The Not-So-Peaceful Beginnings of Canadian Universal Healthcare

Reading an essay in the New Yorker entitled What Now? It was about the recent passing of the healthcare bill.

It started off like this:

On July 30, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law. In public memory, what ensued was the smooth establishment of a popular program, but in fact Medicare faced a year of nearly crippling rearguard attacks. The American Medical Association had waged war to try to stop the program, and doctors weren’t about to abandon the fight against “socialized medicine” simply because it had passed into law. The Ohio Medical Association, with ten thousand physician members, declared that it would boycott Medicare, and a nationwide movement began.

I bet a lot of people in the USA think that a few years ago somebody in Canada said. “Let’s have universal healthcare.” and everybody else said, “Hey, good idea, eh!” And so we had healthcare. We have a reputation for being polite but we didn’t have “the smooth establishment of a popular program” either.

It wasn’t an easy birth. Here’s how it all started. And picture of the guy who got it started. He is, just fyi, Keifer Sutherland’s grandpa.

From the good folks at Wikipedia.

Saskatchewan Doctors’ Strike

The 1962 Saskatchewan Doctors’ Strike was a 23-day labour action exercised by medical doctors in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan in an attempt to force the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation government of Saskatchewan to rescind its program of universal medical insurance.

The strike began on July 1, 1962, the day the Saskatchewan Medical Care Insurance Act took force, and ended July 23, 1962.


The Medicare plan had been announced by then-Premier of Saskatchewan Tommy Douglas in 1959 at a speech he made during the Birch Hills by-election campaign. It was the main issue of the 1960 provincial election which was won by Douglas’ Co-operative Commonwealth Federation government. A commission was struck by the government to make recommendations for the plan’s implementation and was met with opposition by the Saskatchewan College of Physicians and Surgeons who testified that doctors would not co-operate with a compulsory, government-run plan. The Saskatchewan Medical Care Insurance Bill was introduced in the Saskatchewan legislature on October 13, 1961 and was passed and given royal assent in November. By this time, Douglas had stepped down as premier in order to assume the leadership of the newly-formed federal New Democratic Party and was replaced as provincial premier and CCF leader by Woodrow Lloyd who was to face enormous pressure to withdraw the plan. In an attempt to reach a compromise, Lloyd delayed the implementation of Medicare from April to July 1962.

Saskatchewan Doctors Strike

In May 1962, a meeting of doctors passed a resolution vowing that physicians would close their practices if and when Medicare came into force. “Keep Our Doctors” committees were established throughout the province and a campaign, backed by the Regina Leader-Post was undertaken with warnings that most doctors would leave the province if socialized medicine were introduced. On July 1, 1962, the doctors strike began and approximately 90% of the province’s doctors shut their offices.

The American Medical Association, which feared the spread of Medicare to the United States, gave moral support to the Strike. (!!! – Editoral Comment from UM. I think we would have been invaded if we – Canada – had lobbied during the US healthcare debate.)

The Government Responds

The government brought in doctors from Britain, the United States and other provinces in order to staff community clinics set-up to meet demand for health services. A July 11 rally in support of the doctors in front of the Saskatchewan legislature in Regina attracted about 4,000 people, one-tenth the number hoped for by the organizers. By mid-July some of the striking doctors returned to work. Lord Taylor, a British physician who had helped implement the National Health Service in the United Kingdom, was brought in as a mediator and the “Saskatoon Agreement” ending the strike was signed on July 23, 1962. As a result of the agreement, amendments to the Act were introduced allowing doctors to opt-out of Medicare and raising fee payments to doctors under the plan, as well as increasing the number of physicians sitting on the Medical Care Insurance Commission. By 1965, most doctors favoured the continuation of Medicare.

Outcome and Legacy

The strike was a significant test for Medicare. Its failure allowed the program to continue and the Saskatchewan model was adopted throughout Canada within ten years. The political divisions within the province aggravated by the strike contributed to the Lloyd’s government defeat in the 1964 provincial election. However, even though the Saskatchewan Liberal Party of Ross Thatcher had opposed the plan, Medicare’s popularity was such that Thatcher’s government left it in place.

I can’t imagine living in a country without healthcare. I hope someday the majority of Americans see it that way too. I’ve attached the references from Wikipedia too just in case any one is thinking about writing a Republican a letter. Just make sure you stay out of the cross-hairs.



P. S. While no system is perfect, the bad things you hear about Canadian Healthcare aren’t true.


Larmour, Jean, “Saskatchewan Doctors’ Strike”, The Canadian Encyclopedia, accessed March 17, 2008

Marchildon, Gregory P., “Doctors’ Strike”m Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan, accessed March 18, 2008

Boan, Joan A., “Medicare”, Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan, accessed March 18, 2008

“The Fight for Medicare”, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, accessed March 16, 2008

Quiring, Brett, “Thatcher, Wilbert Ross”, Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan, accessed March 18, 2008


What Do You Think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: