by: Gail Pellett, t r u t h o u t | Perspective
(Photo: Michal Porebiak / flickr)
Don’t get sick! Those were the last words my grandfather said to me as I left
Vancouver for the United States. It was 1964. Canada was in the process of implementing
a universal health care system. I hadn’t noticed, because I was young, healthy
Now, these many years later, as I witness the health care reform "debate,"
my grandfather’s words have returned to haunt me. He had been a pioneer farmer
in Saskatchewan on the Canadian prairies. That’s where Canada’s universal health
care system was conceived during the hard years of the depression and its aftermath.
Medicare (Canada’s health care plan) was largely the brainchild of a Baptist
minister turned politician, T. C. (Tommy) Douglas. He and others founded a new
party in Saskatchewan (which later became the New Democratic Party) based on
"humanity before private interests." Universal health care was at
the top of their agenda. By 1964, Saskatchewan implemented a health care plan
that treated everyone according to their needs regardless of their ability to
pay. Despite a doctor’s strike that tried to kill it, the farmers – including
my grandfather – made sure that this new health care plan survived. Then, just
as now, there were those who thought it made total sense and others who thought
it was a Communist conspiracy. However, it proved so popular in Saskatchewan
that within a few years the federal government adopted it for the entire country.
Imagine the audacity of this during a raging cold war. The year the plan went
into effect was the year of the Cuban missile crisis.
In 2004, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation conducted a poll to determine
whom Canadians thought was the greatest Canadian of all time. It was not Pierre
Trudeau, Joni Mitchell, Dan Aykroyd, Leonard Cohen, Margaret Atwood, Lorne Michaels,
Oscar Peterson, Peter Jennings, Celine Dion, Neil Young, Keanu Reeves, nor Wayne
Gretzky. It wasn’t even Keifer Sutherland or his dad, Donald. No, it was Keifer
Sutherland’s grandfather, Tommy Douglas, who is credited with making sure that
Canadians would have universal, government-funded health care. When Canadians
are periodically polled and asked what they are most proud of, in addition to
peacekeeping, it is their national health care system.
What irritates me – depresses me the most in fact – is that Americans seem
so unwilling to learn from any other country. "We would never want to have
a plan like the Canadians" is a comment I heard from an interviewee on
NPR the other day. Sadly, this speaker has never visited Canada, because if
they had they would probably witness that the average working-class or middle-class
person in Canada lives longer, works less, is a tad wealthier and has better
sex. And, of course, they have that single-payer health care plan. More,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,