Thomas Clement ‘Tommy’ Douglas was the first leader of the New Democratic Party and the Premier of Saskatchewan. In 1935, as a member of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, he was elected to the Canadian House of Commons as a Baptist Minister (CCF). He was the seventh Premier of Saskatchewan from 1944 to 1961. During his tenure as premier, he pioneered innovative ideas that transformed Saskatchewan and paved the way for a slew of other social reforms across the country. He introduced the continent’s first single-payer, universal health care program during his presidency, which was the first democratic socialist government in North America. He established universal hospitalization in Saskatchewan in 1947 and announced a Medicare plan for the province in 1959. Later, he stepped down as Premier to lead the New Democratic Party (NDP), making him the country’s first federal leader. In 1979, he stepped down from active politics. In 2004, the CBS Television program named him the “Greatest Canadian” for his contributions as a political leader.
Childhood and Adolescence
Tommy Douglas was born on October 20, 1904, in Camelon, Falkirk, Scotland, to Annie and Thomas Douglas. His father worked as an iron moulder and served in the Boer War.
Douglas suffered from osteomyelitis as a child, and his condition worsened as he grew older. In 1910, the family relocated to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. There, he received free treatment from an orthopaedic surgeon for his condition. This experience prompted him to advocate for free health-care services.
During World War I, he moved to Scotland for a short time before returning to Canada in 1918. He was inspired to protect fundamental rights after witnessing the General Strike.
He finished his basic education at an elementary school. He dropped out of high school to work as a soap boy, cork buyer, and Linotype operator, among other jobs. He completed a five-year apprenticeship in order to obtain journeyman’s papers, but then left to become an ordained minister.
He enrolled at Brandon College in 1924 to complete his high school education and study theology. He also studied Greek philosophy and took a course in socialism. Meanwhile, he worked as a student minister, preaching sermons and advocating for social reforms to help support his education.
He enrolled at McMaster University after graduating from Brandon College and received his MA in Sociology in 1933. Meanwhile, to finish his PhD, he began conducting research in the Depression-era “jungles” or hobo camps in 1931. However, he was never able to finish his PhD due to a number of disturbing facts discovered during his fieldwork.
Career of Tommy
He began working as an ordained minister at Calvary Baptist Church after completing his education. But, rather than being a religious preacher, he became a social activist.
In 1935, he was elected to the Canadian House of Commons as a member of the new Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) political party. During World War II, he enlisted in the Canadian Army as a private.
He earned a reputation as a skilled and witty debater during his two terms as a CCF Leader. In defense of civil liberties, he took unpopular stands. In 1942, he was elected as the leader of the Saskatchewan CCF due to his popularity.
He resigned from his federal seat in 1944 to run in the general election in Saskatchewan. He ended up winning 47 of the 53 seats in the Legislative Assembly, forming North America’s first democratic socialist government.
He ruled for 17 years as Premier of Saskatchewan, winning all subsequent provincial elections until 1960. During his reign, he implemented a number of innovative and effective programs that transformed society as a whole.
He proposed the formation of the publicly owned Saskatchewan Power Corporation, which would provide electricity to remote farms and villages. In addition, he enacted legislation that allowed for the unionization of the public sector, the establishment of Canada’s first publicly owned automobile insurance company, and the establishment of a large number of Crown Corporations.
The introduction of government-funded health insurance was a groundbreaking innovation for his government. It all started with the creation of Canada’s first hospital insurance plan, which eventually led to the creation of a national plan that aided in the funding of diagnostic services as part of hospital operating costs. He then put in place a full-fledged health-insurance system.
From a young age, he was inspired to protect fundamental rights, and he established the Bill of Rights, which safeguarded fundamental freedom and equality of rights against government and private institutions, as well as individual abuse. Despite receiving little support at first, the proposal eventually gained traction and led to the adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
He resigned from his position as Premier in 1961 to become the leader of the federal New Democratic Party. An alliance between the CCF and organized labor resulted in the formation of the party. He inspired and motivated party workers to work harder as a motivational speaker, explaining democratic socialism to them in terms of religion, morality, and ethics.
Despite being an effective leader, he was defeated by Ken More in the federal election of 1962. His defeat was largely due to a province-wide strike by doctors protesting his implementation of Medicare policy.
Despite this, he won a seat in the by-election and was re-elected to the House of Commons in 1963 and 1965. He was elected in a by-election in 1969 and served as the NDP’s leader until 1971. In 1971, he resigned as NDP leader but kept his seat in the House of Commons. He held the position until 1979, when he retired from electoral politics.
Achievements & Awards
In 1980, he received honorary degrees from the University of Saskatchewan, McMaster University, Queen’s University, University of Regina, Carleton University, University of British Columbia, and Trent University, among others.
He was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1981 for his contributions as a political leader and public policy innovator.
He received the Saskatchewan Order of Merit in 1985. To honor his contribution as a political leader, Brandon University built a student union building.
Personal History and Legacy
Irma Dempsey, a music student at Brandon College, was his bridesmaid. Shirley Douglas, their daughter, was born to them as a couple. Joan, their second daughter, was adopted.
He was injured in an accident in 1984, but he recovered quickly. His health, however, soon failed him, and his memory deteriorated.
He died of cancer on February 24, 1986, and was buried at Beechwood Cemetery. After his death, a park was named after him near Lake Diefenbaker and the Qu’Appelle River Dam in Saskatchewan. In his hometown of Weyburn, he has a statue of himself. His name has been given to a number of schools, colleges, and housing societies.
Tommy Douglas: Keeper of the Flame, a 1986 documentary that won a Gemini Award for Best Writing in a Documentary Program or Series, was also about him.
Estimated Net Worth
Tommy is one of the wealthiest politicians and one of the most well-known. Tommy Douglas has a net worth of $4 million, according to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.
He established the first democratic socialist government in North America and Canada.