When people around the world think of Canada, they often think of free health care. Though it has been a struggle and continues to cause problems, in a sense, it is something that Canadians are proud to have.
It was unknown when Tommy Douglas, the 2004 CBC “The Greatest Canadian” winner, came to Canada from Scotland that he would end up influencing not only the province of Saskatchewan, but the nation. Settling with his family in Winnipeg upon arriving to Canada when young he would be treated by a surgeon for free, so long as the medical students he had could observe.
The Douglas family was not wealthy and would have been unable to afford the surgeon otherwise. The infection in his leg would have meant losing it if not for the doctor. It is said to be at this time Douglas realized the need for a medical system of some form for everyone to afford.
Douglas came to be elected to lead Saskatchewan as the first democratic socialist government in North America. His influence allowed for changes across the country, which began in the West, in Saskatchewan.
1944 saw pensioners granted free medical services and hospitalization, while the treatment of certain illness and diseases were made free. In 1947 he first introduced universal hospitalization to the province. At a $5 fee per person each year people were able to become ill without worrying about where to get the money to pay for the hospital bills. The cost was already taken care of by the treasury, which had collected the money from the population of Saskatchewan to deal with the cost.
In 1959 he took initiative and announced the Medicare plan for Saskatchewan. After winning in the 1960 election the people gave him the ability to create the Medical Care Insurance Plan. Though the general population was pleased to see it the Saskatchewan doctors were opposed to it. More than 600 doctors went on strike welcoming July 1, 1967, the first day of the new plan with distain. The strike lasted 23 days, but the Medicare plan that Douglas implemented became popularized and spread across Canada.
“It’s an important achievement, particularly since Medicare did not have an easy birth and continues to face challenges as it ages,” says Tom Graham, President of CUPE Saskatchewan.
Today it is something Canadians are glad to have, though there are issues with determining what is in the private or public sphere of medical care it is something intrinsically Canadian, which was first established in Saskatchewan.