3.13.2006

mouseland

Thanks to a tip from James, I caught the beginning of the CBC miniseries "Prairie Giant: The Tommy Douglas Story".

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.

15 comments:

James said...

Other than FDR, the great American reformers who I admire all worked outside of the established system

I'm not sure if it's because Canadians just like "systems" more, or because the Canadian system is more flexible, or what, but a great deal of Canada's social reform has been "within the system". Tommy Douglas is one example, Pierre Trudeau's another. We don't have many historical heroes who worked entirely outside the system -- it's much more common for the reformers to force their way into the system and change it from the inside.

L-girl said...

it's much more common for the reformers to force their way into the system and change it from the inside.

It's an interesting distinction. In the US, those who go into mainstream politics intending to reform are usually (not always, but more often than not) gobbled up by the system, their reform either killed or diluted until it's toothless.

Scott M. said...

It's an interesting distinction. In the US, those who go into mainstream politics intending to reform are usually (not always, but more often than not) gobbled up by the system.

I think you'll find this is a result of having a multi-party system in place. It's much easier to present an alternate solution in another party, either by changing an existing party that leans towards your ideals or by starting your own.

We've seen both happen in recent times with the introduction of the Parti Quebequois, the Bloc Quebequois, and the Reform. The Reform later "transformed" the Progressive Conservatives into Conservatives after many reinventions of itself.

But this type of thing is not isolated to regionalized parties or right-winged parties, it's happened in the left as well. The NDP was previously the CCF (Cooperative Commonwealth Federation) and was born out of the depression along with the recently defunct Social Credit party.

All in all, the Canadian multi-party system has allowed major reforms to be proposed over time and has kept the "natural governing party" on it's toes. This has allowed the Liberals to "steal" some of the best ideas over the years and implement some of their own.

L-girl said...

More parties has to be better. That's one of the (many) reasons I dislike the calls for the NDP to merge with the Liberal Party, or for NDP voters to vote Liberal to supposedly stop the Conservatives.

The NDP was previously the CCF (Cooperative Commonwealth Federation) and was born out of the depression

Which I learned last night. :) The Depression gave rise and rebirth to radical politics in the US, too. Their ideas were folded into FDR's New Deal reforms, a big reason (again, one of many) that a viable socialist party died in the US.

Don't get me started, that's a topic I know a lot about... :)

Scott M. said...

Social Credit is a pretty cool movement (in theory anyway). The Socred's constant scandal in BC eventually killed the movement in the last holdout in Canada.

Socreds, while being "conservative" by Saskatchewan and BC standards, would be considered "lefty" or "centerist" by Ontarians.

James said...

It's an interesting distinction. In the US, those who go into mainstream politics intending to reform are usually (not always, but more often than not) gobbled up by the system, their reform either killed or diluted until it's toothless.

I think this relates to what I think is the biggest weakness with the US system -- corporate money. The last thing that most big corporations are interested in is social reform. In the US, it's common (and legal) for corporations to own legislators outright. The recent changes to food safety labels is a prime example -- one of the chief lobbyists for the industry is married to one of the chief authors of the bill.

The declaration that a legal construct like a corporation is a "person" for human rights purposes was one of the biggest disasters to happen to the US, politically -- and pretty bad for people outside the US as well, if their government didn't kowtow to US corporate interests. How many democratically elected governments has the US overthrown to benefit US companies?

L-girl said...

I think this relates to what I think is the biggest weakness with the US system -- corporate money.

It's the root of the entire dysfunctional system. It's why, bottom line, the two parties are just different coloured cats (and sometimes barely that).

How many democratically elected governments has the US overthrown to benefit US companies?

Whatever the number, it's a big one, and a shameful one. Most Americans don't even realize how many wars the country has fought for business interests, under the guise of some other patriotic b/s.

latour said...

My favorite quote:

"Man can now fly in the air like a bird, swim under the ocean like a fish, he can burrow into the ground like a mole. Now if only he could walk the earth like a man, this would be paradise." -Tommy Douglas

I watched it too last night. Tommy was a Canadian hero, the greatest of them all. What sickens me these days is when modern politicians who have not stood up for healthcare (except around election times, when they were trying to get votes) pretend to be like Tommy Doulgas, such as Paul Martin tries to do despite his cuts back when he was finance minister in the 90s.

"I don't mind being a symbol but I don't want to become a monument. There are monuments all over the Parliament Buildings and I've seen what the pigeons do to them." -Tommy Douglas

Perhaps the greatest monument to him is our healthcare system, something which no pigeon can crap on (well, except maybe Ralph Klein).

Can't wait to see the rest of it tonight!

James said...

It's the root of the entire dysfunctional system. It's why, bottom line, the two parties are just different coloured cats (and sometimes barely that).

One's solid grey, the other's a grey tabby.

sharonapple said...

Socreds, while being "conservative" by Saskatchewan and BC standards, would be considered "lefty" or "centerist" by Ontarians.

Wait a second, Socreds was a party that was founded on conservative monetary politics and "Christian values. (This is one reason a commentator said that Alberta moderating itself after it had elected the PC party into power over the Socreds.) They would fit in the right of the Ontario's political scene.

sharonapple said...

(Posted early.)

Tommy Douglas is one example, Pierre Trudeau's another.

(And Lester Pearson wasn't bad either.)

We don't have many historical heroes who worked entirely outside the system -- it's much more common for the reformers to force their way into the system and change it from the inside.

Part of the difference might be because of the two different systems. The Parlimentary system allows for change. If you have a majority, you dictate the path of the country. The checks and balances in American politics seems to just slow neded change -- one reason civil rights legislations was so hard to pass in the USA. It's easy to see how reformers can be crushed by the system or frustrated by it.

latour said...

I just finished watching the second half. It is even better than the first

L-girl said...

I just finished watching the second half. It is even better than the first

Damn! We taped it... but the tape screwed up and we didn't get it. I'll have to wait to rent the DVD.

latour said...

Hopefully they'll show it again in the not too distant future...

James said...

It was only a few months between the Trudeau miniseries and the DVD release. So it shouldn't be too long for the Tommy Douglas one.