Elected June 15, 1944, Tommy Douglas and the CCF formed the first socialist government in North America. Winning 47 of 52 seats, Tommy had received a clear mandate to turn his party’s electoral platform, the Program for Saskatchewan, into legislation. In the shadow of the Second World War, Saskatchewan’s voters were persuaded that their provincial government needed a more ambitious agenda that would target full employment, public health and social well being.
There were massive hurdles to overcome. The changing nature of the state required that the Douglas CCF government develop a brand new way of creating policy and putting it into place, while also requiring that they spend immense amounts money to improve a wide range of public services, from health and education, to communications and transportation. Though today the CCF government in Saskatchewan is best remembered for the creation of innovative public policy such as Medicare, they were also far ahead of their times in their thinking about politics and in the ways they organized their government.
It was a combination of humanitarian idealism and courage that allowed for the transformation of the relatively poor, remote and agrarian province of Saskatchewan into Canada’s leader in progressive social policy. Here are some of the major achievements of the Douglas CCF government in Saskatchewan from 1944 to the early 1960’s:
1944-1948 – Premier Douglas assumed the role of Health Minister during the first term of his government, during which time the first steps towards Medicare were taken. New policies and building projects were based partly on the recommendations of the new Health Services Planning Commission. Major innovations included:
- Free health care for pensioners,
- Free psychiatric hospital treatment for the mentally ill, as well as the construction of Mental Health Clinics,
- Free cancer treatment for those in need,
- The creation of the first comprehensive health services region,
- Construction of new health care facilities,
- The creation of the College of Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan,
- Air Ambulance to transport those in rural areas to central or regional hospitals.
January 1, 1947 – Douglas created Canada’s first universal and compulsory hospital insurance program – the Universal Hospital Services plan. It was the first program in North America to provide complete benefits to all residents. The legislation offered:
- Expanded hospital facilities (21 new hospitals over 4 years),
- X-rays and lab services,
- Common drugs and other hospital services,
- Compensation for a share of out of province medical costs,
- With payment for the insurance at a rate of $5 per person to a maximum of $30 per family.
April 25,1959 – Douglas announced his government’s revolutionary intention to introduce a universal and comprehensive medical care insurance program for the province. Nearing the end of his government’s fourth term in office, and with Prime Minister Diefenbaker’s newfound willingness to share in the cost of any universal health plan developed by a provincial government, the time was right for Douglas to proceed with his vision. His plan, however, was strongly opposed by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan, which not only governed and upheld the competency of the province’s medical professionals, but also protected the interests of the doctors.
June 8, 1960 – Douglas and his CCF Party’s overwhelming election victory represented the public approval necessary to bring the universal health insurance plan to fruition. Medicare, the revolutionary part of their election platform, was founded upon the following three major themes:
- A public system was necessary because a universal and comprehensive healthcare package would require citizens of the province to pay extremely high private insurance premiums,
- A lot of public money was needed to fund such an extensive program,
- The largesse of the program would require the government to be accountable for it’s management.
November 17, 1961 – Saskatchewan Medical Care Insurance Act
The Act, put into legislation by new CCF Premier Woodrow S. Lloyd mere weeks after replacing the departed Tommy Douglas, gave the Medical Care Insurance Commission the power to run the new universal insurance system. In 1962 when the program came into effect, the premiums that replaced the payments for private insurance were $12 per individual per year or $24 for families. All Saskatchewanians would collectively pay for those who were sick, and all could be reassured that a terrible illness in the family wouldn’t lead to bankruptcy.
The government re-organized the public school system in order to equalize conditions and enrich the quality of education. The Department of Education made the following reforms:
- The establishment of larger school units (from one room schoolhouses in many cases),
- Increased wages for teaches, with a new salary structure,
- The reworking of the high school curriculum,
- Reorganization of the superintendent system,
- A new system of school grants,
- An increased education budget.
The CCF government also increased access to university or college level education by providing:
- Funding grants to the universities and colleges,
- Entrance scholarships for graduating secondary students.
The Douglas government created significant trade union legislation and created many of the rights that workers now take for granted.
- The Trade Union Act: Revolutionary in Canada, the act guaranteed for workers the right to organize and to bargain collectively. It also created the Labour Relations Board.
- The minimum wage was increased.
- The Workers Compensation Board (also previously created) improved benefits and removed the waiting period for those who qualified.
- The 44-hour work week was made mandatory.
- Employers were forced to provide their employees two weeks vacation with pay.
