JR'S Free Thought Pages
A Tommy Douglas Tribute - Canada's Greatest Patriot
***Check the Dec 2010 update on Tommy Douglas regarding the shocking 1142 page dossier the RCMP had on Tommy for decades***
by Johnny Reb
“The profit system has defiled whatever it has touched; and the profit system has touched everything. It has corrupted governments, debauched politicians, degraded morals, devitalized religion and demoralized human nature.” – Tommy Douglas, Weyburn Review, June 14, 1934.
On the occasion of Pierre Trudeau’s invoking the War Measures Act* during the “Quebec Crisis” of 1970:
“It was Tommy Douglas of the NDP who stood in the House day after day, and hammered the government for suspending civil liberties, and if you ask me today why I wasn’t up there beside him, I can only say, ‘Damned if I know’. He showed political courage of the highest order.”
-Eric Kierans, Remembering, 2001
*Douglas and most of his caucus stood alone in protesting Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s invocation of the War Measure’s Act during the 1970 Quebec crisis. The sight of tanks rolling in Ottawa immediately reminded him of the police incited riots during the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919 when he was still a young boy and as a young pastor, the carnage left in Saskatchewan in 1931 during the Estevan miner’s strike in which the RCMP along with company thugs rode into town and opened fire on defenseless strikers with automatic weapons during a peaceful demonstration, killing three innocent strikers and injuring over twenty others. He was also reminded by what he witnessed during the 1930s in Germany during a visit, of goose stepping, saluting and flag waving Nazis. He was aghast and deeply disturbed at what was happening there. Tommy deplored the kidnappings by the FLQ of course and supported government action to deal with the situation. But he told the House of Commons, as cries of “shame” emanated from the conservative opposition of Liberals and Tories, the government “is using a sledgehammer to crack a peanut.” The NDP, he said, was “not prepared to use the preservation of law and order as a smokescreen to destroy the liberties and freedoms of the people of Canada.” His courageous stand on the crisis even caused sharp divisions within his own party and he was the target of endless abuse from the corporate controlled media and other conservative forces within the country. But history has vindicated Tommy for his courageous stand and as a documentary on Douglas years later recounted, the Quebec Crisis in 1970 was perhaps “his finest hour, certainly his loneliest.” Douglas was also a vehement critic of racism and the huge social inequities especially within the United States and an equally harsh critic of the country’s imperialistic foreign policy, especially the Vietnam War, long before it became a mass protest movement. If Tommy were alive today he would be stunned and outraged at the two imperialistic wars in Afghanistan and Iraq following 9-11 as well as the subsequent removal of basic civil liberties by the Bush administration such as the infamous “Patriot Act.”
“He never despaired, no matter what the obstacle. That exuberant and hopeful spirit, based on the deep conviction that society should be organized for the benefit of all the people and not for a privileged few, is what took him through all of the obstacles in his long and remarkable life. That is his legacy to us today.”
-Ed Broadbent, Hansard, February 24, 1986.
When he suffered setbacks, felt despondent and was deemed down and out to many political pundits, Tommy Douglas, the fiery Scot loved and often found comfort in Robert Burns or especially one of his favorite passages from a very old Scottish ballad which is cited below. As history has taught us, the Scots, like the Irish, were brutalized, pillaged and victimized by genocidal pogroms of the English for centuries which they then systematically applied to their colonies in the Americas, Asia, India, Africa and elsewhere that continued unabated until the end of the Second World War:
Fight on my men, said Sir Arthur Barton,
I am hurt, but I am not slain.
I will lay me down and bleed awhile,
And then I’ll rise and fight again
Another favorite passage of Tommy’s is from the poet William Blake,
I shall not cease from mental strife,
Nor shall my sword rest in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In this green and pleasant land.
Voted Canada’s most venerated Canadian in 2004 following a widely publicized and popular country wide poll conducted by the CBC, Tommy Douglas had always been a progressive, a reformer and a liberal, but never doctrinaire or dogmatic with regard to either in his politics or Christianity. He inclined to refer to his political philosophy and government in Saskatchewan from 1944 to 1960 as “socialist” because he was comfortable with the appellation and uncomfortable with the inequities, culture of greed and exploitive nature of unfettered capitalism. Genuine free markets, honest enterprise and restrained capitalism he could accept, with the proviso that certain aspects of the economy that were necessary to meet the basic needs of citizens ought not to be profit driven. He had a most remarkable intellect and encyclopedic memory, unparalleled and venerable moral sensibilities, a wonderful sense of humor, razor-sharp wit and the most charismatic speaking voice and extraordinary oratory skills of any politician I have ever heard. I doubt there will ever be another political personality with the moral integrity and intellectual honesty of Tommy Douglas. It’s sad to admit, but he’s the only political figure in our history that makes me proud to be Canadian.
Canada’s “Greatest Canadian,” Tommy Douglas, is a man who stood alone against the forces of untrammeled capitalism, class hegemony, greed and the daunting assaults of not only the business world and corporate right wing press who referred to him as “Tommy the Commie, but from those on the extreme left as well, the Communist Party of Canada. Some of his conservative political adversaries such as George Drew and the political propagandists and hatchet men hired by both the Conservative and Liberal parties at both the federal and provincial levels were able to twist logic to such a degree to be able to refer to the CCF as both “fascist” and “communist.” Moreover, the Liberal Party often aligned itself and joined forces with the Communist party of Canada to defeat CCF candidates in certain CCF strongholds. Liberals and Conservative often used the same strategy to defeat the CCF candidate, by agreeing to run only one right wing candidate, either Liberal or Conservative. I’ll address these various insidious assaults on the CCF later in this essay. They not only involved malicious and slanderous attacks from the conservative dominated press and the political Left and Right but from the religious hierarchy, both Catholic and Protestant (especially the insidious political proselytizing by the Catholic Church in Quebec that resulted in the CCF never having a real following among the working classes in Quebec who one would think would be their natural ally) and from well financed propagandists representing the Chamber of Commerce, Big Banks and Insurance Companies. This sustained multi-layered, well-financed anti-socialist/CCF onslaught played a significant role in the Party’s inability to build a successful presence in Canadian federal politics especially in the years from 1943 to 1960. The CCF and its successor the NDP have never really recovered from the powerful overwhelming propaganda campaigns of the full force of the hegemonic Conservative interests of power and privilege of those years and the mythologies and ingrained biases that were burned into the consciousness of many Canadians that continue to thrive and persist to this day. I can recall as a youngster growing up in Northern BC in the 1950s my father and other employees in the company he worked for receiving written warnings in their pay packets to the effect that if the CCF were elected, they would lose their jobs – and a lot worse.
But the fiery Scot never let the Conservative onslaught of innuendo and red-baiting get him down and when he and the CCF were the target of ruthless newspaper and radio campaigns during the 1944 Saskatchewan provincial election, he replied, “I thought it was a good sign. I still believe in the verse in the Bible that says: ‘Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you.’ (Luke 6:26) The moment they start to trample on your toes, it’s apparent that you are giving them trouble.” (The Making of a Socialist, p. 154) In spite of the propaganda campaigns by the well financed Conservative right wing, Big Business and the Communist Party throughout Canada, the CCF won that election winning a landslide victory of 47 of 52 seats. Arguably, the party's greatest accomplishment was the introduction of North America's first comprehensive system of public medical insurance or Medicare (sometimes referred to as socialized medicine). The fight to introduce Medicare in the province of Saskatchewan was intense, due to the opposition of the province's doctors who were well funded and backed by a nasty propaganda campaign by the Canadian Insurance Industry and American Medical Association. The AMA feared that public health care would spread to other parts of the continent if introduced in one isolated area of Canada. In July 1962 the doctors staged the 23-day Saskatchewan Doctors' Strike. But despite a concerted attempt to defeat the controversial Medical Care Insurance Act, the strike eventually collapsed and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan agreed to the alterations and terms of the "Saskatoon Agreement". The program was introduced and became so successful and popular it was thereafter adopted across Canada. Without the CCF, Liberals and Conservatives would without a doubt never have introduced Medicare in Canada. In fact these two old line parties never gave anything to working people willingly or out of compassion, decency or sense of moral obligation to the underprivileged. Any advancement for women’s or minority rights, decent wages and working conditions or social programs were not conceded without demonstrations, strikes, dissidence, often resorting to civil disobedience where police and company thugs beat up and killed demonstrators - and finally a more concerted mass movement that finally convinced the government to reluctantly meet their the people’s demands.
After doing much of the preliminary work on Medicare, Douglas resigned as party leader and Premier in 1961 to become the founding leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada. The NDP had been formed by a coalition of the CCF and the Canadian Labor Congress. The Saskatchewan CCF followed suit, and adopted its current name in 1967 after a transitional period when the party was awkwardly named the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, Saskatchewan Section of the New Democratic Party of Canada.
The turmoil of the Medicare fight took its toll, however, and the NDP-CCF government of Douglas's successor Woodrow S. Lloyd was defeated by Ross Thatcher's Saskatchewan Liberal Party in the 1964 election. The party dropped the "CCF" name after the 1967 election.
As I have outlined earlier, right from its inception Douglas, the CCF and its successor the NDP were ruthlessly subjected to a carefully organized multi-layered and sustained attack, a smear campaign by conservative elites and corporate interests that has played a crucial role in the party’s inability to expand its popular base. The attack was primarily orchestrated by Big Business and their advocate the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Insurance Industry, the right wing controlled mass media (which is even far more daunting and controlling today), the Progressive Conservative Party* and most of the Christian Church hierarchy (this, in spite of the fact that the founders of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) were sincere devout “social gospel” Christians, that included J.S. Woodsworth, M.J. Coldwell, Stanley Knowles and Douglas himself. Not only did the CCF not have a viable or visible platform to express their ideas and programs, a relentless propaganda and mud-slinging campaign against the CCF by Big Business, wealthy elites, the Church and the corporate controlled media was launched in 1944 following the CCF/Douglas victory in Saskatchewan and continued unabated throughout the era of McCarthyism red baiting and witch hunts. It didn’t slow down appreciably until the late 1960s. The right wing propaganda campaign against the CCF was launched shortly after the formation of the CCF in the early 1930s. To illustrate how effective the smear campaign against the CCF was even then, Douglas provides a humorous anecdote:
“A lot of questions arose from the campaigns of our opponents. People asked if it was true we didn’t believe in God and if it was true we were going to take the people’s farms. Once, a woman with about five youngsters around her said to George Williams. ‘Is it true you’re going to take the children?’ George said, ‘Certainly not!’ She said, ‘I thought it was too good to be true.’ “(The Making of a Socialist, Lewis H. Thomas, ed., p. 78)
Regarding acts of omission, misinformation and propaganda by the conservative dominated press Douglas remarked:
“It was almost impossible to get an objective statement of our policy or even an adequate description of any piece of legislation printed in the daily press. We would hand the press a statement and either it would not be printed at all or it would be run in such a distorted form that it looks almost meaningless and would appear among the classified ads, while the criticism of the legislature would be plainly visible on the front page with a two-inch headline.” (Ibid, p. 224)
“The newspapers said we were going to socialize everything, that the government would own the farms, the corner store, the barber-shop, and the beauty parlor, and that everybody would be working for the state. When that didn't happen, they had to give some explanation. So the explanation was that we had betrayed our principles, we were no longer Socialists and we were now reactionaries, having departed from our original ideals. In effect, we were now traitors, because we didn't do the horrible things they promised we would. They had built up a straw man and now they were knocking it down.”
