Before this, the only things I knew about Douglas was that he's called "the father of medicare," that he was an NDP leader, a long-time Premier of Saskatchewan, and that he was voted "The Greatest Canadian" by viewers of the CBC series of that name.
I learned this since coming to Canada, of course. Previously, I shared with all other Americans a complete ignorance of Canadian history.
Now that I know a little more about Douglas, I'm extremely impressed with his being chosen as Greatest Canadian. It speaks volumes about this country.
From the CBC:
Not just because he was the father of Medicare, but because he changed the way we live. The eight-hour work day, guaranteed minimum wage, government funding for the arts, the first declaration of human rights that outlawed discrimination on the basis of race or gender ... that's all Tommy Douglas, a Baptist preacher from Saskatchewan who created the Canada we live in and love today.The only US equivalent - a reformer of this scale who worked within the system - might be Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR had different motivations - he was trying to save capitalism and prevent a socialist revolution - and he was continually pushed by his radical wife, my great hero, Eleanor Roosevelt.
Other than FDR, the great American reformers who I admire all worked outside of the established system, through women's groups, unions, churches, grassroots groups - through whatever it took. Most of them were outlaws during their lifetimes, loathed and smeared by the media, spied on, harassed and often jailed by the government. Some would later be lauded as heroes after their radical ideas became accepted by the mainstream. Witness the posthumous praise heaped on Martin Luther King, Jr, through a scaled-down and sanitized version of his legacy, or the image of Malcolm X on a US postage stamp.
Anyway. Tommy Douglas. I am really impressed. I'd like to see a documentary about his life, as opposed to a dramatization. If there isn't one out there, I'll just have to read a book.
It was also interesting to see how much history Canada shares with the US: the dust bowl, the depression, the humiliations of "government relief," the brutality of government-hired strikebreakers, labour leaders smeared as communists. Canadians need to remember that history, which those in power in the U.S. have long forgotten and ignored.
I'll close by reprinting this famous speech of Douglas's. I could hear this a hundred times, I'd never get tired of it. It makes me proud to call myself a socialist.
From The Tommy Douglas Research Institute: "Mouseland".
This is the story of a place called Mouseland. Mouseland was a place where all the little mice lived and played. Were born and died. And they lived much as you and I do. They even had a parliament. And every four years they had an election. They used to walk to the polls and cast their ballot. Some of them even got a ride to the polls. They got a ride for the next four years afterward too. Just like you and me. And every time on election day, all the little mice used to go to the ballot box and they used to elect a government. A government made up of big black fat cats.
Now if you think it's strange that mice should elect a government made up of cats. You just look at the history of Canada for the last ninety years and maybe you'll see they weren’t any stupider than we are.
Now I am not saying anything against the cats. They were nice fellows; they conducted the government with dignity. They passed good laws. That is, laws that were good for cats.
But the laws that were good for cats weren't very good for mice. One of the laws said that mouse holes had to be big enough so a cat could get his paw in. Another law said that mice could only travel at certain speeds so that a cat could get his breakfast without too much physical effort.
All the laws were good laws for cats. But oh, they were hard on the mice. And life was getting harder and harder. And when the mice couldn't put up with it anymore they decided something had to be done about it. So they went en masse the polls.
They voted the black cats out. They put in the white cats.
The white cats had put up a terrific campaign. They said all that Mouseland needs is more vision. They said the trouble with Mouseland is those round mouse holes we've got. If you put us in we'll establish square mouse holes. And they did. And the square mouse holes were twice as big as the round mouse holes. And now the cat could get both his paws in. And life was tougher than ever.
And when they couldn't take that anymore they voted the white cats out and put the black ones in again. And then they went back to the white cats, and then to the black, they even tried half black cats and half white cats. And they called that coalition. They even got one government made up with up cats with spots on them. They were cats that tried to make a noise like a mouse but they ate like a cat.
You see my friends the trouble wasn't with the colour of the cats. The trouble was that they were cats. And because they were cats they naturally look after cats instead of mice.
Presently there came along one little mouse who had an idea. My friends watch out for the little fellow with an idea. He said to the other mice. "Look fellows, why do we keep electing a government made up of cats, why don't we elect a government made up of mice?" Oh, they said, he’s a Bolshevik. So they put him in jail. But I want to remind you that you can lock up a mouse or a man but you can't lock up an idea.