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1986: Tommy Douglas dead at 81

The Story

The well-known founder of both medicare and Canada's social democratic movement died today in Ottawa at the age of 81. But Tommy Clement Douglas was lesser-known as a Baptist preacher in Saskatchewan. It was the pulpit that prepared him as one of the nation's most eloquent orators: a talent that helped him get his medicare message across. As premier of Saskatchewan in 1961, Douglas introduced the first hospital insurance program.With ever-present arm gesticulations, Douglas argued: "Instead of the doctor sending the bill to you, he will send the bill to the medical care plan."Stephen Lewis, Canada's ambassador to the United Nations, praises the orator tonight on The Journal. When Lewis was 18, he also advocated universal health care travelling with Douglas on the Saskatchewan campaign trail.He says Douglas embodied what Canadians are best known for worldwide: a kind spirit, intellect and an openness to those who are different.

Medium: Television
Program: The Journal
Broadcast Date: Feb. 24, 1986
Guest(s): Stephen Lewis
Host: Bill Cameron
Duration: 2:44
Photo: Library and Archives Canada; Copyright: Canada Post Corporation

Did You know?

• Thomas Clement Douglas was born in Scotland on Oct. 20, 1904. His family settled in Winnipeg in 1919, just in time to witness the Winnipeg General Strike. Douglas quit school at an early age to work. When he was 13 he worked at a Glaswegian whiskey factory, and at 14 for the Winnipeg Free Press.

• Douglas was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1930 after graduating from Brandon College. He studied social gospel, the belief that Christianity has a social purpose to improve this world and the next.

• In 1935, Douglas won the leadership race for the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) after an unsuccessful attempt one year earlier. Many attributed the victory to a new campaign tactic: making people laugh, especially during the dismal Depression years.

• After 17 years as Saskatchewan's premier, Douglas resigned to lead the New Democratic Party in 1961. The NDP was born out of his initiative and was an amalgamation of organized labour and the CCF. Douglas resigned as party leader in 1971 but held his seat in the House of Commons until 1979 when he retired from politics.
• In 1980, Douglas was made a Companion of the Order of Canada. He died of cancer at his home in Ottawa.

• Stephen Lewis became leader of the Ontario NDP in 1970. He resigned in 1977 to become a media commentator and labour arbitrator. From 1984 to '88, he was Canada's ambassador to the United Nations. In 2001, he was appointed the UN's special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa.


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