Home > Anxiety Neurosis > An Inadequate History of Canadian Healthcare

An Inadequate History of Canadian Healthcare

I Got The Hook-Up

Rumors are swirling throughout the capital that President Obama will attempt to post-pone Senate’s August recess until legislation on national health care is hammered out. Medical associations are lobbying against any attempts to nationalize coverage and former PR flak cum Center for Media and Democracy pundit Wendell Potter is following the medical industry’s attempts to subvert change. Weak-willed representatives are hoping to establish a non-profit insurance company that will operate alongside private companies while millions of Americans continue to live their lives without any financial protection should they suddenly be stricken by disease or an errant bus.

A couple of years back my parents’ neighbor gave me a copy of Uncle John’s Curiously Compelling Bathroom Reader, a collection of short essays designed to occupy one’s quieter moments. Recently I read an entry on Thomas Douglas, the former Premier of Saskatchewan credited with creating Canada’s medicare system. Although there are many critics of what they’ve got going on up north, particularly in terms of waiting for procedures and tests, the country does manage to spend less while providing some form of basic coverage for every citizen of their country. How did it begin?

It began with a ten-year-old immigrant kid’s broken leg. Tommy Douglas developed a bone infection and was facing the loss of limb when a doctor decided to use the boy as instruction for his students. The leg was spared, Tommy grew up and became increasingly attached to socialist ideologies. Curiously, his master’s thesis in sociology was about sterilizing and relegating to camps the mentally and physically handicapped. Experiences both in Chicago and Germany during the late 30’s caused a change of heart and Douglas wound up being elected to the House of Commons before leading the socialist Co-operative Commonwealth Federation into power in Saskatchewan.

Medical coverage was one of many social policies the party enacted during their reign. The CCF instituted a number of Crown Corporations, basically nationalized industry groups, going after certain public utilities, fisheries and lumber-yards. To increase the amount of doctors the provincial university was expanded and prospective students were enticed towards medical education exchanging their tuition for service in small towns. The early incarnation of Saskatchewan’s health coverage slowly attracted attention in other parts of Canada.

Facing an uphill battle Douglas resigned from his Premiership in 1961, and guided legislation through hard lobbying by doctor’s associations which eventually resulted in a strike throughout the province. Doctors were brought in from different parts of Canada and abroad who worked community clinics while the private doctors kept their offices closed. Behind the scenes concessions were made offering private practices to opt out of participation as well as increasing the pay for services. Support for striking doctors eventually waned until legislation passed for universal health coverage. The Canadian government offered payments to any province who would establish state-run health care, splitting costs down the middle. The idea caught on.

These days basic coverage is free for Canadian citizens. Employees of many companies get additional benefits paid for through private insurance, including dental care which isn’t provided. Government price controls keep prescription drug costs down, attracting many Americans whose tax dollars have already gone to subsidize the same drugs. It’s not perfect, people wait for procedures and tests you can get done immediately in the states, but only if your insurance company will pay for it.

Tommy Douglas retired from politics in the 70’s and sat on the board for a energy company as well as helping to run the Douglas-Coldwell Foundation, a non-profit funding leftist political and social academics. He died from cancer in 1986 at the age of eighty-one.

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  1. July 15, 2009 at 7:44 am

    What a great insight into socialism, “…Tommy grew up and became increasingly attached to socialist ideologies. Curiously, his master’s thesis in sociology was about sterilizing and relegating to camps the mentally and physically handicapped.”

    One rarely-mentioned ‘downside’ of socialism is the power to selectively target populations for ‘special treatment’. I suspect it is the intent of the elite all along.

  2. toot what?
    July 17, 2009 at 9:59 am

    I see that “Daily Spin” has paid off. You’re welcome.

  3. July 19, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    What I found curious about Douglas getting into segregating the cripples and gimps was that he himself was almost a cripple… I didn’t take the time to read his thesis (it’s available online) so I’m not sure what his academic reasoning behind this was, and I think my sentence you’ve quoted is absolutely sloppy…

    The downside of socialism is the downside of any other power structure– the people in power control the structure… In the end Douglas was able to sever an obviously amoral and probably unproductive fascination with population control and focused on creating something more egalitarian… Unless cripples and gimps were actually secretly refused service and left to die, but then nature’s kind of egalitarian like that too…

  4. July 19, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    Yeah, thanks Erica for suggesting I sign up to the Weekly Spin… Or is it the Daily Spin? Whichever, it’s a constant thorn in my side sitting unread in my e-mail for days at a time…

  5. July 19, 2009 at 10:13 pm

    Socialism may appear to share that common trait, except that by its nature it is so pervasive that the extent of the control is virtually complete, whereas with free markets the ‘control’ may be concentrated among groups of individuals, it is not dictated to the masses by one man, or one man and his friends, as it is in socialism.

  6. July 22, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    In terms of governing structure I think that both Socialism and Democracy have good ideological values which suffer exponentially the larger the structure builds… Like all systems, political or social or scientific, they look much better on paper without pesky variables such as people involved… I must warn you, however, that my time and energy won’t permit my debating this particular diversion beyond here, tho you’re welcome to a parting comment…

    But in terms of medical care you can still have a socialized system under the auspices of a democratic or representative government… In fact it’s become quite common, with varying degrees of success… Many of the most vilified nationalized health care systems (in America this seems to be Canada and the UK) have received growing criticism in recent years, but many academics and journalists have also been tracing the growing inclination of privatization in recent years as well…

    Working within the confines of a Disneyland utopia academic fantasy I will dismiss the ideas of market-driven health industry as anti-ethical… However I realize that it’s not so simple as saying “this is bad”, and suddenly everyone’s happy and taken care of… I do think that basic health care is a fundamental right which should be guaranteed by a community, not only as a humanistic imperative but also because the strength of a community (economically, socially, whatever) is inseparable from the health of its members…

    Market based health care is more tethered to the principles of the market than the principles of health… Your being taken care of is a collateral objective of the industry’s ability to remain profitable… Denying someone coverage because of a pre-existing condition is a smart economic decision but it does nothing for the health of a community… Forcing people to accept high-deductible coverage isn’t helpful to the people who can’t afford better coverage but it does protect the company from incurring higher losses… Etc, etc, etc…

    Mostly I just want to live in a Disneyland utopia fantasy but without the “Small World After All” rides and I hate going to the doctor’s…

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