Thomas Clement Douglas was born on Oct. 20, 1904 in Falkirk, Scotland to Tom Douglas and Anne Clement. He is the first of three children, which included sisters Annie and Isobel.
Douglas would frequently cite the goodwill of Smith as the inspiration for his
model of universal medical care. "Through the years I came to believe that
health services ought not to have a price-tag on them," he said. "And that
people should be able to get whatever health services they required
irrespective of their individual capacity to pay."
Douglas put his gregarious nature to good use as a child, performing monologues
and recitations of poetry at family functions, and even taking small roles in
a Winnipeg vaudeville theatre. A local theatre owner was so impressed that he
offered to pay the young Douglas's way through formal drama school. Douglas
declined, telling an interviewer years later that he "never really liked being
an echo of someone else's lines. I wanted to make up my own lines in life."
Douglas was delivering newspapers with a friend on June 21, 1919 when the
events of "Bloody Saturday" broke out around him. Climbing to safe spot on
top of a building, the 14-year-old Douglas watched as RCMP officer tried to
quell striking workers by firing into the crowd. Two men died as a result and
J.S. Woodsworth, the founding leader of the CCF, was arrested.
At the time J.S. Woodsworth was the Douglas family's pastor. Douglas would
later serve under him in 1935 as a member of the CCF caucus in Ottawa.
Self-conscious about his small stature, Douglas started training to box at the
age of 15. Only 135 pounds at the time, he became the sparring partner for
more established boxers at a union-owned gym in Winnipeg.
In 1924 Douglas enrolled in Brandon College, a combination liberal-arts-and-
Bible-school run by the Baptist Church. Over the space of six years - he had
to complete three extra years to make up for his spotty high school record -
he developed his progressive notion of the "social gospel" which believed in
actively carrying out Christian beliefs in practical ways.
Douglas completed his MA in Sociology at Hamilton's McMaster University and
did post-graduate studies at the University of Chicago where he studied the
living conditions of the homeless.
In 1931, Douglas is ordained as a minister in the Baptist church and takes up
his first ministry in Weyburn, Saskatchewan. It was here that he sees the
combined effects of drought and the Depression on the local farmers. A riot of
disgruntled miners later that same year ends with three men dead after the
RCMP fire on the crowd.
In 1934, after he lost in a provincial election, Baptist church officials
warn him to stay out of politics or risk losing his ministry. He ignores them
and runs as a CCF candidate in the 1935 federal election, hiring an unemployed
fortune-teller as his campaign manager. He wins his first elected office in
the federal riding of Weyburn.
One of seven CCF candidates to win election, the 31-year-old Douglas headed to
Ottawa where he rented a room in the YMCA. Though a rookie politician, Douglas
delivered 16 speeches in his first session. His rousing oratory was enough to
prompt Prime Minister Mackenzie King to offer him a job within the Liberal
Party. He declines.
Later in his political career he would be asked, on CBC Television's "This
Hour Has Seven Days", about his failure to take up the offer to switch sides
to a more established party. "I'm not interested in getting power unless you
can do something with this power," he replied. "I have watched politicians for
the last 40 years drop their principles in order to get power, only to find
that those who controlled the party that they joined prevented them from doing
all the things that they really believed in."
On his doctor's recommendation Douglas took up various hobbies as a way of
reducing his stress level. A small mink farm failed to hold his interest for
long, and a later venture with a drive-in theatre caused his opposition to
criticize him for setting up a den of iniquity for teenagers. His critics
dubbed his new hobby "the premier's passion pit."
The move to universal Medicare was fought tooth-and-nail by members of the
medical community who feared that the plan would undermine their profession.
Both the Canadian and the American Medical Association contributed to the
opposition Liberals in an effort to de-rail the program. In 1961, after
Douglas had moved on to the new federal NDP, Saskatchewan's medical community
waged a prominent public campaign against Medicare, claiming it would force
doctors and specialists out of the province. Despite this, and an eventual
strike, the Medicare bill was passed in a special session of Parliament on
Douglas would later point out that despite the medical community's
protestations, the vast majority of medical professionals stayed put in the
province. In fact, in the first year of widespread Medicare the average annual
income for doctors increased by an average of $3,000.
During the 1970 October Crisis of 1970 Douglas refused to support Trudeau's
use of the War Measures Act in Quebec. The decision to vote against the motion
(which passed with a majority vote) was not viewed favourably; the NDP's
approval rating dropped to seven per cent in public opinion polls. Still,
Douglas maintained that the Trudeau was going too far: "The government, I
submit, is using a sledgehammer to crack a peanut." 465 people were arrested
and held without being charged during the time the Act was in effect.
Douglas retired from the leadership of the party in 1971, prompting Pierre
Berton to say: "Where would we be without the NDP? It and its predecessor
have been the conscience of Canada, often at the risk of our own popularity."
Douglas is succeeded by David Lewis, but stays on as the NDP's energy critic.
In 1981 Douglas is diagnosed with having inoperable cancer. He continues to
attend conventions despite his ill health. He dies on Feb. 24, 1986 in
Actor Kiefer Sutherland is Tommy Douglas's grandson, by his daughter, actress
Shirley Douglas and actor Donald Sutherland. In April 2000, Sutherland and his
mother took part in a rally in Calgary to protest the privatization of
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