CBC Digital Archives

Lesson Plan: For Teachers: Tommy Douglas' Legacy

History, Political Science
2 to 3 lessons
To explore the political and historical legacy of Tommy Douglas and the political parties he led, to prepare a summary
Using a variety of web-based resources, students will create a media presentation to summarize Tommy Douglas' political and historical legacy.

Lesson Plan


T.C. "Tommy" Douglas was one of the most important Canadian politicians of the 20th century. As premier of Saskatchewan and, later, as first federal leader of the NDP, Douglas promoted ideas that were once considered extremely radical, but which later came to be accepted by politicians of all parties. The most important of these was his advocacy of free, universal medical care, which he introduced in Saskatchewan before the concept was introduced in any other province. Douglas was never afraid to put his core principles ahead of political expediency. Canada owes a great deal to this man and his life-long struggle to make a more just and caring society.

The Task

In any media of their choice (website, song, poem, visual presentation, software presentation, and so on), students will prepare a summary of the legacy of Tommy Douglas and the parties with which he was associated, the CCF and NDP. Students should select one of the following time periods or topics as a focus of their research:


The Winnipeg General Strike and the rise of socialist parties

J.S. Woodsworth, leader of the CCF 1933-42

The founding of the CCF, 1933

The CCF and the Great Depression

M.J. Coldwell, leader of the CCF 1942-58

Tommy Douglas and the CCF victory in Saskatchewan, 1944

The founding of the NDP, 1961

The introduction of medicare in Saskatchewan, 1961

The NDP under Tommy Douglas' leadership, 1961-71

The NDP's impact on Canadian politics and society, 1961-present

The "Waffle" Movement and its impact on the NDP, 1969-72

David Lewis and the NDP, 1971-75

The NDP and the Liberal minority government of Pierre Trudeau, 1972-74

Ed Broadbent and the NDP, 1975-89

Provincial NDP governments in Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Ontario

Audrey McLaughlin and the decline of the NDP, 1989-95

Alexa McDonough and the NDP, 1995-2003

Jack Layton and attempts to rebuild the NDP, 2003-

The failure of the NDP to gain support in Quebec

Future prospects for the NDP and the Canadian left

Students should consider the importance of the CCF/NDP in Canadian politics and society over the course of the 20th century, including the NDP's current situation and future prospects. Students will complete their summaries by considering and responding to the following questions:

How has the existence of a democratic socialist party affected Canadian politics?

Why do think the NDP has not, to date, succeeded in forming a federal government?

What difference does the presence of a democratic socialist party on the political scene in Canada make, especially compared to the United States, where no such force exists?

The Process

Students will begin their research on the topics The Birth of Medicare and Tommy Douglas and the NDP on the CBC Digital Archives website.  Students can then expand their research to include any resources they find useful and relevant. Students should include a list of works cited in their final product.


Students can share their summaries over several days. As a class, discuss significant events, failures, and successes of the CCF/NDP. Record their ideas and, as a class, discuss the most important aspects of the legacy the political left has had on Canadian politics and society, from the 1930s to the present day.

Resources for this Topic

Berlin, Z. David and Howard Aster, ed. What's Left? The NDP in Renewal. Oakville, ON: Mosaic Press, 2001.
Douglas, T.C. The Making of a Socialist: The Recollections of T.C. Douglas. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1982.
McLeod, Ian. Under Siege: The Federal NDP in the Nineties. Toronto: James Lorimer, 1994.
McLeod, Thomas H., and Ian McLeod. Tommy Douglas: The Road to Jerusalem. Edmonton: Hurtig, 1987.
Shackleton, Doris. Tommy Douglas. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1975.

Tommy Douglas: Keeper of the Flame. (National Film Board of Canada, 1986: Elise Swerhone, dir.)

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