When people say, ‘You have become more mellow, less socialistic now than before you took office,’ this is absolute nonsense. I'm more of a radical than when I took office for one very obvious reason. In 1944 I thought these things could be done, and today I know they can be done. I've seen health insurance become a reality. I've seen public ownership of power and natural gas. I've seen a bus transportation system. I've seen compulsory car insurance. All these things are now accepted as part of our way of life in this province. We've become convinced that these things, which were once thought to be radical, aren't radical at all; they're just plain common sense applied to the economic and social problems of our times.” (Ibid, p. 168)
*The title Progressive Conservative Party of Canada was modified after the merger of the abovementioned party with the Reform Party of Canada (Canadian Alliance) in 2003 by dispensing with the oxymoronic adjective “progressive” that had been added in 1942. Largely due to the efforts of the CPC (Communist Party of Canada were perennial enemies of the CCF who they charged with being “fascists” and a “front for capitalist interests”), the years between 1938 and 1943 witnessed the largest growth in labor union membership in Canadian history, increasing from 383,000 to 664,000. This did not go unnoticed by the conservative hierarchy who, as is the case today, owned and ran the country, nor their patrons, the federal Conservative and Liberal Parties. The “progressive” tag (a more appropriate label would be “regressive”) was ostensibly added to promote the myth that the Conservative Party, formed in 1867, was rather than being an extreme right wing reactionary party of wealth and privilege - further to the left politically than it actually was and in favor of progressive programs for the working classes - socialist initiatives that had gained huge popularity during the Great Depression. But in 2003 with the ascendancy and hegemony of the neo-conservative agenda of deregulated free for all casino-like global capitalism running rampant, there was no need for delusionary titles anymore. As of 2009 we are now paying the price for such misguided and profligate neo-conservative policies that were launched in the early 1970s when the Keynesian economic model formulated at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire in 1944 was dismantled. The Bretton Woods Agreement institutionalized an economic arrangement geared toward full employment and the maintenance of a social safety net for society's worst off and less fortunate - the bona fide welfare or interventionist state, not the one we have now that primarily serves conservative interests of corporations, wealth and privilege. It did this by establishing fixed but flexible exchange rates among world currencies, which were affixed to the U.S. dollar, while the dollar was secured to gold. It also set limits on international capital mobility, so that large-scale speculative capital flows would not threaten the markets or any sector of a nation member’s economy. In a word, Bretton Woods saved capitalism from the de-regulated policies of the decades leading to the Great Depression by making it more civilized and just. For various reasons, outlined quite accurately by Noam Chomsky and others, the agreement was abandoned by Richard Nixon in 1971, and by 1973 huge amounts of capital began moving upward from the poor and the middle class to the rich and the superrich. This accelerated with the imperialistic policies, militarism and huge tax concessions to corporations and the wealthy by Ronald Reagan who tripled the US national debt to pay his regressive agenda. By 1995, 1 percent of the American population owned 47 percent of the nation's wealth; by 1998, the 400 richest individuals in the world had as much wealth as the bottom half of the world's population (more than 3 billion people). It is not for nothing that some commentators have called the repeal of Bretton Woods one of the most pivotal events of the postwar period, equal in significance to the collapse of the Soviet Union. As the result of these continuing policies we have been the victims of two bubble economies, resulting in severe market meltdowns in 2000 and 2007. We are now engulfed in a global real estate and stock market meltdown that started in 2007 culminating in a vicious global depression that isn’t about to end anytime soon. State Capitalism - the Conservative Corporate Welfare State - is now being rescued using taxpayer money from its own self-destruction with a massive multi-trillion dollar bailout($13 trillion in the United States so far) of rogue financial institutions both in North America and Europe. In Canada alone our neo-conservative ideologue Prime Minister has handed out $200 billion of taxpayer money to offload toxic assets of our gluttonous Canadian banks that still report huge profits. Of course there’s nothing for the victims of the fiduciary malfeasance of these financial institutions. In fact in the past ten years our Employment Insurance fund which took in about $60 billion more than it disbursed to the insured, has been pillaged by both the Liberals and Conservatives to facilitate huge tax concessions to obscenely profitable corporations such as the oil company Suncor, which has just taken over Petro Canada. Most of the problems of corporate larceny and complicit conservative government corruption are systemic and they are most likely irreparable without persistent public outrage and likely participation in civil disobedience on the part of the masses. I have outlined the evolution of this calamitous state of affairs in a series of papers posted on my web site titled The Conservative Corporate Welfare State, Neo-Conservatism and the Disempowerment of Labor and The Disempowerment of Labor and Education and the Conservative Corporate Welfare State.
Political campaigns back in the 1940s and 1950s in Saskatchewan could be particularly nasty but the behavior of the Liberal opposition during the Legislative sessions from 1948 to 1952 was particularly shameful. Douglas was asked in an interview about the continuous state of bedlam created by Mr. Tucker, along with Mr. Justice Proctor who had called Douglas not only a skunk, but a ‘stinking skunk and a dirty little thing.’ But Douglas who never lost his sense of humor regardless of how vile and depressing conditions got, replied with, “I certainly resent that expression ‘little’.” (Ibid, 264)
Tommy Douglas greatest achievement was the introduction of government sponsored universal health care in Saskatchewan which was eventually extended to encompass the entire country, probably the one advance on the path to a just society that we value more than anything else about being Canadian. Also in Saskatchewan he launched government auto insurance that had far cheaper premiums and better-quality coverage than the pre-existing private for-profit system. The Saskatchewan public auto insurance plan served as the template for several other provincial auto insurance plans in Canada, including British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario. From 1867 on to the present Canada was ruled either of the two traditional pro-business political parties of the right wing, the Liberals and Conservatives. Neither of these two parties, once elected, ever undertook any meaningful social reform to enhance the welfare of working people that would undermine their real support, that of Big Business, privileged elites and the wealthy investor class. Improvements for the underprivileged and working classes were promised in election campaigns only - and then disappeared in a file cabinet somewhere, out of sight and out of mind. Reforms such as livable wages, civilized working conditions, women suffrage and pay equity and other forms of social justice were granted grudgingly – in fact, kicking and screaming and only after decades of protest, strikes, labor disputes and civil disobedience whereby workers were brutalized and even murdered by the RCMP, the military and company thugs. Medicare was no exception and it was nothing short of a miracle that Tommy Douglas was able to pull it off in Saskatchewan, considering the full force and financial backing of wealthy investors, privileged conservative elites, private insurance corporations and the medical professions that were launched against him. Some people believe that the federal Liberals would have instituted Medicare without the CCF Saskatchewan experiment – they also believe Elvis is still alive and that Jesus will return come the Rapture.
It’s a gloomy thought to personally have to admit that Tommy Douglas is the only political figure in Canadian history I’ve ever genuinely respected and admired. As an undergraduate majoring in Mathematics at UBC in the mid-sixties, I first heard this little articulate dynamo with the great sense of humor speak and was blown away by his sincerity, intellectual integrity, compassion for his fellow human being and his unwavering vision for a just society. I’ve never had any use for empty platitudes, rhetoric, mindless patriotism and flag waving at abstract principles and glorification of contingency of birth, only a reverence and respect for the reality of very special fellow human beings like Tommy Douglas.
Douglas grew up in Falkirk, Scotland to a working class family. His father, whom he greatly admired, worked in a foundry under very harsh and arduous conditions. After his family emigrated to Canada and settled in Winnipeg after the First World War, Douglas worked very hard, eventually earning an undergraduate degree at Brandon College, an MA at McMaster and on to the University of Chicago for work on his PhD. The determined young Scottish-born Baptist minister came to Weyburn, Saskatchewan just in time to experience the Great Depression and stayed to leave his mark on the city, the province and on Canadian history.
The 1919 Winnipeg General Strike (adapted from Dave Margoshes, Tommy Douglas: Building the New Society)
There were many harrowing experiences Tommy Douglas had as a youngster that were instrumental in forming his vision for a better world. In 1919, as a boy Tommy and his friend during the Winnipeg general Strike witnessed the vicious attacks on working class people by police and company thugs, a common occurrence throughout the history of the labor movement, a history conspicuous by its absence in our high school history classes.
Tommy and his mother and two sisters had arrived back in Winnipeg early in the year and rented a house on Gordon Street, not far from where they'd lived a few years earlier. His father, Tom Douglas, still not mustered out of the army, would follow in a few months. Anne Douglas, his mother was able to secure a job at the Singer sewing machine factory. Tommy had every intention of honoring his father's wishes and returning to school, but, for the moment, money was tight, and so he too went to work.
So it was that he and another boy, Mark Talnicoff - who would later marry Tommy's sister Annie - were delivering copies of a newspaper in the Market Square near city hall on that Saturday afternoon when they heard an enormous commotion. The two boys shimmied up a pole and made it to the roof of a two-story building on Main Street near the corner of Williams Street, right in the midst of the tumult, just as shots started to ring out. Police fired in the air at first, and several bullets whizzed by the boys' heads. They ducked, both frightened and exhilarated, but rather than head for cover, decided to stick it out and see what was happening.
From their vantage point, they could see everything: a streetcar tipped over, the chaotic fighting, the charge of the Mounties, the shootings and beatings with clubs that left two men dead and many others wounded. It was the culmination of the country’s first ever general strike, then in its thirty-eighth day and the brutal incident would ultimately subdue the strikers. Scores of strike leaders were rounded up over the next few days, including the Douglas family's pastor, James Shaver Woodsworth*, and several of them were tried and sent to prison.
