On today’s date in 1944, Tommy Douglas won the Saskatchewan provincial election in a landslide vote after the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) took 47 of 52 seats to defeat William Patterson’s Liberal Party.
The CCF formed Canada’s first socialist government, at the helm of which was Douglas, who would serve as the premier of Saskatchewan for the next 17 years.
“People thought the world was coming to an end,” Douglas told Maclean’s magazine in 1985, “that this was the beginning of a Communist revolution and we were going to wreck the province, ruin the finances, repudiate all our debts. Imperial Oil were doing some small amount of drilling in Saskatchewan. They just picked up their drilling rigs and went home.”
Highlights of his first term include:
- creating Canada’s first publicly owned automotive insurance service, the Saskatchewan Government Insurance Office;
- drafting legislation to allow public-sector unions;
- launching the first program in North America to offer free hospital care to all citizens; and
- passing the Saskatchewan Bill of Rights, which protected fundamental freedoms as well as equal rights and preceded the United Nations’ adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by nearly two years.
In 1961, Douglas became the first leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP) as the CCF folded and re-organized under another name.
In 1998, Canada Post featured Douglas on a 45-cent multi-coloured stamp (Scott #1709d) as part of its 10-stamp “Provincial Premiers” issue.
Printed by the Canadian Bank Note Company on Tullis Russell coated paper, the stamp has general tagging along each side.
More recently, in 2012, Canada Post issued a stamp to honour Douglas as the father of universal medicare in Canada. The stamp also marked the 50th anniversary of the passing of Saskatchewan’s 1962 Medical Care Insurance Act.
Born in Scotland in 1904, Douglas immigrated to Canada with his family in 1910 and settled in Winnipeg. He grew up poor and developed an infection that would’ve cost him his leg—if his father didn’t meet a generous surgeon who agreed to treat the young boy for free, provided his students could observe the operation.
Through this experience, Douglas realized the need for all citizens to have access to medical care.
“As Canadians, we take many things for granted, including universal health care,” said Jim Phillips, director of stamp services for Canada Post. “It’s an honour to recognize the 50th anniversary of Saskatchewan’s Medical Care Insurance Act and the man who made it all possible.”
Stamp designer Derwyn Goodall honoured Yousuf Karsh’s classic portrait of Douglas while providing a modern backdrop showcasing the complexity and humane aspect of Canada’s medical profession.
The stamp measures 40 millimetres by 32 millimetres (horizontal). Printed by Lowe-Martin on Tullis Russell paper using seven-colour lithography plus varnish, the stamps are tagged along each side. An official first-day cover was cancelled in Weyburn, Sask., which was Douglas’ constituency for much of his political career.
He eventually died in Ottawa in 1986.