Friday, November 27, 1970

On his legacy (to an NDP audience in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan

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.

Thursday, January 1, 1970

At the CCF's final convention banquet - 1960

We must think in new terms to meet the conditions and the problems of the times in which we live. I’m delighted to see the number of young people here tonight. There is little use in you and me, and those of us who attended the 1933 convention, telling them about the depression and the situation of that time. Might as well tell them about the Napoleonic Wars. What they want to know is what have you to offer for the problems of today and for the world in which they live.
Let me remind you that Canadian society has changed very remarkably since 1933. When we met in this city, we were in the depths of a depression. A completely unplanned, laissez-faire capitalism had completely failed to meet an economic crisis. We had a million unemployed. The people riding the rails. We had farmers without enough to eat, and livestock dying for lack of feed. We had an abundance of almost all the things we needed for a good life, yet people hungry, who Roosevelt said ill-fed, ill-housed and ill-clad.

That was the situation in which we met at that time. But we must face the fact that that situation has changed radically. I say this because we must recognize that the situation has changed. No longer unplanned, laissez-faire capitalism. No longer a society which says every man for himself and the devil take the hind part. But today a measure of managed capitalism, with built-in, chained-in techniques by which they can prevent major economic depression and runaway booms with a built-in welfare state, either large or small, that can be expanded according to the needs of purchasing power. That we face today a different situation than what our forefathers faced.

Therefore we have to, like socialist parties all over the world, ask ourselves some very searching questions. Now I’m asking you to think about them seriously. This is not a time for demagoguery; this is not a time for beating the drum. This is a time for serious soul-searching.
With this changed situation in a quarter of a century, with a managed capitalism and a partial welfare state (and in a few years maybe a complete welfare state), is a socialist party any longer necessary? Have we any reason for existence? Have all the battles been won? Are there no mountains left to conquer? This we have to ask ourselves.

So I say to you that this affluent society, that they need a socialist party because in my opinion democratic socialism is still man’s best hope. I think that people produce better, people do better, people work better when they are participating through free courts, free exchange of opinion, a free press, free right to organize, free trade unions, free co-operators, free political parties. That out of that kind of participation, out of the ferment of discussion, out of the conflict of ideas, out of the exchanges of points of view we will merge with a better society, not a poorer one.

That is why, if we are to have socialism in the world, it must be democratic socialism. Because planning is not an end in itself, nationalization is not an end in itself. They’re simply parts of a democratic process by which people want to exercise some control over their own economic (lives).

To the Canadian Labour Congress convention - 1968

The second thing that needs to be adapted, to change, is the role of the trade union movement. For more than half a century the role of the trade union movement in this country has been to improve the lot of the workers. To get better wages, better working conditions, better hours. To establish the right of collective bargaining and to get better agreements.

The workers of this country, whether they’re in the trade union movement or not, are deeply indebted to you for what you have done to improve the living standards of the people who earn their bread by the sweat of their brow. That past still has to be continued. But I’m here this afternoon to suggest that there is another role in which the trade union movement must play its part. And that is a political role.

We have now reached a time in our history when the trade union movement cannot afford to be unconcerned about who sits in the lawmaking bodies of our land. Why? Because with the stroke of a pen, those who have their hands on the levers of power can wipe out in a few days all the gains that you’ve made at the bargaining table and on the picket line.

On democracy and carrying out the people's mandate - 1945

Big business and the federal government were bitterly opposed to the CCF's Farm Security Act, the centrepiece of Tommy's election platform the year before. With Ottawa threatening to disallow the legislation, Tommy fought back with a stirring call for government that serves the interests of people, not wealth:

Let me here issue a word of warning to those that are moving Heaven and Earth to have this legislation disallowed. I want to tell them that they are not dealing in this case with a government of tired old men, who are merely holding onto power for the spoils of office, or with the hope of finding a final resting place in the senate. They’re dealing with a government fresh from the people, with a mandate to carry out the people’s wishes. Those wishes will be carried out. If these vested interests succeed in persuading the federal government to disallow this legislation, we still have other resources at our disposal. And we will not hesitate to use them.
We were elected to protect the homes and the security of our people. We will use every legitimate method which we possess to attain that end. These governments who want the present legislation destroyed may well find that what will take its place will be even less palatable than that to which they now object. If they insist upon this arbitrary and highhanded method, they may find that what they get will be even worse than what they have now.

My object in speaking to you tonight is to let you know that the government is not prepared to retreat one single inch. The one thing we must know however is that the people of this province are behind us in our determination to fight this invasion of our democratic right by the financial barons.

The legislation in question has not yet been disallowed. We still have three weeks. Three weeks in which to write to your members of Parliament, three weeks in which to send resolutions from municipal council, city council, and various farmer, labour and businessmen’s organizations. We have three weeks in which to let the Federal Government know that the people of Saskatchewan will not take lying down the despotic interference of democratic government.

This is no time for fair-weather friends and sunshine soldiers. This is a time for men and women of all political parties, races and creeds to stand shoulder to shoulder in defence of their democratic rights, to elect governments to do their will without interference from any corporation, no matter how large or how powerful.

In the past few years a conviction has been growing that governments are always on the side of concentrated wealth and against the common man. This belief has not been without some foundation. The time has come for Saskatchewan to express itself, vigorously and vehemently, against such indignation of democracy. We are prepared to lead that fight, if you are prepared to follow us into battle.

The Saskatchewan Government was elected by the people of this province. We were not elected to protect the interests of special privilege. We were not elected to become puppets of those who sit in high places and pull the strings. We were elected to give our people security in their homes, to give them reliable protection in their dealings with powerful corporations, and we were elected to see to it that those same corporations should make some financial contribution to a higher standard of social services.

Our objectives have not changed. We are still determined to do the things we were elected to do. We are neither surprised nor dismayed by the attempts of these powerful interests to resist progressive change. The fight to preserve democracy across the sea has just finished – the fight to make democracy a reality at home is just beginning.