*James Shaver Woodsworth, a committed pacifist and graduate of University of Toronto Divinity School is generally considered the founder of the CCF in 1932. Woodsworth was customarily known by his initials, J.S and became a Methodist Minister and head of the All People's Mission, a combination social centre and school where Anne Douglas was a volunteer and Tommy often used the library and sports facilities. J. S. was a soft-spoken man who suddenly turned into a charismatic lion when he stepped on a soapbox. He greatly influenced the young Tommy Douglas with his message of the social gospel that downplayed Christian dogma and mythology and the doctrine of personal salvation, calling instead for the cause of social justice and the “Kingdom of God in the here and now.” Woodsworth had done his graduate work at Oxford while in England and spent ten months in the slums of London, witnessing first-hand the gruesome exploitation of the working classes by the callous capitalist system. While at Oxford he started to question the highly dubious moral foundation of colonialism and imperialism and was likely exposed to the philosophy of the Fabian Society and allegedly read Friedrich Engels The Conditions of the Working Class in England. He would emerge as leader of the social gospel movement in Winnipeg and was one of the leaders of the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike. When the Canadian Liberal Party nearly lost the 1925 election, Woodsworth, as an MP representing the Independent Labor Party was able to bargain his vote in the House for a promise from the Liberal government to enact an old age pension plan. Introduced in 1927, the plan is the founding cornerstone of Canada's social security system. Without people like Woodsworth and Douglas, the social programs including pensions, universal government health care, employment insurance and pensions, improved wages and working conditions, one can be sure that none of these would have been programs that make us proud to be Canadian would have been implemented. These concessions were invariably granted grudgingly by the dominant Liberal and Conservative oligarchy after years of social struggle, labor strife and sacrifice (often with loss of life at the hands of local and state police, the RCMP and corporate thugs) on the part of working class people. In 1933, the CCF became the official opposition in British Columbia and, in 1934 the party achieved the same result in Saskatchewan. In the 1935 federal election, seven CCF Members of Parliament were returned to the House of Commons and the party captured 9 percent of the popular vote. The CCF, however, was never able to seriously challenge the conservatism of Canada’s entrenched two-party system. In particular, the widespread respect and admiration of the long-time Liberal Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King (who had done his MA thesis at the University of Chicago on the abysmal conditions of the packing houses) had great respect for Woodsworth and primarily because of his leftist sympathies was influential in preventing the CCF from displacing the Liberals as the main party of the centre left, as had happened in Britain, Australia and elsewhere. Woodsworth's daughter, Grace MacInnis, followed in his footsteps as a CCF politician in British Columbia. Of interest to British Columbians by the way, Grace MacInnis, wife of Angus MacInnis, was educated at Gibson’s Landing, British Columbia, the University of British Columbia, the University of Manitoba, Ottawa Normal School, and the Sorbonne. Compared to the dominance of the politically vocal and active conservatism of the “me first” evangelical Christians today and their gospel of greed, Woodsworth would be deemed a heretical iconoclast and almost certainly excommunicated from every Church in North America.
Tommy remembered the rancorous scene in Winnipeg this way: "We saw the mounted police and the men who had been taken in as sort of vigilantes riding from North Main straight down toward the corner of Portage and Main, then reforming on Portage Avenue and coming back down again, riding the strikers down and breaking up the meetings, breaking up their parade.
"There was quite a good deal of shooting. Most of the mounted policemen were shooting into the air, but some of them shot into the crowd."
Although Tommy wasn't directly involved in the strike, he retained vivid memories of the fist-waving speeches given by strike leaders like Fred Dixon, John Queen, and the gaunt, bearded Woodsworth, who had become a sort of role model for the boy.”…”Not until after the 1931 Estevan strike and ensuing riot (which I will deal with later in this essay and which Tommy also witnessed) and later the Regina riot in 1934 did I realize this was all part of a pattern,” he would recall. “Whenever the powers that be can’t get what they want, they’re always prepared to resort to violence or any kind of hooliganism to break the back of organized opposition.” (Margoshes, pp. 16-18)
Many years later this man, Thomas Clement Douglas, was to leave an indelible imprint on Weyburn's history. In the winter of 1929, when Tommy Douglas was still a student, he was asked to come to the Calvary Baptist Church on a trial basis. He was not yet ordained, but the congregation wanted to check him out to determine if he was the sort of fellow they were looking for in a minister. Douglas quickly discovered that the hardships and systemic social inequities he experienced growing up in Falkirk Scotland were not much different in Canada when he saw the working classes in the community struggling not only with these systemic injustices, but in concert with drought and economic depression as well.
"This period," he writes, "was probably more difficult than any other time to be a minister of a church. The economic depression started about October 1929 . . . I buried a young man at Griffin, and another one at Pangman, both young men in their 30s with young small families who died because there was no doctor readily available, and they hadn't the money to get proper care." When Douglas was a youngster in Scotland he was diagnosed with osteomyelitis in his knee but his family couldn’t afford a specialist. Consequently, doctors were going to amputate his leg until he was extremely fortunate to have been examined by a specialist who happened to be visiting the hospital he was at and offered to perform surgery on his knee without charge. Douglas never forgot this incident and why simply because you were poor, you could not expect to receive proper medical attention. On the incident, Douglas stated that, "I felt that no boy should have to depend either for his leg or his life upon the ability of his parents to raise enough money to bring a first-class surgeon to his bedside. And I think it was out of this experience, not at the moment consciously, but through the years, I came to believe that health services ought not to have a price tag on them, and that people should be able to get whatever health services they require irrespective of their individual capacity to pay…Improving people's economic condition is not an end in itself, it's a means to an end.... I never thought a man could save his soul if his belly was empty or that he could think about things like beauty and goodness if he had a toothache…. it has been said that a country's greatness can be measured by what it does for its unfortunates. By that criterion Canada certainly does not stand in the forefront of the nations of the world although there are signs that we are becoming conscious of our deficiencies and are determined to atone for lost time."
Inspired by J. S. Woodsworth’s social gospel, Douglas worked to help people keep the only Christian values that really mattered to him - respect, compassion and altruism for one’s fellow man. Douglas was neither doctrinaire nor dogmatic about his Christianity or his political philosophy. He was a pragmatic socialist, accepting private enterprise and free markets with the proviso that the public interest or common good was the primary overriding principle and not compromised. He realized the importance and necessity that services for subsistence be owned and controlled by the people and based on his many speeches and comments to friends and political acquaintances, he quite clearly did not literally believe in the many Biblical mythologies such as the Virgin Birth and Resurrection. "The religion of tomorrow will be less concerned with the dogmas of theology and more concerned with the social welfare of humanity," Douglas once said. Sadly, when we examine the neo-conservative culture of self-serving narcissism, disregard for the underprivileged and culture of greed of the past three or four decades, Douglas was far too optimistic. If only Tommy were alive today to witness the perversity of the dominant Christian doctrine that permeates through most of Western societies today, especially in the United States. The “social gospel” that Douglas valued so much has disappeared in a puff of neo-conservatism and descended into the depths of the “gospel of greed”, into the clutches of people like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and George W Bush. He would be aghast at the plethora of 1-800 televangelist charlatans that pollute the airwaves and churches such as Oral Roberts, Joel Osteen and Kenneth Copeland that pollute the airwaves and churches.
But he eventually came to believe that the social gospel and the efforts of churches and secular charities was far from sufficient to solve the social ills and inequities of capitalism, realizing he could accomplish far more for people from a political platform than from a pulpit. The rest is an inspired history.
I’ve read several uplifting biographies of T.C Douglas, the most recent being The Life and Political Timers of Tommy Douglas (2005) by Walter Stewart. The most interesting book, now out of print, is The Making of a Socialist, based on a transcription of a series of interviews with Chris Higginbotham in 1958, resulting in the fascinating 400 page book. I was able to track down an excellent copy of this book at www.abebooks.com and am ecstatic to have added to my library. Douglas never got to write his memoirs or autobiography because shortly after retirement from politics he was diagnosed with inoperable cancer and died shortly thereafter. What follows are excerpts from the aforementioned books:
Tommy Douglas v the Christian Church Hierarchy
“It wasn’t enough to talk about pie in the sky; it wasn’t enough to talk to people about some afterlife with no misery, sorrow and tears. We had to concern ourselves with the problems people had here and now. What I was trying to do in the churches, and in meeting local organizations when we met with other churches, and in meeting with local organizations of various sorts, was to constantly remind people that Jesus said it was better for man that a millstone be hung about his neck and that he be cast into the depths of the sea, than that one of these little ones should perish. We have a concern for our brother, we have a concern for this child who's not getting an education or a proper diet and not being properly clad, and as Christians we can't be indifferent to how people live and what their daily problems are.
At one of the conventions when I moved a resolution along this line, I was attacked by a minister of a very prominent city church, who got up and said in all seriousness that the Bible told us that the poor we will always have with us and that God had made two classes of people, the rich and the poor. He made the rich so that they would learn the lesson of benevolence and charity. He made the poor so they would learn the lesson of gratitude, and that we were interfering with the will of God when we tried to abolish poverty. To me, this was sheer blasphemy. My concept was, and I go back to Dr. H.L. MacNeill, the idea of the Kingdom of righteousness and justice for every person in it. Every person in the Kingdom has a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In this Kingdom we are members of one another, and the strong must help to carry the burdens of the weak. I'm not a fit member of the Kingdom if someone else is undergoing misery or carrying burdens and I don't attempt to help that person.
For that time, it was a new approach, embraced by Rauschenbusch,1 Harry Emerson Fosdick2 and a few other religious leaders. But at that time in religious circles this approach did not agree with the popular position, which was that the church had nothing to do with social and economic questions. We ran into a good deal of conflict from the people, although not in my own local church, where the people were quite progressively minded. I used to argue at the conventions that we were blind in one eye, and that we thought only in terms of God. The Bible says: ["What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him? Even so, faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone." James 2:14,17] If any man say he loves God but hates his brother, he is a liar, because how can any man love God unless he also loves his brother? That was the question.”
1. Walter Rauschenbusch, author of Christianity and the Social Crisis (New York: Macmillan, 1908), an American theologian, was the chief early proponent of the social gospel and a pioneer Christian Socialist in the United States.
2. Harry Emerson Fosdick was the leading Baptist preacher in New York City, who gained a wide influence through his sermons, lectures, and writings, including Christianity and Progress (New York: Association Press and Fleming H. Revell, 1922). He was a supporter of the Modernist movement in American theology as contrasted to fundamentalism.
(The Making of a Socialist, pp. 65-67)
“I had a lawyer in my own congregation, and I remember one morning I dropped in to see him in his office. He took issue with me about having any part in this unemployed association. I said, "You see people in your office who've got some money or they wouldn't be coming here. They're concerned about money matters, setting up their estate or buying or selling property. Have you ever actually seen the conditions in the poorer part of this city?" And he said, "I've lived in this city for twenty-five years; I lived here before you came here." And I said, "Yes, but you don't see it as it is now." So I took him around to some of the homes where there were children who couldn't go to school because they didn't have shoes or clothing, places where they had hardly enough coal, where they hadn't had milk for a week. I took him to the school nurse, and she repeated the story I'd given him. This man said, "I wouldn't have believed it. I know this might happen in the east side of London but for it to be happening in the town where I live, I'm ashamed that I don't know this."
This was the sort of thing that made people somewhat apprehensive about forming a stronger unemployed association. We had the highest relief schedule in Saskatchewan, but still it wasn't high by any standards of human requirements.
(Interviewer C. H Higginbotham): Then you were becoming singled out during this period as one minister who had departed a little bit from the orthodox. Is that right?
