On his legacy

Speeches of Tommy Douglas

(to an NDP audience in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan - November 27, 1970)

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, didn’t have any 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 were followed by the rest of Canada. We didn’t have Medicare in those days. They said you couldn’t have Medicare – it would interfere with the ‘doctor-patient relationship’. But you people in this province demonstrated to Canada that it was possible to have Medicare. Now every province in Canada either has it or is in the process of setting it up.

And you people went on to demonstrate other things with your community health clinics. You paved the road, blazing a trail for another form of health service, to give people better care at lower cost. You did these things. You have demonstrated what people can do if they work together, rather than work against; if you build a cooperative society rather than a jungle society.

Thirty-five years is a long time to have been in public service. I now sort of feel like an antiquarian. I say to the young people here: I can look back to the time when you went into the kitchen and said, ‘What’s cooking?’ And now you can go in and say, ‘What’s thawing?’ I can remember when grandma wore a night cap – now she drinks one. I can remember when I was a small boy, I would get a nickel for taking out the ashes – and now my grandson gets a quarter for turning up the thermostat.

Sure things have changed. Hair has gone down and skirts have gone up. But don’t let this fool you. Behind the beards and the miniskirts, the long hair, this generation of young people, take it from me, is one of the finest generations of young people that have ever grown up in this country. Sure they’re in rebellion against a lot of our standards and values and well they might be. They have got sick and tired of a manipulated society. They understand that a nation’s greatness lies not in the quantities of its goods but in the quality of its life. This is a generation of young people who are in revolt against the materialism of our society. They may go to extremes at times but this is a generation with more social concern, with a better understanding of the need for love and involvement and cooperation than certainly any generation I have seen in my lifetime.

Now the government says we will try to get the economy going again. But if we get it going again, inflation will start again. Do you see what that means? To those of you who have been through it before, it’s not new, but I say to the younger people here, what they are telling you is that you can’t have prosperity without inflation, and if you get rid of inflation, you have unemployment and recession. In other words, they are saying we can’t have a society in which we’ll have prosperity and affluence and a stabilized economy. That’s a terrible admission. They are saying we have got to have either booms or busts, with the booms getting shorter and busts getting longer.

Here are some of the things we have been suggesting. The first thing we say is instead of contracting the Canadian economy, we should expand the Canadian economy. Do you realize what it means to have contracted the Canadian economy? The Economic Council of Canada said that as a result of our lack of economic growth, the fact that our factories are not working at full capacity, we have half a million unemployed, which means that we are losing every year in potential wealth production six thousand million dollars. That’s $300 for every man, woman and child, of wealth that we don’t create and can’t enjoy. People say, where will the government get the money to do what the New Democratic Party recommends? Of that $6 billion, two billion of it, one-third would find its way in taxes into the coffers of the government. More money that would come in if we were operating at full capacity.

We ought to expand our economy. There ought not to be one idle able-bodied person in Canada. We need a million new homes in Canada. We need schools. We need recreation centres. We need nursing homes, housing projects, particularly for old people and for people on low incomes. We’ve got pollution in this country that needs to be cleaned up before we strangle ourselves in our own filth. We need a reforestation program. Many things need to be done. We could put every able-bodied person in this country to work, not just making holes and filling them up but doing useful work. That’s the first thing we ought to do.

The second thing we ought to do is to recognize that we haven’t had inflation in Canada. What we have had is maladministration of income. What do I mean by that? Well, what is inflation? According to the economic text books, inflation is too much money chasing too few goods. Do you think there is too much money chasing too few goods? Where has this too much money been? Any around here? Do you think the old age pensioners get too much money? Or the unemployed? Or the farmers? Or the fishermen? The Economic Council of Canada says that there are five million Canadians who live below the poverty line. Do you think they’ve got too much money? That’s a quarter of our population, living in poverty.

What about this too few goods? How many supermarkets have you seen close at two o’clock in the afternoon because they haven’t got any more goods to sell? We’re not short of goods. What we have is inequitable and unfair distribution of income. Raising the old age pension would put money into the pockets of people who spend it. Unemployment insurance of $100 a week would be spent and the economy would begin to move again.

The other thing we could do to redistribute income is to bring in tax reforms. The Carter Commission said that too large a share of the taxes falls on people with incomes of under $10,000 a year. The commission said that if we made the banks, the insurance companies, the mining companies, the gas companies, and those who live off capital gains pay taxes the same as the rest of us do, we would lower the income tax by 15 per cent for everybody with incomes under $10,000 a year and the government would still have $600 million a year more coming in than is coming in at the present time.

The principal thing we have to do if we are going to redistribute income is that we have to deal with the sections of our economy that have the least protection from the vagaries of the market system. I’m talking about farmers, fishermen, and primary producers. Regarding farmers: have you read the report of the Agricultural Task Force? It says that the top third of the farmers are big farmers and they can stay in business, probably with the help of the feed companies and the meat packing companies. The next third of the farmers can probably last another ten or twenty years. The bottom third, the small farmers, must be got rid of immediately. But they don’t say where they’re to go.

They don’t say where a man who is fifty or sixty years of age, on a quarter section of land, is going to go when they take him off the farm. I’ll tell you where he’s going to go. He’s going to go into the city and go on welfare. This is a program that is going to denude and depopulate this country. They talk about only having 150 to 200 grain centres in the west. The towns will be seventy-five miles apart and nothing in between them, just wasteland. Little town of 1,500 and under will fade away; branch lines being closed and rails pulled up. Is this how they’re going to build this nation? Is this what the pioneers opened up this great country for? The farmers should speak out against this program before it is too late.

Whether people want change or not, change is coming. The rising generation is going to insist on change, and they’re going to bring about change. What we have to decide is whether that change will be brought about violently and bloodily, which would be a tragedy, because when you bring about change by violence and when you get to office by force, you have to stay in office by force, and you get a dictatorship. We have the means in Canada to bring about social change by the process of evolution, by the parliamentary system, by the democratic process. That’s why it must grow. It is a means by which the young people can make change, can make it peacefully, can make it democratically. For that reason the New Democratic Party must continue to live. I charge you to give your lives and your money and your best effort to see that it lives and it grows and it succeeds.

From Doris French Shackleton, Tommy Douglas (McClelland and Stewart: Toronto, 1975), p. 309-12.

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