Story and Photos by Ken Warren (ISN)
July 18, 2013, Victoria, BC (ISN) – Welcome to the 13 article of Ken’s Blog, where historian Ken Warren takes us through some of his childhood memories, sharing with us the lives and times of his sports oriented family growing up in Saskatchewan and Manitoba in the 1900’s and beyond. In this article Ken talks about the fight for medi-care in Canada, his favorite politicians.
For starters of course it’s everybody’s favourite, Tommy Douglas, the premier of Saskatchewan, who introduced us to universal medical care. It was a long fight for Tommy, but he stuck with it through many Liberal party disappointments. In 1919, the Liberal Party of Mackenzie King were elected promising an early form of medicare. It was never implemented by King throughout his reign in the ’20’s. By the time that King took the reins of Prime Minister again in the mid-thirties, it still never happened. Then in the ’40’s, King’s Green paper promised 50% federal participation in medicare if at least five provinces and half the population of Canada were interested in participating. Since Tommy Douglas knew that Ontario and Quebec’s premiers weren’t interested (and together they’re more than half the population of Canada), then he also knew that Mackenzie King and the Liberals were not interested in medicare, and Saskatchewan would have to carry the ball on its own. And he did. Tommy had the poorest province in Canada with the largest per capita debt, and yet in 1946 Saskatchewan introduced comprehensive medical coverage for every citizen without federal assistance. Hospitals were newly built all over the province. There were 7 hospital beds per every 1,000 persons. No other place in North America, with the exception of New York City, could boast the same ratio. But the goal of having all medically needed services provided to all residents of Saskatchewan regardless of ability to pay could not be realized without federal financial assistance.
After decades of failed Liberal government promises, the federal government of Prime Minister John Diefenbaker agreed to fund the 50% hospitalization costs on a province-by-province basis. This brought British Columbia also into this partial medi-care in 1957. This also made full medi-care affordable for Saskatchewan, so in 1961 legislation was introduced to implement it fully in Saskatchewan. A bitter doctor’s strike held it up for months, but it became adopted in 1962. The Right Honourable Mr. Diefenbaker appointed Justice Emmet Hall to conduct a Royal Commission into the need for medi-care. The Hall Commission report in 1964 lay the foundation for a natural medicare system founded on the principles of a universal, accessible, publicly administered system for all medically necessary treatment and care. Tommy Douglas called it the finest report in the English language on the subject of medicare. It proposed that the Saskatchewan system of medicare be used as the model for Canada.
Canada had Tommy the Commie, and Dief the Chief; Lucky Canada! The USA had G.I. Joe McCarthyism; one way to ruin a great nation!
I grew up with Tommy Douglas while he was Premier of Saskatchewan, but we moved to BC when I was 17, and the Premier there was W.A.C. Bennett, ‘WACKY’ they called him, but wacky he wasn’t. He was a great premier then, and would be for the next 17 years. I didn’t know Mr. Bennett personally, so even though he was great and personally won 11 elections, and as premier won seven consecutive elections over 20 years, it is the man who dethroned him in 1972, and brought in the first socialist government in BC, that is my second candidate as ‘favourite’ politicians. I mean Dave Barrett, the father of the Agricultural Land Reserve, of course. When Dave Barrett’s CCF and NDP workers routed the Bennett Socreds on September 3, 1972, an era had come to an end. “This will now become a people’s century,” Premier Barrett said. “I will not let the thousands of CCFers and NDPers who made this victory possible with their hard work; I will not let them down.”
I would often take my Occupational Classes to the Legislature and we would wander through the hallways where I would explain the function of government and the opposition to them, explain the party system, and who the principal figures were at the time. However, when the Barrett NDP government took over, they changed the way things were done for student visits to the Legislature. I took my students there in the first few weeks of the new government in 1972, and lo and behold there was a group of about 30 students from Lord Byng Secondary in Vancouver at the sign in counter. There were also neatly uniformed young women as guides. We waited just outside the entry, and as the Lord Byng students were ushered into the rotunda, one of the guides came over to see us as we entered the building.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“It’s okay,” I said. “We’ve just come for a visit.”
“Do you have an appointment?”
“No, I didn’t know we needed an appointment.”
“Are you from a school?”
“Yes, we’re from Elizabeth Fisher in Langford.”
“Well thank goodness you’re not from too far away, because we can’t let you in without an appointment.”
“Well, maybe we could make an appointment now.”
“No, we have to be given a day’s notice.”
“Okay then, c’mon guys we’ll come back another day.”
“Sorry,” she said.
I ushered my students out the door and heard a voice behind me say: “Hold it. Is there a problem?” The speaker was the new premier himself, Dave Barrett. I told him that I often brought my Occupational students to the Legislature, but didn’t know the procedure had changed. The idea of guides and appointment times is a good idea, but it’s new to us. Hitherto we just came down and wandered where we wanted to.
“Then let me show you around,” Mr. Barrett said.