I was labeled as a rather dangerous radical in the community, stirring up the unemployed to ask for more money and sticking my nose into places where it was none of my business. I had several very bad exchanges with the provincial relief officers, who would come down to meet the council and say, "You're spending too much money, you'd better cut this and that off." When I would go before them, armed with the school nurse's report citing cases of children needing milk and families needing coal, and children with no shoes or clothes to go to school, I was a nuisance. "Why didn't I get back into my pulpit and preach the gospel?" they would ask, whatever that may mean. (Ibid, p. 69)
In Falkirk, as in most of Europe I expect, no one in the working classes could afford their own home and many of the squalid dilapidated homes were owned by the companies you worked for:
The landlords did not collect the rent themselves, which would have meant visiting their own tenements, but instead hired factors — thugs, mostly — to do the job for them. The tenants were required to pay by the year. When the city fathers, in 1912, ruled that leases for shorter periods must be given, because it was so hard to raise a year's rent all at once, the landlords naturally all increased their rents to compensate.
When the tenants could no longer pay the rent, they went to the poorhouse, where they could be penned up "to save the property of hard-working men from destruction by putting an end to the monstrous system under which laggards who would not toil for their own support lived at the expense of their industrious neighbors." Old men confined to a poorhouse could be, and were, deprived of tobacco if they refused to attend church to learn that all of this was according to heavenly decree.
It was thought necessary to treat the underclass in this spiteful manner; in the first place, their poverty was either their own fault or God's will, so what was the point of treating them any better? And, in the second place, if you did anything to help them, they would only take advantage. Or, as a Scottish royal commission put it in 1910, sounding like an editorial from today's National Post:
If Parochial Boards desire to discourage indolence, to detect imposture, and to reform or control vice, they must make work, confinement and discipline the conditions on which paupers of this class are relieved [A.V Dicey, Law and Public Opinion During the Nineteenth Century (London: Macmillan, 1962), 233. And no, historian Dicey was not being ironical when he wrote this.] (Walter Stewart, pp. 32-33)
A kind of nostalgia now washes over those days of the Great Depression, leaving us with images of neighbor aiding neighbor and everyone getting by on less, but there was nothing romantic about huddling in a shack, lining up for scant sustenance at a soup kitchen, or freezing to death in the street. The federal government maintained throughout the Depression that social assistance was primarily a matter for the provinces, while the provinces held that it was primarily a matter for the municipalities, which passed the buck to the churches and charities, until it became evident that hundreds of thousands of people were living in privation and despair through no fault of their own. Even then, not much happened, because the wisest of Canada's political elders kept assuring voters that the economy was about to correct itself and that to interfere with the right of the poor to suffer was wanton disobedience to the will of God, or even worse, to the will of the Market.
Almost the only government assistance available was a twenty-dollars-a-month pension payable to those over seventy years of age, as long as they could pass a means test to prove that they were destitute. This pension was forced on the minority Mackenzie King government by J.S. Woodsworth and his Laborite group (which consisted of A.A. Heaps and Woodsworth - Prime Minister King needed their support to survive a vote of confidence, so Woodsworth offered to back him in return for a written promise to introduce a modest pension scheme within a year, even though it was not included in the Speech from the Throne. King's letter is now on the wall of the offices of the NDP in Ottawa). It was the sole program of social legislation put into place during the crisis. Under the Old Age Pension Act of 1927 (the legislation forced on King), Ottawa agreed to share the cost of providing this pittance with the provinces, although, in fact, only the four western provinces and Ontario took it up at the time.
As unemployment soared, people began to lose their homes, farms, livelihoods, and health. Thousands of families were broken up because the men took off, either to rid themselves of the burden or because it was the only way their families would be eligible for provincial or municipal relief. When a "standard of relief" was finally established, it set the maximum — not the minimum — that the local authority could provide at $5.00 per week for a family of five, $8.25 for a family of ten. There was no rationale for these numbers; they came from the brain of H.L. McNally, sales manager of National Grocers, and sounded about right to him. (Stewart, pp. 68-70)
Tommy also studied the writings and teachings of the American Socialists, who, he soon discovered, were more interested in abstract theory than present remedies. They were waiting for a revolution, not passing out clothing, and he was not impressed. Nor was he impressed by the action, or rather inaction, of the established churches, including his own, in the face of disaster:
“It wasn't enough to talk about pie in the sky; it wasn't enough to talk to people about some sort of afterlife with no misery and sorrow and tears. We had to concern ourselves with the problems people had here and now. What I was trying to do, both in the church itself, and in meeting local organizations of various sorts, was to constantly remind people that Jesus said it was better for man that a millstone be hung about his neck and that he be cast into the depths of the sea, than that one of these little ones should perish.” (The Making of a Socialist, p.65)
When he made this argument at a Baptist convention, he was attacked by a prominent minister, who told him that God had made two classes of people, the rich and the poor — the rich so that they would learn the lesson of benevolence, and the poor so that they would learn the lesson of gratitude — and that it was "interfering with the will of God to attempt to abolish poverty." To Tommy, this was "sheer blasphemy." (Ibid, p. 66)
Murder in Estevan (pp. Walter Stewart, pp. 89-93)
Tommy was compelled to take a more radical stance by the Estevan coal strike of 1931. That year, the coal miners in this region had reached their nadir, and went on strike. Their wages had been driven down by the Depression to $1.60 a day, their working conditions were unsafe, and their living conditions were appalling. The sixteen-year-old daughter of a miner from Bienfait, near Estevan, later described her home to the Wylie Commission*, which investigated this little patch of history:
* The commission's official name was the Royal Commission on the Industrial Dispute in the Coal Mines in the Estevan District, Saskatchewan.
“One bedroom, two beds in there, dining room, no beds in there, kitchen, one bed, and eleven in the family. I think we need a bigger place than that. When it is raining the rain comes in the kitchen. There is only one ply of paper, cardboard paper nailed to about two-inch wood board [on the walls] . . . When the weather is frosty, when you wake up in the morning, you cannot walk on the floor because it is all full of snow.” [Quoted in Walter Stewart, My Cross-Country Checkup, Toronto: Stoddart, 2000, p. 197. The description of the strike is drawn from this same source.]
These were not the idle unemployed; they were the working poor. Apparently, you needed more than a job to prosper. A union helped. This house belonged to the mining company; some of the privately owned shacks were worse. An inspection after the strike showed that of 113 miners' houses and shacks, 53 had inadequate heat, 43 were leaky, 52 were dirty, and 25 were overcrowded. Almost all needed repairs.
The miners had to trade at coal company stores that charged exorbitant prices, so the miners were going further and further into debt, while working harder and harder. When they tried to organize, they were decried as "foreign agitators" — a richly humorous cry in that almost all the miners were, in fact, foreigners. A union organizer did come to town, and was kidnapped and threatened with violence if he did not clear out.
The seven men responsible for the kidnapping were eventually tried and acquitted by a jury made up mostly of local businessmen and merchants. The accused included a corporal in the Saskatchewan Provincial Police. In those days, there was no attempt on the part of the police to pretend that they were either impartial or non-political. (In 1932, Major General James O'Brien, the commissioner of what had become the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, would make a speech in Toronto in which he made it clear who was to blame for the Depression — once again, it was "foreign agitators.")
Finally, the miners organized themselves without any outside help, and applied for membership in the radical Mine Workers' Union of Canada. An organizer from that body arrived and signed up members, but the companies refused to recognize the union, which they said was connected with the "Red Internationale of Soviet Russia," although they did not explain how this could have come about. In response, a strike was set for September 7, 1931.
This move brought in a dozen members of the RCMP, who joined a force of thirteen "special constables" in the direct pay of the Saskatchewan Coal Operators' Association. Farm workers were brought in to dig the coal, but a mass meeting of strikers descended on the mines, and the farmers cleared off.
As the strike continued, the workers announced a protest meeting in Estevan for September 29, which would be addressed by Anne Buller of the Workers' Unity League, a Communist. The affair was to start with a parade, but the Estevan town council, meeting hastily the same day, passed a bylaw banning any sort of demonstration. A letter was dispatched to the strikers to inform them that, if they went ahead, they would be met by police force, but the letter did not arrive until several days too late. The postmark shows that it had been mailed at 10 p.m. on September 29 which was seven hours after the protest meeting began. The workers had heard by word of mouth about the council meeting, but they thought what had been banned at the meeting — which was closed, of course — was a parade. They changed their protest to a motorcade, and thought themselves very clever. (This series of events remained a secret in most of Canada until Stuart Jamieson's Times of Trouble, commissioned by the federal government to probe national labor unrest, was published in 1968.)
Accordingly, when a caravan of 400 miners and their families arrived on the outskirts of Estevan in the early afternoon of September 29 and were greeted by a cordon of police, they were outraged, and decided to push on regardless. A bloody battle broke out at Fourth Street and Eleventh Avenue, with the strikers using clubs and stones, and the police wielding guns and riot sticks. The RCMP was equipped with thirty rifles, forty-eight revolvers, forty-eight riding crops, and four machine guns. Police reinforcements soon arrived and the battle turned into a rout.
After about three hours of fighting, the streets were cleared, leaving two miners dead and one fatally injured. The injured miner died after the local hospital refused to treat him. The hospital director, knowing there was likely to be trouble, had issued orders that no wounded strikers were to be admitted unless they could pay, in advance, all the expenses for a week's stay; however, anyone in uniform was to be admitted because "the government pays." The detail that the miners had been making weekly payments to the hospital for years, as a form of insurance, was ignored.
In addition, eight miners, four bystanders, and one Mountie had non-fatal bullet wounds, and eight policemen had other injuries. Since the strikers had no firearms, the Mountie must have been hit by one of his own (nearly all the Mounties involved were raw recruits, with little training and no experience). No Mounties were ever charged or even reprimanded for killing and wounding miners and bystanders. The strike was broken and the union smashed, and twenty-two workers were convicted of various offences in connection with the fray. One of those jailed was Anne Buller, although no evidence was ever produced to show that she had participated in the riot.
About all that remains to record what happened that day is a monument in the cemetery at Bienfait, which names the three dead miners and adds, "Murdered In Estevan September 29, 1931." The original inscription added the words "By RCMP" but that phrase was removed by order of the Bienfait authorities.
Weyburn was the closest large community to Estevan — it is eighty-six kilometers northwest of Estevan, along Highway 39 — and some of the strikers who were refused treatment in Estevan were treated in the Weyburn hospital. Tommy visited the strikers and helped collect food for them. He also preached to his congregation on the topic of "Jesus the Revolutionary,"* asking how Jesus would view the strike. If Jesus came back to earth, would he be crowned, or deported? The mine owners complained to the Board of Deacons at Calvary, but the board made no attempt to curb its feisty pastor.
*[McLeod and McLeod, Road to Jerusalem, 35.]
The Winnipeg General Strike had taken place when Tommy was a fourteen-year-old, but he had never forgotten it; here was another clear case in which, as soon as working people tried to stand up for even the most minimal rights, they were faced with the full panoply of powers of the state and crushed to earth. He asked, "Would Jesus revolt against our present system of graft and exploitation?" To him, the answer seemed evident.
