that criticize and attack him, such is the life of a public figure. But the reason I am writing this book isn’t to judge ideology, it is to express my views on who have had the greatest influence on me politically in my life and why.
I chose Douglas and the other four men (and one woman who is on the bench still) because of what they did for Saskatchewan and or Canada, and what skills they used to accomplish them. I am not going to dwell on their failures or their perceived flaws but rather focus on their accomplishments and the characteristics that made them great. They all served with the greatest of intention and brought something unique to the table.
Douglas was a young preacher when the socialist movement started in Canada and namely in Saskatchewan. He was a Federal Member of Parliament before being persuaded to run for the leadership of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) (the precursor to the NDP). The CCF was born in 1933 and are famous for the Regina Manifesto which, among other things called for the complete eradication of capitalism!
In 1944 Douglas became Premier, a title he would hold until he resigned in 1961. Douglas was full of energy and an amazing speaker. He connected to the grassroots of Saskatchewan, the labourers and farmers who made up over 90% of the population at that time. He arrived on the scene at a time that these people needed a leader that could improve their lives and a plan that was easily explained on how to do accomplish it. They had been knee capped not only by the Great Depression but also the greatest drought in history, referred to as the Dirty Thirties.
As if the massive drought and global depression weren't enough, Saskatchewan had Ottawa imposing oppressive tariffs on their grain but paid full fair on machinery manufactured in Ontario. Labourers were working long hours for minimal pay and in many instances in hazardous working conditions. Saskatchewan needed a saviour and Douglas was there. He was the right man, at the right place at the right time.
Some things’ never change about Ottawa, in fact, in what was today's equivalent of the equalization formula , Saskatchewan received a mere $3.55 per capita, in what was called a tariff subsidy, while Ontario received $64.42 and Quebec $46.23! Sound familiar?
Douglas was attacked vigorously by the Liberal press as being Communist ready to steal the land and businesses. Part of that threat was real and Douglas jokes that he went from schoolhouse to schoolhouse having to convince farmers that they weren’t going to take their land away. But so he should have, had to explain. I guess the academics in Montreal and Toronto that drafted the Regina Manifesto didn’t consider farmers as capitalists.
Douglas was tenacious, hard working, energetic and determined. In addition to Medicare he brought electricity to the farms and villages, he helped formed unions to protect workers rights and introduced the Saskatchewan Bill of Rights in 1947.
What made Douglas so special was his drive. The kind of drive that comes with genuine passion. And Douglas was passionate. He cared deeply for the poor and the destitute and he served to make sure their way of life improved, and that he did. People like my maternal grandparents voted for Mr. Douglas until the day they died. He had saved their farm and so much else.
In conclusion, Douglas was a visionary, a great orator and debater, tenacious and hated to lose. He will be fondly remembered as a great contributor to our Province when the Province need him most, even if he and the Party didn’t change with shifting economic times. Had they done that, the NDP might still be in power today, but that is for another blog.
In Love of the Great Province we call Saskatchewan,