The Social Welfare Department, created during the early years of the Douglas government:
- Increased old age pension dramatically,
- Increased and extended mothers’ allowances,
- Increased welfare benefits,
- Legislated that free medical and hospital care be provided to welfare recipients.
The Social Welfare Department also made progressive changes to the Child Welfare Act.
- The Social Welfare ministry assumed wardship of orphaned children from the unregulated private organizations that had been providing care before.
- Qualified social workers were hired to supervise the program.
- A better adoption system was created.
- The Department took responsibility for youth corrections.
1945 – The Saskatchewan Government Insurance Office was created. Covering all areas with the exception of life insurance, low cost premiums were made available to all citizens of the province.
1946 – One of the CCF government’s finest innovations was a system of compulsory no-fault auto insurance.
Agriculture, Industrial Development and Infrastructure
1944 – The Farm Security Act: One of the most controversial pieces of legislation created by the Douglas government, the Act was challenged in the courts because the Federal government claimed it provided farmers with too much protection from creditors. The act was designed to safeguard farm owners from foreclosure and repossession of their assets.
1944 – Douglas’ government created the Industrial Development division of the Department of Natural Resources. The CCF increased resource royalties, and allowed the provincial government to spearhead industrial and resource development projects.
The Douglas government established two essential public utilities, and ran them as provincial Crown corporations:
- The Saskatchewan Power Corporation in 1949,
- Saskatchewan Government Telephone in 1947, separating it from the governmental Department of Telephones.
1946 – The Saskatchewan Transportation Company, another provincial Crown corporation, was created to provide cheap bus services between cities and the rural areas. The company moved into freight transportation as well in the 1950’s.
1951 – The Rural Electrification Act was passed to provide power for farmers and rural communities.
- The investment in the Saskatchewan Power Corporation grew from $40 million in 1952-53 to $101 million in 1955-56, when the project was nearing completion.
- Funding for Saskatchewan Government Telephone also grew from $19 million to $43 million during the same period, reaching $73.5 million by 1959-60.
Major investments in energy and transportation infrastructure were made between 1952 and 1960.
- The opening of gas fields (natural gas and oil), and the building of pipelines.
- Natural gas lines were connected to all cities by 1956.
- Grip road systems and highways were improved.
1958 – The South Saskatchewan River Dam Development Project was an agreement signed with the Diefenbaker government in July of 1958, after eleven unproductive years of negotiation with Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent. The plan was more spectacular in scale and complexity than all other building projects combined, and would require seven years to complete.
- The Dam Project was designed to produce enough water to irrigate massive amounts of farmland.
- It would also be used as a generator of hydroelectric power.
1944-1948 – Under Douglas, 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 of the CCF government).
1951-1959 – Government revenues rose from $63 million to $143 million. While spending grew, the province stayed in the black every year, and net debt fell.
Arts and Culture
1945 – The Archives Act was introduced as a joint university-government initiative.
The Act expanded the Saskatchewan archives to include the records of the provincial and municipal governments, as well as private sources.
1946 – The Douglas CCF introduced the Regional Libraries Act. The first regional library was opened in north central Saskatchewan in 1950.
1948 – The first on the continent, the Saskatchewan Arts Board was established to get Saskatchewanians involved in art, music, literature and handicrafts.
- Scholarships were created, and money was made available for performers, agencies and schools.
Government Administration and the Constitution
1947 – Douglas’ government 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.
1947 – Douglas and the CCF invited Japanese Canadians, who had been interned during the Second World War, to resettle in Saskatchewan.
1946-48 – Revolutionary changes in the way government was managed were necessary because of the massive amount of new policy that was created. Douglas, for instance, was one of the first Canadian leaders of government to consult his party’s advisory committee during the process of choosing his cabinet ministers. In order to accommodate the grander scale of government, Douglas and the CCF made important changes in provincial administration, including:
- Departmental and interdepartmental reorganization,
- The re-structuring of Crown corporations,
- Reforms to the civil service,
- The development of the concept of collective cabinet responsibility, to ensure that individual ministers didn’t make decisions the rest of cabinet didn’t approve of,
- The forming of the Economic Advisory and Planning Board, a central cabinet committee, to oversee budgetary decisions.
The following sources were consulted during the creation of this document:
Johnson, A. W. Dream No Little Dreams: A Biography of the Douglas Government of Saskatchewan, 1944-1961. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004.
Margoshes, Dave. Tommy Douglas: Building the New Society. Montreal: XYZ Pub., 1999.