Tommy was not preaching socialism outright, but by this time he had certainly become convinced that socialism was the only way to get to the end desired - the brotherhood of man. Socialism at this time was a good deal more direct and demanding than its modern descendant (in large part, it may be argued, because its more vigorous approach, while easier to explain, later turned out not to work very well in a mixed economy). The state was to be the principal producer of goods, and the activator of the economy; it would not only see to the fair distribution of the wealth produced by the workers, farmers, manufacturers, and other segments of society, it would own the major means of production. Capitalism had failed, it seemed; driven solely by greed, it could produce goods in God's own plenty, but it blundered utterly at the task of distribution, and left the majority of the citizens at the mercy of their overlords, while doing nothing at all for the poor and downtrodden, whose misery was a built-in part of the capitalist system. (The strength of this argument was shown in the later decades of the twentieth century in the way that pure capitalism adapted itself to these charges and, step by step, enacted changes that would have astounded and enraged the system's champions in the days of the Great Depression. Capitalists got pliable and wily, in large part because of the insistent pressure from the left; their success left the socialists with only a watered-down villain to assail. Nobody said life was fair.)
Spanish Eyes (On the Spanish Civil War)
In 1936, after the House rose, Tommy was sent to the World Youth Congress in Geneva as one of three "chaperones" for a delegation from the Canadian Youth Congress.* (In addition to all his other work, Tommy had been elected president of the Co-operative Commonwealth Youth Movement and had a key role among the party's younger members.) Some of the Spanish delegates to the youth meeting asked the MPs to visit Spain, where the revolution — or, as Tommy called it, "the counter-revolution" — had broken out. He visited several cabinet ministers in Madrid, and found them, far from being the Communists they were alleged to be, "to the right of centre . . . We would have thought of them as Lloyd George Liberals."**
* Douglas, The Making of a Socialist, 106. The other two MPs were Paul Martin, later to become Liberal minister of health, and Denton Massey, a Conservative MP who had. Tommy reported with awe, "the biggest Bible class in the world - two thousand members.”
He also visited the front, talked to priests who were fighting for the newly formed Republic alongside the government troops, saw fascist German and Italian planes flying overhead and concluded:
“There was no doubt in my mind, and I think it has been well documented since, that this was first a counter-revolution; it was financed mainly by Spanish capital, but also by money from other countries in an attempt to overthrow a properly and duly elected government. It was later described as a Communist government. I think there were one or two Communists in the government, but there were more Liberals who would be right of centre, as compared to the C.C.F. and the Socialist Party, than there were left of centre. I talked to some of the cabinet ministers, and they certainly didn't impress me as having very radical ideas. We would have thought of them as Lloyd George Liberals.
In Madrid, Barcelona and Bilbao, where you could see the German and Italian planes overhead with their markings, I talked to priests in the government ranks, who were marching, carrying rifles and machine guns, and fighting along with the men. There isn't any doubt that without the financial aid from the big interests of Spain, surrounding countries, and even the United States, and without German and Italian planes, munitions and tanks and troops and technicians, Franco never could have defeated the government of Spain. I think the great majority of the people were with the government.
The non-intervention policy was a disastrous thing. Hiding behind it were Mr. Neville Chamberlain and Mr. Leon Blum, the Socialist leader of the Popular Front government in France. When we talked to him, Blum made no bones about Chamberlain's statement that if France got into war with Germany and Italy as a result of intervention in Spain, Britain would not support her. He would have to go alone if he interfered.
It's strange how this non-intervention story was so easily sold to the public. When we got back to London, I went to Transport House, where Mr. Arthur Greenwood was the only Labor leader there. The rest were all in Edinburgh. ” (Ibid, p. 106 -07)
Britain's Labor Party was then backing Neville Chamberlain's policy of non-intervention, in Spain or anywhere else, and Tommy was appalled. However, the intervention he pressed for at this time was from the League of Nations — although, after the disaster of Ethiopia, that made very little sense.
During that three-month trip, he also went to Nuremberg, to see the annual festival put on there by Hitler:
“It was frightful. I came back and warned my friends about the great German bombers roaring over the parade of self-propelled guns and tanks, Hitler standing there giving his salute, with Goering and the rest of the Nazi bigwigs by his side. There was no doubt then that Hitler was simply using Spain as a dress rehearsal for attacks on other nations.” (Ibid, p. 108)
Tommy came back to Canada convinced that Germany had to be stopped, and delivered a number of lectures and speeches in Saskatchewan calling for "a system of collective security" to curb Germany. Consequently he received threats from the Deutscher Bund in the province, which was a pro-Nazi political group.
George Williams had suggested these lectures as a means of raising money, and encouraged Tommy. Williams, by this time, was convinced that war was coming and that Canada should stand at Britain's side. However, both Woodsworth and Coldwell were declared pacifists, so the position Tommy took in the House was somewhat murky. This was not surprising; having seen the results of fascist aggression in Europe, he was much closer in his views to Williams (and to David Lewis, who had been horrified by what he had seen on a visit to his native Poland) than to Woodsworth and Coldwell. But they were the men he admired and liked; the kindest thing he could say about Williams, the prickly pear of CCF politics, was that he was a "splendid organizer."
When Parliament reassembled in 1937, Woodsworth proposed a resolution that called on Canada to "remain strictly neutral" in case of war, no matter which nations were involved. Douglas spoke in support of this resolution and called for "economic sanctions," but not military ones, to be enforced, somehow, by the League of Nations. More practically, he proposed immediate government control of nickel exports, which were going to help arm Canada's enemies.* The CCF National Council debated this issue at length and concluded that in the event of war, "finance and industry should be automatically conscripted."** If this was a pacifist stance, it was an odd one. Coldwell, in the House, followed Woodsworth in giving it his own spin. He did not believe in making preparations for war because: "I do not believe in war and I conscientiously object to it."***
* House of Commons, Debates, 4 February 1937.
** Minutes of CCF National Council Meeting, 30-31 January 1937, CCF Papers, National Archives of Canada.
*** House of Commons, Debates, 15 February 1937.
Right up until the eve of war, the party, and its tiny caucus, continued to be divided by the arguments about armaments and war. Tommy could, and did, speak eloquently about war profiteers, the need to curb arms shipments, and the wickedness of the capitalist class in general, but he was never a pacifist, and the party's confusions were as painful to him as to others.
On February 23, 1937 King Gordon, a member of the national executive who shared Coldwell's views, was scheduled to speak under CCF sponsorship at a peace rally in Regina. Williams, now the provincial leader (Coldwell was in Ottawa as an MP), not only refused to share the platform with him, but released a statement to the press explaining that "the CCF had never discussed pacifism and had no declared policy in connection with it. "The proper place to sort out the dispute was not on a public platform, he said, but within the councils of the party.* But despite endless meetings aimed at doing just this, the matter was not resolved until the Second World War was actually under way.
* Agnes Jean Groome,"M.J. Coldwell and CCF Foreign Policy, 1932-1950," Master's thesis, University of Saskatchewan, Regina (1967), 37-38.
Nevertheless, the party did keep up a constant barrage on the subject of the coming war — a growing threat that Mackenzie King simply refused to recognize. When Germany violated the Versailles Treaty by marching into the Rhineland in 1936, he summed up official government policy this way:
“The attitude of the government is to do nothing itself and if possible to prevent anything occurring which will precipitate one additional factor into the all-important discussions that are now taking place in Europe.”*
* Quoted in Kenneth McNaught, "The 1930s," in The Canadians, 1867-1967, ed. J.M.S. Careless and R. Craig Brown (Toronto: Macmillan, 1967), 269.
The first ten words might have made a suitable epitaph for King.
Over and over again, Tommy attacked the Canadian manufacturers who were making fortunes by re-arming Germany and arming an expansive and aggressive Japan. Tommy contended, among other things, that it was the influence of Standard Oil of California that led to the embarrassing Riddell affair. Dr. W.A. Riddell, Canada's delegate to the League, advocated oil sanctions against Italy when Mussolini invaded Ethiopia but King disavowed his own envoy. What sanctions the League did attempt to impose did not include bans on oil supply, and the sanctions failed. In the House, Tommy noted that "oil sanctions are much further away than when they were first suggested," and went on to ask:
“Why is that so? Is it because the oil interests have too much influence on the powers of government? Is it because those people who make their profits have a great deal more weight in the councils of governments than have the dictates of humanity?” [House of Commons, Debates, 11 February 1936.]
Tommy Douglas on J. S. Woodsworth
“Mr. Woodsworth was a very complex person. Biographers tend to stress his gentleness, but he was also very firm. He had the complexity of a Methodist minister. Strict with his family, but not tyrannical, strict with himself, he was quite a disciplinarian, but nevertheless very kindly. When I went to Parliament after I'd made my first speech, he took me up to the Hansard room to show me how to check my speech and make sure the quotations were correct and so on.
He advised me to make my first speech fairly early in the debate. He said, "Don't wait for months until you get such cold feet you never have the nerve to try it. And after you've made your first speech, don't get in too often until you know what you're talking about. Take time to find out how the House is run. The important thing is to gain the ear of the House. A lot of men make speeches almost every other day, but nobody listens to them, partly because they don't know what they're talking about, and partly because their material isn't well prepared. Once you have the ear of the House, then you can speak on almost anything that comes up and you'll get a hearing."
His advice was very useful to me throughout the years. As he got older and we got to know him better, he would take a little time out to talk. In the first years, he was so busy that he would read the newspaper standing up so he wouldn't waste any time. He only allowed himself so many minutes to read a newspaper. He wouldn't waste time reading a lot of nonsense. He was always working.
But after he'd been there a few years, and especially after that first stroke, he'd go back over some of his experiences and give you the benefit of his advice. He was the kind of person who drove himself very hard.
You might be interested in the winter election of 1940. Only a few of us knew that he'd had this stroke, and we decided to try to keep him out of the 1940 election. We passed the word around to various provincial offices that he would not be available as a speaker; that he was going to confine himself mostly to his own constituency, and do a little radio speaking. Otherwise he wouldn't be available. Because we couldn't tell them the reason, some people thought that the office was being merely arbitrary and went to him directly to ask if he would come to a big meeting in Massey Hall, which he gladly agreed to do. When we found out, we got in touch with the Ontario people and finally explained that he'd had this stroke, and we were very concerned about his health.
They felt sorry about it, but they couldn't cancel. They did the next best thing. They got him a compartment on the train, so he could sleep in bed all the way down to Ontario, and all the way back to Winnipeg. He accepted. He addressed the meeting, had a great time, and after he got back to Winnipeg the railway sent the Ontario people a cheque for the money for the compartment. He had turned the compartment ticket in, and had traveled there and back on the day coach with a little box lunch his wife had put up for him, so that he wouldn't cause any unnecessary expenditures by going to the dining room or using the compartment. I was a little cross when I spoke with him about it. He said, "Tommy, I just couldn't travel in a compartment thinking of all the people who are hungry and homeless, and all the people who don't enjoy that kind of luxury. It would just be against my conscience."
That dramatic debate in the special session of 1939 was probably his last major public appearance. When we came back to the regular session in 1940, after the election of 26 March, he reappeared in the House, but he’d had another stroke in the meantime. From then on he was in and out of the House, most of the time in bed. My wife and I called on him toward the very end of his life, and he was still courageous. We'd just won a by-election in Toronto. He said to me, "I haven't got very long, but it will be up to you people to carry on, and remember that time is on our side, and that the things we've worked for and struggled for are bound to come to pass."
