Tommy Douglas, the Canadian 'Father of Medicare'

Tommy Douglas Speaks In Britain

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A small man with a huge personality, Tommy Douglas was gregarious, witty, feisty and kind. The leader of the first socialist government in North America, Douglas brought massive change to the province of Saskatchewan and led the way for many social reforms in the rest of Canada. Douglas is considered the Canadian "father of Medicare." In 1947 Douglas introduced universal hospitalization in Saskatchewan and in 1959 announced a Medicare plan for Saskatchewan. Here's more about Douglas' career as a Canadian politician.

Premier of Saskatchewan

1944 to 1961

Leader of the Federal New Democratic Party

1961 to 1971

Career Highlights of Tommy Douglas

Douglas introduced universal hospitalization in Saskatchewan in 1949 and a Medicare plan for Saskatchewan in 1959. While the premiere of Saskatchewan, Douglas and his government created many state-owned enterprises, called Crown Corporations, including the establishment of provincial air and bus lines, SaskPower and SaskTel. He and the Saskatchewan CCF oversaw industrial development that reduced the province's dependence on agriculture, and they also introduced the first public automobile insurance in Canada.


Douglas was born Oct. 20, 1904, in Falkirk, Scotland. The family emigrated to Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1910. They returned to Glasgow during World War I but came back to settle in Winnipeg in 1919.


Douglas died of cancer Feb. 24, 1986, in Ottawa, Ontario.


Douglas earned his bachelor's degree in 1930 from Brandon College in Manitoba. He then earned his master's degree in sociology in 1933 from McMaster University in Ontario.

Professional Background

Douglas began his career as Baptist minister. He moved to Weyburn, Saskatchewan after ordination in 1930. During the Great Depression, he joined the Co-Operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), and in 1935, he was elected to the House of Commons.

Political Affiliation

He was a member of the CCF from 1935 to 1961. He became the leader of Saskatchewan CCF in 1942. The CCF was dissolved in 1961 and was succeeded by the New Democratic Party (NDP). Douglas was a member of the NDP from 1961 to 1979.

Political Career of Tommy Douglas

Douglas first moved into active politics with the Independent Labour Party and became President of the Weyburn Independent Labour Party in 1932. He ran for the first time in the 1934 Saskatchewan general election as a Farmer-Labour candidate but was defeated. Douglas was first elected to the House of Commons when he ran in the riding of Weyburn for the CCF in the federal general election of 1935.

While he was a federal member of parliament, Douglas was elected president of the Saskatchewan provincial CCF in 1940 and then elected leader of the provincial CCF in 1942. Douglas resigned his federal seat to run in the Saskatchewan general election of 1944. He led the Saskatchewan CCF to a massive victory, winning 47 of 53 seats. It was the first democratic socialist government elected in North America. Douglas was sworn in as Premier of Saskatchewan in 1944. He held the office for 17 years, during which he pioneered major social and economic reforms.

In 1961, Douglas resigned as Premier of Saskatchewan to lead the federal New Democratic Party, formed as an alliance between the CCF and the Canadian Labour Congress. Douglas was defeated in the federal election of 1962 when he ran in the riding of Regina City mainly because of a backlash towards the Saskatchewan government's introduction of Medicare. Later in 1962, Tommy Douglas won a seat in the British Columbia riding of Burnaby-Coquitlam in a by-election.

Defeated in 1968, Douglas won the riding of Nanaimo-Cowichan-The Islands in 1969 and held it until his retirement. In 1970, he took a stand against the adoption of the War Measures Act during the October Crisis. It seriously affected his popularity.

Douglas stepped down as leader of the New Democratic Party in 1971. He was followed by David Lewis as NDP leader. Douglas took on the role of NDP energy critic until he retired from politics in 1979.

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Munroe, Susan. "Tommy Douglas, the Canadian 'Father of Medicare'." ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, Munroe, Susan. (2020, August 25). Tommy Douglas, the Canadian 'Father of Medicare'. Retrieved from Munroe, Susan. "Tommy Douglas, the Canadian 'Father of Medicare'." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).