In 1919, Tommy Douglas was a teenager standing on a rooftop in downtown Winnipeg. He was looking down on a huge crowd of workers protesting low wages. They could not give their families a good quality of life, even though they worked very hard. Suddenly, the police pulled out their guns and shot over 20 of the protesting workers. Two people died. Many more were hurt. Tommy was deeply affected by what he saw that day. He believed everyone should have a good quality of life, whether they were rich or poor. He thought it was wrong that people who fought for their rights were being killed.
When he was 26, he became a minister so he could help people. His first job was in Saskatchewan. When the miners in his town went on strike, he brought them food and blankets. Once more, the police came in. They shot and killed three people. Tommy had seen enough. He decided to go into politics to make life better for poor people.
He joined a socialist party called the CCF. People tried to scare voters by saying he was a communist. So Tommy told a story about a place called Mouseland. In Mouseland, the mice kept voting for fat black cats who made laws that were only good for cats. To make a change, next time the mice voted for the fat white cats. Of course, nothing changed. Finally one day, a mouse got the idea to vote for other mice. The story ends with everyone calling him a communist! This story helped people understand socialism. The cats were like the rich people who were in government at the time. On the other hand, the mice were the working class people that Tommy wanted to see in government. With his bold ideas and ability to speak to a crowd, Tommy connected with voters. He became premier of Saskatchewan in 1944. He had this job until 1961.
During that time, Tommy kept his promises to make life better for everyone in Saskatchewan. At the time, only big cities had power for heat and lights. Tommy brought in power across the province. He made a law that bosses had to give workers at least two weeks of paid vacation. He made a bill of rights saying people of all races and genders are equal. The biggest change of all was that he brought in free health care for everyone in the province.
Health care was personal for Tommy. When he was a young boy, he got an infection in his leg. His family was poor and could not afford health care. He was going to lose his leg. Thankfully, a doctor agreed to operate on his leg for free. Most people were not as lucky as he had been in his time of need. In 1959, Tommy brought in free health care for everyone in Saskatchewan, rich and poor. Before long, many people across Canada wanted the same health care rights that people in Saskatchewan had.
In 1961, Tommy was voted into the federal government. The federal government put many of Tommy’s ideas in place for the rest of Canada. These ideas included money for seniors, minimum wage, and even health care.
In a country-wide vote, in 2004, Canadians named Tommy Douglas as the greatest Canadian of all time.