“Courage, my friends; ‘tis not too late to build a better world.”
On April 5, 2004, The Greatest Canadian was launched by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to determine who was considered to be the greatest Canadian of all time. No one was surprised when the honour went to Tommy Douglas, a charismatic, outspoken statesman and the “Father of Medicare.” Born in Scotland in 1904, he immigrated with his family to Canada in 1910, settling in Winnipeg, Manitoba. A leg injury sustained in Scotland became a medical emergency when a bone marrow infection threatened his life. His leg would have to be amputated. His parents had limited resources and could not afford medical treatment. And then the miracle happened. A well-respected orthopedic surgeon took a special interest in the case. He agreed to treat Tommy for free if his parents permitted medical students to observe the procedure. Several operations later, the leg was saved.
Tommy witnessed the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike where police charged strikers with clubs and guns. He lived through the depression and was deeply disturbed by the poverty that visited a once thriving middle class. Tommy would become the Premier of the Province of Saskatchewan in 1944. His party, the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party, was the first democratic socialist government in Canada, and, incidentally, the first for all of North America. In 1950, Premier Tommy Douglas was the first head of any government in Canada to call for a constitutional bill of rights. No other province supported his call to action. Thirty years later, on April 17, 1982, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was established.
Tommy Douglas’s primary goal was the creation of a universal health care system. The program was launched in Saskatchewan in 1962. He took it to the next level by taking leadership of the federal New Democratic Party. He saw he dream fulfilled for all of Canada in 1966.
The audacity of one doctor to save a life, planted memories that forged a spirit of courage and determination in a young boy. The doctor never considered that his act of goodwill would change the direction of an entire nation.
“I felt that no boy should have to depend either for his leg or his life upon the ability of his parents to raise enough money to bring a first-class surgeon to his bedside.”
Post Script – Tommy Douglas is the grandfather of Keifer Sutherland!