That was the last time I saw him. He was so ill that he had to stay in a roomette on the train out to the Coast. On the way, he stopped in Winnipeg. Stan Knowles met him at the station, and Woodsworth told some of the Winnipeg people he hoped Knowles would consent to run in Winnipeg North-Centre. When he got to the Coast, he died there, and his ashes were scattered over the Pacific Coast he loved so well.
Interviewer: He had been a missionary there.
Yes, at Gibsons Landing, where he'd spent some of the happiest years of his life. After he was kicked out of the church in the First World War for his stand as a conscientious objector, he worked as a longshoreman. Here was a preacher looking for work, quite a frail man, who weighed about 135 pounds and stood about 5 feet 7 inches. He wasn't a very robust character to be a stevedore. But he got the job because he knew Harold Winch's father, old Ernie Winch, who was president of the stevedores' union. When the flu broke out, he nursed a lot of people at night, and worked all day. He always kept the hook that he used for lifting the bags of sugar hanging in his office. [Harold Edward Winch came to Vancouver from England in 1910 when he was three years old and later became an electrician in Vancouver. He was an organizer of the C.C.F. in British Columbia and was the provincial leader from 1938 to 1953. First elected to the House of Commons in 1953, he was re-elected in 1957, 1958, 1962, 1963, and 1965.] Woodsworth stayed there for months, and later became secretary of the longshoremen's union.
Memorial services were held for him all across the country. I came all the way from Ottawa to take a memorial service for him at Westminster United Church in Regina. It was packed with friends of his from all over. It was the end of a great Canadian, whose influence will undoubtedly live long after many of the men who sat on the treasury benches have been forgotten.” [The Making of a Socialist, pp. 127-29]
Tommy Douglas on the issue of “moral progress”:
Interviewer: I want you to think in general terms. Huxley says that man hasn't made any great progress in morals and ethics since the beginning of history. How do you see the world today? Is man improving; is he making any progress or not?
“This is the sheerest kind of nonsense that only intellectuals like Huxley can possibly utter. It's not long ago that people were owned like cattle. Less than a hundred years ago in the United States, less than a hundred and fifty years ago in Britain, human beings were bought and sold, and had no rights or privileges. The Tolpuddle martyrs  were seeking to project a new ethic of working by earning their living by the sweat of their brow. They did not have the right to associate themselves together for their mutual betterment. This was not only against the law at that time, but against the social mores. It was immoral as well as illegal, and so they were shipped off to Australia. But by the time the few that were left came back from Australia, public indignation had grown, and people said it may be illegal but it's not immoral; if there's anything immoral, it's the law that says that this is wrong, and consequently the law is amended to give to these people their rights of association. This is a great step forward.
All our co-operative movements, our trade union movements, the rights of groups like retail merchants or filling station operators, or anybody else to associate themselves together for their mutual benefit and advancement are accepted and written into our laws today. It's hard to realize that only a comparatively short time ago it was illegal and immoral to associate. People were supposed to do what their betters told them. The aristocracy decided what you would work at, how much schooling you'd get, what church you would go to; you were little better than a serf. You had only one function, and that was to work for your betters in whatever way they thought fit. You couldn't sell this ethic today in any part of the civilized world. This is the progress we've made, and while one gets discouraged at the struggle over segregation in the United States, the fact does remain that we are indignant about it. Who would have been indignant about the right of Negro children to go to school with white children a hundred years ago? It was part of the social mores, not only that Negro children should not be going to school with white children, but that they shouldn't be going to school at all.
It is rather fantastic to say that man has not made any progress. Take the realm of international affairs: the mere fact that you have millions of people questioning the atomic bomb pact and questioning the morality of war is progress. Who was questioning the morality of war in the days of the Hundred Years War, and in the days when Caesar's legions were marching over Europe and Asia?
Interviewer: You sometimes hear that this is the age in which man will conquer poverty. What else is there to conquer after you conquer poverty?
I'm afraid I'm not an intellectual; I'm a pragmatist. I always think that if you've got an immediate problem you oughtn't to spend too much of your energy—you've got to spend some but you should not spend too much of your energy—worrying about the problems ahead. Sometimes intellectuals tend to weaken the drive of good social and economic reform movements by constantly saying, "If you solve this problem, then what are you going to do?"
We must first solve the problem of supplying all the basic needs of all the people on the earth in terms of food, clothing, and shelter. In this province, we must look at the fact that per capita food production in the world today is less than it was in 1939. We're producing more food, but we're not increasing our production of food as rapidly as the population of the world is increasing. (The Making of a Socialist, pp 360-61)
The Hate Campaign against the CCF: “Tommy the Commie”
The CCF was done permanent, long-term damage by a hate campaign conducted all across the country that wafted its poisoned tendrils back into Saskatchewan. This outpouring of deceit and slander was launched even before McCarthyism reared its ugly head in the United States, and continued for at least thirteen years, roughly from 1944 to at least 1957.
The CCF had been moderating its policies from 1933 on, and by war’s end was officially embracing the idea that Canada's economy was, and should remain, a "mixed economy" rather than the state-planned model envisioned by the Regina Manifesto. The Manifesto was trotted out on special occasions for uplift rather than guidance, although it was not officially replaced until the Winnipeg Declaration of Principles in 1956.
Ironically, the CCF's more moderate approach, precisely because it made the party more electable, inspired what Cameron Smith called "the most vicious and concentrated campaign ever undertaken against a political party." Supported by huge donations from chambers of commerce and boards of trade, and by the help of most of Canada's large corporations, including its banks and trust companies, the campaign portrayed the CCF as dictatorial (a wonderful irony since, at this time, the CCF was the only political party* in Canada to hold open conventions; the Liberals' last convention had taken place in 1919) - and not only dictatorial, but communistic and crooked.
*Cameron Smith, Love & Solidarity (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1992), 99.
A typical note was struck by Fred Gardiner, the reeve of Forest Hill, then an independent village within Toronto, who rumbled that "Socialistic rule in Canada would mean musclemen and gangsters, who understand mob organization and the handling of machine guns."**
In Ontario, the government of George Drew established a political police office in 1943 on the second floor of a garage on Surrey Place, just down the street from Queen's Park. Ontario Provincial Police Captain William J. Osborne-Dempster was put in charge, provided with funds never authorized by the legislature, and set to work as a political spy, complete with code name: he was called "D.208," and signed his reports to the deputy commissioner of the OPP, "Yours to command, D.208."
This "Special Branch" did not appear in the public accounts of Ontario, although that was a legal requirement. Osborne-Dempster set up files on all CCF members of the legislature, and on anyone who leveled any criticism against the government, free enterprise, or international finance. These people were seen as either communists or the dupes of communists, and they included not only Edward B. JolifFe, the Ontario CCF leader, but B.K. Sandwell, editor of Saturday Night magazine, Mitch Hepburn, the former Liberal premier, and David Croll, a prominent Liberal senator.* Copies of reports purporting to link all these left-wingers with communism were fed not only to the provincial Conservatives, but to two peculiar propagandists, Gladstone Murray and M.A. Sanderson. Murray, who had been general manager of the CBC until 1948, when he was asked to resign for failure to account for funds he had received,** was hired by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to mount an anti-socialist campaign. He received generous payments from many of Canada's prominent corporations and used them to produce propaganda and pamphlets.
* Stewart, But Not in Canada, 167ff.
** RegWhitaker and Gary Marcuse, Cold War Canada: The Making of a National Insecurity State, 1945-1957 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994), 274.
Sanderson, known to intimates as "Bugsy," although his first name was actually Montague, was the manager of the Reliable Exterminator Company, but spent much of his time attacking socialism because the resultant publicity apparently increased the sales of bug spray. He used the D.208 reports as the basis of a huge, crude advertisement directed at CCF candidates in the 1944 Toronto municipal election. The ad, headed "This Is the Slate to Rub Out on New Year's Day," contained the flat assertion that all CCFers were communists. Since it was illegal at that time to be a communist, the CCFers sued for libel. As there was no evidence to validate Sanderson's charges, a "special jury" that consisted entirely of businessmen found for the plaintiffs, and awarded them each one dollar in damages. In the meantime, all of them were defeated in the election.
Alvin Rowe, an OPP constable working under Osborne-Dempster, became more and more concerned about the activities of the Special Branch, which 'were clearly outside the law, and took his worries to Agnes Macphail, who in turn took them to Ted Joliffe, the Ontario CCF leader. Joliffe consulted the CCF national leader, M.J. Coldwell, who worried that revealing the material might do more harm than good, but Joliffe disregarded this advice. On May 24, 1945, in the middle of a provincial election, he went on the radio to charge that the Ontario government had set up a secret police force, that Premier George Drew knew about it and sanctioned it, and that it was being used to harass the legitimate opposition to the Conservatives, including Liberals and CCFers. All of this was true. However, he chose to call the Special Branch "George Drew's Gestapo," an emotive term that blew up in his face.
Canadians simply would not believe that a government of theirs would condone, much less engage in, such activity, even though Joliffe, well primed by Alvin Rowe's files, was able to produce dates, incidents, and copies of D208's reports. Premier Drew, unable to dismiss the charges out of hand, denied that he had a role in any of the alleged activities, or indeed any knowledge of them, and promised a royal commission to look into the matter, which put it out of the way for the rest of the election. The Conservatives won that election, and the Ontario CCF was decimated.
In due course, a royal commission was established under Mr. Justice A.M. LeBel, a prominent Liberal, with Joseph Sedgwick, a prominent Conservative, as commission counsel. The commission's terms of reference were carefully drawn to exclude prying into the activities of the Special Branch; it was only allowed to consider whether the premier had had any responsibility for its establishment. Drew went into the witness box in due course and perjured himself. He said that Joliffe s entire charge was a "deliberate lie," and Mr. Justice LeBel swallowed this account whole. LeBel concluded that there was no direct link between Drew and the Special Branch, and therefore Joliffe's charges were groundless. He also concluded that Osborne-Dempster's role was not to make life difficult for the legitimate opposition, but to investigate communism, although D.208 never once submitted a report on communism as such.
His Lordship also found that, while Osborne-Dempster's reports were frequently misleading and often outright false, they were not intentionally so. Gladstone Murray testified that he had never received the secret reports of D.208, nor had he ever used them. LeBel believed Murray, despite other testimony, and proclaimed that it was simply not credible that large corporate interests, in the persons of Gladstone Murray and Bugsy Sanderson, would be in the business of purchasing palpable falsehoods. Therefore, he said, it hadn't happened. He found, finally, that the payments that supported the Special Branch were illegal; that, at least, was undeniable. But no action was ever taken in the matter.
The chief witness against the government, Alvin Rowe, died in a plane crash after the hearings, and the transcript of the hearings disappeared. No one seemed to find this odd.
