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Tommy Douglas and the NDP: Kiefer Sutherland fights for medicare

Tommy Douglas was the most influential politician never to be elected Prime Minister. He pursued his radical ideas relentlessly until they became so mainstream rival politicians claimed them as their own. Called a communist and threatened by in-party fighting, Douglas battled hard to bring the New Democratic Party to legitimacy in its first ten years. He was often criticized for his singular idealism but through it all Douglas was undeterred, convinced that he was helping to create a better, more humane society. In 2004, Douglas was voted number one in CBC's The Greatest Canadian contest.

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When Kiefer Sutherland was a child he asked his grandfather, Tommy Douglas, what defined Canadians. His answer was twofold: Canadian winters and medicare. The cold and brutal winters toughened the national character and medicare made all Canadians equal in our ability to care for ourselves. Tommy's daughter Shirley Douglas and Sutherland have come to Alberta to protest the privatization of medicare in Alberta. At a rally, the mother and son team speak with the same conviction as Tommy Douglas. "This is an issue of humanity," Sutherland pleads to crowd. 
• Shirley Douglas studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. Douglas was married to Canadian actor Donald Sutherland for five years. They had two children; twins Rachel and Kiefer. She had one son, Tom, from a previous marriage.
• In 1969 Shirley Douglas was arrested for storing bombs for the underground resistance movement the Black Panthers in her home in California. Shirley had been active in organizing a breakfast program for children living in Los Angeles' slums. No bombs were found in her home and the charges were dropped. Tommy Douglas went to Los Angeles to support his daughter.

• Following Shirley Douglas' arrest, Tommy Douglas declared that he was "proud of the fact that my daughter believes, as I do, that hungry children should be fed, whether they are Black Panthers or white Republicans."
• After her divorce from Donald Sutherland in 1971, Shirley Douglas returned to Canada with her children.
Medium: Radio
Program: As It Happens
Broadcast Date: April 17, 2000
Guest(s): Shirley Douglas, Kiefer Sutherland
Host: Barbara Budd
Duration: 4:11

Last updated: March 7, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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