Thank you, Dr. Waiser (and thank you for your strong, expert Saskatchewan voice on the Historic Sites and Monuments Board);
Mr. Romanow. Mr. Calvert. Mr. Meili.
Ladies and gentlemen.
As we gather on the territory of Treaty #4 and in the homeland of the Metis, it’s an honour to bring you the greetings and good wishes of the Prime Minister and the Government of Canada, and especially today, my Cabinet colleague Catherine McKenna, who carries responsibility for Parks Canada.
And by the way, Catherine would want me to remind you all that Parks Canada provides free admission to all young people 17 years of age and under. And to all new Canadians for one year. So please be sure to visit the wonderful national treasures that are cared for by Parks Canada.
One of the other objectives of this agency – and in particular, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board – is to connect more and more Canadians to significant people, places and events that make up our diverse Canadian history and heritage.
These are the building blocks of our national character. And today, we officially acknowledge and celebrate the impressive contributions of Thomas Clement Douglas.
One of the good things about having been first elected to the Parliament of Canada 45 years ago is that I had the privilege – personally – of sitting in the House of Commons when Mr. Douglas was still there. In the 1970s, he represented a riding in British Columbia, and I was the MP for Assiniboia, which included his home City of Weyburn.
It was an honour (…and an education) to watch him ask questions and engage in debate. And you could see his passion for human justice and social reform burning as brightly as ever.
Born in Scotland in the year BEFORE the Province of Saskatchewan was created, Tommy Douglas learned his values from his family. And then as a young immigrant to Canada. He witnessed the Winnipeg General Strike (a hundred years ago this year), and then the prairie dust bowl in the Dirty Thirties.
He became a Baptist preacher. He helped to found the CCF. He was elected a Member of Parliament. And then in 1944, Tommy Douglas became Premier of Saskatchewan, and held that office for a remarkable 17 years, before returning to Ottawa as the first national leader of the New Democratic Party.
His provincial legacy was filled with innovation and compassion – labour and human rights codes, province-wide rural electrification, highways and telephone services, a bus company, public auto insurance, new approaches to Indigenous relations, support for the South Saskatchewan River project, support for the arts and culture – but above all, Tommy Douglas is identified with health care.
Only three years into his premiership, in 1947, he gave Saskatchewan Canada’s first publicly-funded, universally accessible hospital insurance plan, which ultimately paved the way toward a full medicare program, in Saskatchewan and all across Canada.
In poll-after-poll, our medicare system is revered by the vast majority of Canadians as a fundamental characteristic of our country. And Tommy Douglas is the one who got it started.
At the federal level, after 1961, Mr. Douglas played a very influential role as an Opposition Leader through all of Mr. Pearson’s governments in the 1960s. Lester Pearson was Prime Minister between 1963 and 1968. He never once had a majority.
But his tenure in office produced things like the new Maple Leaf Flag, the Canada Pension Plan, Student Loans, the 40-hour work week, the Auto-Pact, the Canada Assistance Plan, public housing projects, the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, and national Medicare.
Much of that might not have been accomplished, in a minority Parliament, had it not been for T.C. Douglas who wanted to make Parliament work and get things done.
In his battles for social justice and human rights, he was bolstered by his pragmatism. He knew he had to make his issues tangible and meaningful to ordinary people. He knew the power of oratory and good humour. And his integrity was beyond reproach.
On behalf of the Government of Canada and on the recommendation of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board, I am proud to present this plaque to be placed in this “T.C. Douglas Building” to recognize and celebrate the significant role that Mr. Douglas has played in building our country.
I thank Dr. Waiser and his colleagues on the Board for their hard work and judgment.
Through their efforts, we are creating a rich mosaic of acknowledgements and displays all across Canada which portray the key people, places and events in our nation’s history. And that will help us all – and generations to come – to better understand who we are, where we come from and what we stand for.
Tommy Douglas, social justice and public health care belong prominently in that Canadian pantheon.