It was not until 1980, when David Lewis was writing his autobiography, that at least part of the truth was established as fact. Two dogged researchers, Dr. Alan Whitehorn and David Walden, who helped Lewis research material dug into the private papers of both Drew and Murray. What they found was that Drew had a direct, personal, and long-lasting relationship with Gladstone Murray, in flat contradiction of his own account before the commission; that the D.208 reports were indeed used in precisely the way that Alvin Rowe had said they were used; and that, as Lewis wrote, "The head of the Ontario government had given false testimony under oath."*
*Lewis, The Good Fight, 21 A.
But it was too late. In the election that took place in Ontario ten days after the Gestapo charges were first leveled, the CCF plummeted from 21 seats to 8, while the Liberals became the official opposition, with 11 seats, and the Conservatives won a thumping, 66-seat majority.*
*Parliamentary Guide, 1946.
Federally, as well, the incident did inestimable harm, convincing many swing voters that the CCF was a party of desperation that would resort to anything to crawl to power. Political scientist Murray Beck, an even-handed commentator, noted that "the politically inept E.B. Joliffe" had hurt the CCF cause nationwide because "his charges that the Premier maintained his own private Gestapo back-fired badly." * Hence, the damage to the CCF was done, in spite of the fact that the charges happened to be true. In the federal vote, while the CCF claimed 28 seats, none was in Ontario, where the party had to break through if it was to be a national force.
* Beck, Pendulum of Power, 250.
The Liberals joined forces with the Communists during that 1945 election, and were happy to do so. The national director of the Liberal Federation noted, "We're glad of cooperation; we're for co-operation, not coalition." David Lewis called this "an unholy alliance between the Liberals, who had no principles, and the Communists, who had no ethics." *No blame was attached to the Liberals for these alliances, which saw them making saw-off deals with the Labor Progressive candidates (as the Communists called themselves since in our magnificent democratic society it had been declared illegal to be communist) in a number of ridings to avoid splitting the vote.
* Smith, Love & Solidarity, 106-7.
The CCF itself certainly had some communist sympathizers, and indeed, Communist members, but it spent a good deal of time and effort trying to weed them out. For this Tommy and the CCF were denounced on the left as "reactionary" at the same time that Liberal Walter Tucker, a Saskatoon lawyer and Member of Parliament for Rosthern, accused them for being "in the pay of Moscow." Hard to beat that for audacity, but Tucker was only warming up.
In addition to the slanderous anti-CCF attacks by Canada’s newspapers, during election campaigns in particular, they also refused to print CCF advertising copy, letters to the editor or articles submitted by the Party that were critical of the two mainstream corporatist parties or that attempted to answer or clarify systematic attacks against it. Newspapers and more recently television are insidious in the sense that there is a public perception that they are impartial and stand outside political ideologies. Nothing is further from the truth. As Antonio Gramsci has convincingly argued they act as filters of information, maintainers of the status quo and powerful “directive forces”, exerting an immense and subtle power over what Walter Lippmann called “manufacturing consent” in the “bewildered herd.”
Uneasy Lies the Head that Owns the Crowns
The charge most often laid against the Douglas government in Saskatchewan was that it was socialist. Seemingly innocuous, it was sufficient to condemn it in the eyes of the corporate mass media and the business community – and to a large extent among the working classes who were continually bombarded with distortions and lies about what socialism entailed. Certainly the CCF described itself as socialist, always carefully injecting the adjective "democratic" to distinguish it from other brands of radical socialism. But the same could be said of capitalism. Capitalism has also taken on various mutations and perverse forms, including fascism, under which it flourished as it never could under more democratic political regimes. In fact for the first two hundred years of capitalism, slavery was the primary driving force. With the move toward neo-conservative laissez-faire globalized capitalism in recent decades, some would argue not much has changed.
Here is how Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines "socialism":
n. 1: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership of the means of production and distribution of goods. 2a: a system of society or group living in which there is no private property; b: a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state. 3: a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done.
The CCF in Saskatchewan was socialist under the first definition, but never under either of the others. But any government that applies an income tax to its populace, runs a public education system and delivers any form of social assistance or attempted re-distributing of wealth; any government that owns any of the means of production such as hydroelectric power or public transit in the form of a crown corporation is, according to this definition, socialist. When the Conservative government of R.B. Bennett set up the Bank of Canada in 1934, when the Liberal government of Mackenzie King created thirty-two crown corporations to sell wool, harvest timber, make tools, refine uranium, and build ships, among other things,* it was certainly sliding down the slippery slope. In British Columbia during the 1950s the distinctly conservative Social Credit government of Premier W. A. C Bennett created B.C. Hydro, B.C Rail and the B.C. Ferries by taking over inept and inefficient private companies and creating crown corporations. W.A.C Bennett would be deemed a socialist by our present neo-conservative ideologue Premier Gordon Campbell who has an agenda to privatize everything in the province. The United States, when Ronald Reagan was in charge, owned 24,000 government enterprises.** (They no longer count them, so it is hard to work out today's total.) The Tennessee Valley Authority, headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee, is larger, in terms of assets, employment, and revenue than any other government corporation on the continent except another U.S. government corporation — the post office.
* Stewart, Uneasy Lies the Head, appendix VII.
** Ibid., 64.
Governments wind up owning the means of production and distribution, by and large, faute de mieux. The Cape Breton Development Corporation (Devco), a far larger enterprise than anything the CCF owned in Saskatchewan, came into being because of the failure of private enterprise. The Dominion Steel and Coal Company, after years of making money, began to drown in a sea of red ink. They pulled out in 1967, leaving 6,000 Cape Breton families without any visible means of support. The federal Liberals, socialists to a man, stepped in to save the jobs (and the votes that went with them), and, over the next thirty years, spent $1.6 billion to keep the corporation afloat. Before long, Devco found itself in oyster farming, fishing, sheep breeding, beef production, maple syrup, boat construction, wool milling, food processing, metal casting, lumber milling, and door making. These enterprises were not created with the sole purpose of profit making, though; never profit making. It went into the tourist industry and financed a steam railway, a golf course, beaches, marinas, and restaurants. Some of these were successful and suitable projects and some were not; what they all had in common was that, without government help, it is unlikely that any of these job-creating ventures would ever have seen the light of day. Let’s not create any delusions: People don’t go into business for any altruistic or noble purposes such as to create jobs – they go into business to make money for themselves by getting others to work hard for them at the cheapest possible wage.
Somehow, this proved to the nation's editorial writers that government enterprise can’t work and that private enterprise is the only way business can be successfully run – by the incentive of greed and profit. If greed is the driving force that motivates people to excel and work hard, it would be a sad comment on the moral status of the human race. When the Chretien government finally pulled the plug on Devco, the Toronto Star trotted out the usual sermon from the conservative party handbook that the workers of Cape Breton (where the unemployment rate still hovers around 20 per cent) "would be far better off today had Ottawa not tried to shield them from economic reality for the past 30 years."*
* Toronto Star, 2 June 1999.
Actually, $1.6 billion spread over thirty years would seem to have been a sound investment, when the alternative was to walk away and let Cape Breton become a depopulated ghetto. Ottawa spends about $25 billion every year on subsidies alone to private corporations which can only be construed as “corporate welfare.” So why is this handout deemed "an investment in opportunity," while keeping Cape Breton in decent jobs by a government subsidy shielding them from the discipline of the marketplace and economic realities? In one tax ruling, Revenue Canada allowed the Bronfman interests to transfer assets out of the country tax-free, a sweetheart deal that cost the taxpayers of Canada about $800 million, or half of what it cost to keep thousands of men and women working for three decades. Go figure. This amount pales in comparison to the $200 billion of taxpayer money that our present Prime Minister Stephen Harper has spent to offload their toxic assets resulting from their own uncontrolled greed during the recent bubble economy which has now resulted in a global economic meltdown from which there is no end in sight. Harper had also plundered about $60 billion from the Employment Insurance fund to pay for huge tax breaks to profitable Canadian corporations such as the oil conglomerate Suncor which is desecrating the environment in the northern Alberta Tar Sands project.
What distinguished the CCF under Tommy Douglas from other political parties in Canada was that they went into government enterprise with their eyes open. They believed in long term planning and adopted strategies to meet their objectives. They believed in government enterprise when it was in the best interests of the community and private enterprise when it could accomplish the same goals without adverse risk to the common good of the populace. They never proposed or instigated a program whereby all the major elements of production and distribution were the responsibility of the state. They simply believed, like the Social Credit of British Columbia and the Conservatives of Ontario, when they set up publicly funded and controlled Hydro projects as crown corporations that there are conditions under which state ownership is the most efficient, cheapest strategy and is in the best interests of the community. When the CCF came to power, about 80 per cent of Saskatchewan's gross provincial product came from agriculture, mainly wheat.* It had the nation's highest per capita debt (left to them from the decades of Liberal Party mismanagement) and second-lowest per capita income. Outside investment in the province ranged between poor and pitiful. Between 1936 and 1946, census figures showed, about one quarter of the population moved out of the province, a trend that promised to leave the place to the gophers before long, if something wasn't done.
* This was the figure used in the 1941 census.
The CCF government's Economic Planning Board quickly steered the province into commercial ventures in insurance, power generation, transportation, and communications, all of which made, and continued to make, profits for years. Joe Phelps, the minister for natural resources, was a much sturdier socialist than Tommy, and vowed to carry out the "eventual and complete socialization" of all provincial resources, the ambitious goal of the first Planning Board.* Warned that he might be pushing on faster than the province could abide, Phelps would shout, "Never say whoa in the middle of a puddle", and would plunge ahead.** During the CCF tenure in Saskatchewan from 1944 to 1960 they were able to balance the budget and eventually pay off the provincial debt left by the Liberals.
* Economic and Advisory Planning Board, Four-Year Plan, 1947, Douglas Collection, Saskatchewan Archives, Regina.
** McLeod and McLeod, Road to Jerusalem, 167
Nobody seemed to notice that, while Phelps was indeed setting up all sorts of government-owned ventures, the premier had slipped away to talk to oil barons in London, New York, Toronto, and Chicago, and was persuading them to come to Saskatchewan, where, he promised them, they need never fear they would be taken over by the government. To offset the constant drum roll of press notices warning them off, he wrote a public letter promising that any corporations that invested in the provincial natural resource sector (aside from power and natural gas, which he told them were "natural monopolies" reserved for the province) would be left free of interference. As long these private companies paid the necessary royalties and abided by provincial environmental and employment standards, as under any other jurisdiction, they would be able to operate exactly as they chose.*
* Douglas, The Making of a Socialist, 296.
By 1958, the province had outside investment in the oil industry of $2 billion. The annual production from the mineral sector increased almost ten-fold from 1945 to 1958, from $22 million to more than $200 million. Royalties from natural resources grew from $1.5 million to $25 million. Although agriculture had grown both in acreage planted (by more than a million acres) and in average farm production, it was no longer providing most of Saskatchewan's income: it had dropped from more than four-fifths of the gross provincial product to just over a third.* Public and private investment in the province stood at more than $600 million annually (higher, per capita, than the national average), and the unemployment rate was lower than that of either Alberta or Manitoba. The Planning Board's diversification scheme had worked.
