31 December 2010

You're not a scientist...but want a cure for Spinal Cord Injury

Many Canadians will know the man in this picture. He was chosen the greatest Canadian in a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) poll. For those of you who don't know him, let me tell you who he was and more importantly, who he wasn't.

First of all, who he was. He was the premier of the province of Saskatchewan in Canada from 1944 to 1961. He led North America's first democratic socialist government and during that time made big improvements in the lives of Saskatchewans. He later became leader of the a new social democratic party, the New Democratic Party, after leaving Saskatchewan for national politics. And now, before I lose your attention, let me tell you who he wasn't.

He wasn't an engineer...
but he almost completely electrified rural Saskatchewan by creating the Saskatchewan Power Corporation.

He wasn't a teacher...
but he reorganized the public school system in order to equalize conditions and enrich the quality of education and increased the education budget.

He wasn't an economist...

but  from 1944 to 1948 the province of Saskatchewan saw balanced budgets in all of its first four years, while government spending rose by 20% (with impressive budget surpluses of $8 and $9 million in years one and two). Between 1951and 1959 government revenues rose from $63 million to $143 million. While spending grew, the province stayed in the black every year.

He wasn't a lawyer...
but in 1947 Douglas created and put into place Canada’s first Bill of Rights. It included protections for the freedoms of religion, speech, assembly and elections, while also legally prohibiting both racial and religious discrimination.

And most importantly, he wasn't a doctor...
but January 1, 1947 Douglas created Canada’s first universal and compulsory hospital insurance program, and on April 25,1959 Douglas announced his government’s intention to introduce a universal and comprehensive medical care insurance program for the province. He was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame and he is only one of three non-medical professional laureates of this society.

So how did this Scottish born immigrant to Canada and  Baptist minister who as a kid almost lost his leg to 
 Osteomyelitis because his parents couldn't afford the medical care make all these things happen? He inspired people to act and only eleven years after his party was created, he became the premier of Saskatchewan.

He didn't bring medical care to people by raising donations for hospitals. He did it by making sure that people knew that free medical care was their right.

He wasn't an expert in medicine, but knew how to use experts to achieve his goals. He didn't just wait for the experts, he organized the experts and worked with them to achieve the goals that were most important to people. He built a movement and it changed people's lives.

PS. To keep this blog short, I at first thought only about writing about how Tommy Douglas brought medical care to Saskatchewans and all Canadians. I decided not to use the approach because I wanted to be fair to Douglas' memory. 
More on Tommy Douglas and his achievements: http://www.tommydouglas.ca/?page_id=88

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