*Statistics Canada, Canadian Economic Observer, Historical Statistical Supplement, 1995/96.
The principle — not the one Tommy pushed on the political podium, but the one he outlined to Chris Higginbotham, with whom he recorded his life story — was this:
“Let me remind you that we believe in a mixed economy of public ownership, co-operative ownership, and private ownership. The problem was deciding which businesses belong to each category. There were some things we did, not because they belonged in the public ownership category, but because there was no one else to do them.” [Douglas, The Making of a Socialist, 284. In point of fact, although he never would, Premier Ralph Klein of Alberta could say the same.]
Thus, when no one else would undertake to develop the massive deposits of sodium sulphate at Chaplin (where, to this day, the white alkaline deposits make a wintry landscape along the Trans-Canada Highway in the middle of July), the province built a plant that quickly paid for itself. Then it built another plant, at Bishopric, and that was soon turning out a profit, as well. Common sense was the real criterion, not ideology. Jimmy Thomas, a minister in Britain's Labor government, once noted, "The trouble with socialists is that they let their bleeding hearts go to their bloody heads." Tommy quoted him with approval. Socialism was fine, and he applauded it, but it wouldn't do to lose sight of the fact that, as Clarence Fines kept reminding him, these things had to be paid for.
Tommy Douglas the Father: The incident in 1969 involving his daughter Shirley Douglas, then wife of Canadian actor Donald Sutherland.
Not long before the party's federal convention in October 1969 Tommy was caught up in another, much more personal drama.
His daughter Shirley, now divorced from Tom Sick, had moved to California with her second husband, Canadian actor Donald Sutherland, whom she had met in Rome while she was dubbing voiceovers for spaghetti Westerns. Shirley, who idolized and loved her father dearly, had always been active in progressive political movements and continues to be so today. Her political activism didn’t change with the arrival of twins Kiefer and Rachel, born in 1967. In 1969, she joined a group called "The Friends of Black Panthers," to raise money for the Panthers' legal expenses and for a breakfast-for-children program they ran in Los Angeles. The Black Panthers were, to put it mildly, a motley crew, ranging from anarchist to liberal to communist and involved some people who desired the overthrow the entire capitalist system of greed and privilege that was oppressing people of color for centuries - but Shirley Douglas just wanted was to help feed some hungry ghetto kids.
At 5:30 a.m. on October 2, 1969, a scene like one you would see in an old movie about Nazi Germany was enacted at the Sutherlands' Beverly Hills home. A squad of ten officers burst through the door and began to ransack the place. They later claimed that they had information that Shirley and a friend of hers, playwright Donald Freed, were holding hand grenades for the Black Panthers.1 Tad, Shirley's ten-year old son, stood against one wall, terrified. Rachel and Kiefer were in a bedroom, crying.
The raiders found nothing and despite and substantive evidence, charged Shirley with "conspiracy to obtain a destructive device" — the hand grenades that they couldn't find. The U.S. attorney responsible for the case claimed that Shirley and Freed had purchased them from an undercover cop. Later, the prosecution claimed to have found the grenades at Freed's apartment, and eventually it was revealed that they had been planted.
When Tommy heard about the arrest, he called a press conference in Ottawa, not merely to protest that his daughter was innocent, but to commend her: "I am proud that my daughter believes, as I do, that hungry children should be fed whether they are Black Panthers or White Republicans."2 The next day, October 5, he flew down to Los Angeles, where he was met by a throng of reporters anxious to interview the leader of what they described in their newspapers and television reports as "the Canadian Communist Party." They told him his daughter wasn't at the airport to meet him and asked, "Are you disappointed?"
"Who says she's not?" Douglas shot back; and there she was, making her way politely and slowly through the swarm of journalists.3
The charges did not get to court until 1970, when they were dismissed for lack of even a shred of evidence to support them. Even so, U.S. immigration officials mounted a campaign to deport her, and in 1978 she returned to Canada and was blacklisted from further work in the United States, although her son Kiefer eventually followed in his father’s footsteps to Hollywood stardom. By this time however, her marriage to Sutherland had dissolved.
1. This account is from the Associated Press coverage carried in the Leader-Post (Regina), 4 October 1969.
2. Quoted in Ottawa Journal, 5 October 1969.
3. The scene was caught on camera, and appeared in a documentary on Tommy called Keeper of the Flame.
The passage below is taken from a speech Tommy Douglas delivered in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, when his days as a party leader were drawing to a close. This quote ought to be set against the backdrop that, on the day Tommy died, February 24, 1986, successor neo-conservative governments, both Liberal and Conservative, had already begun to dismantle the social safety net that Tommy had spent his entire life helping to put into place.
Sometimes people say to me, "Do you feel your life has been wasted? The New Democratic Party has not come to power in Ottawa. "And I look back and think that a boy from a poor home on the wrong side of the tracks in Winnipeg was given the privilege of being part of a movement that has changed Canada. In my lifetime I have seen it change Canada. When you people sent me to the House of Commons in 1935, we had no universal old age pension. We have one now. It's not enough, but we have one. We had no unemployment insurance. We had no central Bank of Canada, publicly owned. We didn't have a wheat board, didn't have any crop insurance, didn't have a Canada Pension Plan and didn't have family allowances.
Saskatchewan was told that it would never get hospital insurance. Yet Saskatchewan people were the first in Canada to establish this kind of insurance, and we were followed by the rest of Canada. We didn't have Medicare in those days...
—Tommy Douglas, November 20, 1970 [Doris French Shackleton, Tommy Douglas, 1993, p. 309]
Bill Davies, a colleague of Tommy's in the Saskatchewan cabinet, summed him up this way: "There are so many things that are deemed worthwhile and talked about that are never done. Tommy Douglas talked about things and did them."
Let's give the last words to a professional word-smith, Vancouver Sun columnist Jack Scott writing in 1960: "Forget the politics. Here's a man who wanted to do something for the improvement of the human race. He chose the method that seemed best to him, quarrel with it if you will. He was motivated by an ideal. To call him a politician, as you'd call Bennett or Diefenbaker politicians, is to insult him."
Tommy was, Scott wrote with succinctness and eloquence, the preacher-turned-politician would have appreciated, "a good deed in a naughty world...." (From Dave Margoshes, Tommy Douglas: Building the New Society, p. 154)
I leave you with one of Tommy Douglas’ greatest speeches, now referred to by historians as “Mouseland”. The animated audio video can be viewed here and the text of the speech here. Following his death in 1986 CBC presented an inspirational tribute and historical snapshot here. The 1969 news clip of Douglas surrounded by a crowd of mews media meeting his daughter Shirley in California following a police frame-up over her association with the Black Panthers (she was involved in fund raising for a breakfast and lunch program for ghetto kids) is excellent. It’s heart-warming and at the same time demonstrates how the shrewd quick witted Tommy handled the media. There is much more, including radio and television clips, at the Tommy Douglas CBC archives at the following link: http://archives.cbc.ca/politics/parties_leaders/topics/851/
End – June 2009
Dec 2010 Update: Tommy was subjected to Canada's own witch hunts. We have very little to be proud of and our fascist style behavior by our governments towards working class people and left wing progressives was not much better than that of the United States during the same appalling periods of history.
The RCMP stalked and harassed Canadian Hero Tommy Douglas for Decades
During the 1930s and after the Second World War anyone who had left wing sympathies or was a labor leader or a pacifist was a potential target of the RCMP secret service division. Ironically, but not surprisingly, if you held extreme right wing views, even if you were a fascist, even a Hitler sympathizer as was Mackenzie King the Prime Minister at the time (yes, there was a fascist party in Canada, particularly prominent in Quebec) the RCMP never perceived that as a threat, despite the fact the Second World War was primarily a struggle against fascism. I highly suggest watching the shocking NFB documentary called “The (Un) Canadians” that chronicles the persecution of Canadians after WW II by the RCMP. Many of these victims were professional people, labor leaders and intellectuals who lost their flourishing careers and then subsequently subjected to relentless persecution and harassment by RCMP secret police wherever they sought other employment in Canada. Their crime: holding to socialist or leftist political sentiments.
Few Canadians are more revered than Tommy Douglas, former CCF Saskatchewan premier, national NDP leader, Baptist minister, and founder of Medicare. When he died of cancer in 1986, he was a national icon. But he was certainly not revered by the conservative power elites and corporatists who owned most of the country and financed the campaigns of both Conservatives and Liberals who formed the federal government during this shameful period. Nothing really much has changed has it, except that they have all moved even further to the right politically. Douglas would not recognize the NDP were he alive today, a party that was once the only genuine defender of working class people.
Douglas’ social democratic outlook, harsh critique of capitalism and his caring campaigning for working people and the dispossessed made him a target for the RCMP security service during the Cold War era of “Reds under the beds.” Unlike the mass of self-interested Conservative Christians who dominate our culture today Douglas was a liberation theologian who actually took the Gospels seriously. Yet many conservative pundits, many who called themselves devout Christians, referred to him as “Tommy the Commie.” It was a time when FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover compiled vast and damaging dossiers on U.S. presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy, Charlie Chaplin, John Garfield, Pierre Trudeau, Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, Linus Pauling, Artie Shaw, Orson Welles, Arthur Miller, Martin Luther King, Sammy Davis Jr. and so many others. The McCarthy witch hunts of the late 1940s and 1950s were ruthless in their destruction of careers, especially progressive writers, artists and musicians such as Pete Seeger and Dalton Trumbo who were blacklisted for many years. Some whose families or themselves were members of the Communist Party were incarcerated without charge or even deported to their original homelands. During the worst years of McCarthyism disgraceful shameless Conservatives such as Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon were well know rat finks who fingered as “Reds” or “Pinkos” many of their colleagues and associates. William F Buckley even wrote a piece in the National Review praising the work of Joseph McCarthy.
In Canada the RCMP shadowed Douglas with Hoover-like zeal - eavesdropping on private conversations, probing his links to the peace movement and analyzing his every remark. They did everything they could to discredit him and find some moral shortcoming. After decades of relentless probing and provocation, they found nothing. They assembled a thick file, of which 1,142 pages survive. Some go back 70 years. Yet Library and Archives Canada has released only 456 heavily-censored pages. Implausibly, Ottawa cites the usual lame excuse of national security in holding back the rest.
That’s hard to credit almost a quarter-century after Douglas’ death. And indeed, Justice Simon Noel of Federal Court has just given Ottawa a forceful nudge to open up. Officials are promising to release “additional information” by March 31, 2011. It should be a lot more information. Saskatchewan NDP leader Dwain Lingenfelter says the Douglas family is “adamant” that the entire file be made public.
That will likely shame the RCMP and the governments that tolerated this paranoid prying and snooping on an eloquent perspicacious critic of the conservative establishment. But Canadians ought to know what was done in their name, and why. Certainly Douglas, a passionate champion of freedom and civil rights, would want that.