I introduced my group to the premier and told him where we were from, and more importantly told my students who our guide was. He spent at least half an hour showing us around and telling us features of the building that I never knew. It was like he had been in this building so long as a renter, and now it was his to show. He seemed to enjoy showing the building as much as we were in awe of our guide. When we finally caught up to the Lord Byng group, the premier asked the guide to let us carry on with her group. So we did, but we still have our precious memory. Many times I would see Dave Barrett in Esquimalt, or in Victoria and say hello or some other salutation, and he was always pleasant and welcoming. HE WAS A MAN FOR THE PEOPLE.
Two wonderful women in the NDP were Eileen Dailly and Rosemary Brown. As Education Minister Eileen abolished the strap. I don’t know what Jack Charters, my vice principal at Trail would do to boys who went into shops at noon now that he couldn’t strap them. But that’s not the main reason I liked Eileen; that reason is that when she learned that I was putting students out in the community on work experiences that weren’t authorized, she changed the rules. Previously, only my Occupational students were authorized to attend work placements in the community. Mrs. Dailly recognized the value of all students 15 or older gaining employment experience in areas of interest and made it happen. While Mrs. Dailly was the gate-keeper for kids in Education; Rosemary Brown was the guardian of the disadvantaged, visible minorities, and women. In Opposition, I came to know her as particularly interested in seeing that the children of the poor were reaping all benefits available in education.
My favourite guy was Premier Bill Vander Zalm. From the time I first met him as Welfare Minister, and told him that therapeutic foster parents were gouging the welfare system by receiving outlandish amounts of money for taking care of kids, he promised to look into it. A week later I called his office and he told me that he had checked into it and agreed with the Ministry, that although the payments appeared exorbitant, they were proper because the task of such care was extremely demanding. “You should check it more carefully, Ken.” I did check it more carefully and even took two therapeutic teenagers into my care at different times. The stories of the homes where they came from are too horrendous to tell if being a boy 15, 6 feet tall, 85 lbs, wetting yourself, and chained to your bed when Momma leaves the house; or the other boy, same age, thinks his mother is his sister, because grandma told him that she was his mommy; he’s a panty stealer and constant runaway. Stole $250.00 from a woman who thought hiding her money in her underwear drawer was a safe place.
Bill even kept touch with me when I was houseparenting at Whispering Pines in California. But it was when he was Minister of Education and he learned the real value of school work experience where one person could service four high schools and in a decade make 7,000 work placements, reap hundreds of thousands of federal dollars to assist students with summer-long placements, and paid career access situations. Pat McGeer had recognized the value of the work experience program as Education Minister too, and that is why he sent the Education Today staff to monitor the Sooke program and report on it. When Mr. Vander Zalm read that report, he knew that he wanted to create a Provincial Coordinator of Work Experience position to assist all districts in establishing their own smooth-working programs.
I spent many hours in the Premier’s office. And many other hours listening to him answer garden questions on the radio. His knowledge of plants was faaantastic! Every night at eleven he’d call Lillian from his office. He spent that many extra hours working on the business of the Province. On my way to Sacramento to a convention, I stopped off at Fantasy Gardens and found Lillian on a tractor and Bill was travelling around somewhere, so I gave Lillian a letter for Bill, that I had written on the ferry, urging him to run for the Socred leadership. I later called him to see if he was going to run; he was hesitant to be pinned down, but he said he really appreciated my nice letter. “One of the nicest he’d ever received,” he said. He is a very good man; just too kind and open to everybody. Including me. Too trusting. I’m sorry the wolf pack pounced on you, Good Sir! It was refreshing, however, to see how much love came back to you when you fought the HST.
I met Jim London, my favourite municipal and local area politician, when we were both accepted on the University of Victoria’s inaugural ‘Teacher’s Interneship Program’. We both had our Arts degrees in English and had both been delegated to Elizabeth Fisher Junior Secondary school for our practicum. Jim was new to teaching, and I had already taught a year in Trail, and had been hired fulltime at Elizabeth Fisher in January. Our practicum was to take place with sponsor teachers during May and June; then 3 courses at summer school; then intermittent classroom evaluation all year long by the university, and meetings every Saturday; then a second round of summer school the next summer, and graduation with a BEd equivalence. The program was run by Dr. Monk, who we immediately nick-named ‘Monkey’. There were a dozen of us on the program and Jim and I were the first ones Monkey would visit. We were in Langford and all of the other guys, and the one woman, were up-Island. As far as the others were concerned, Jim and I were supposed to phone one of them when Dr. Monk left us, and report that they would soon have a ‘monkey on their back’. Then they would phone someone else, and so. The only ones who never knew when he was coming was Jim and me. Anyway, this is supposed to be about politicians.
Jim was already the president of Kinsmen in Victoria when I met him. However, the first year after we completed the interneship program, Jim had a year when he was president of five different associations. He was president of: The Canadian Judo Association, The Esquimalt Liberals, The Sooke Teachers Association, Glen Lake Ratepayers Association, and Charter President of the Juan de Fuca Kinsmen Club. This was all in one year. During his time in Langford he served his community in many other ways. He was the first mayor of Langford. After retirement, he spent many years on the school board, including chairman.
In 2007, I was on my way to Nanchang, China in late August to teach, but Jim had leukemia and I spent most of the day with him and Doris. While I pretended not to be sad, Jim was upbeat and able to talk in what might be called an amazingly normal acceptance of his condition. Doris would be well provided for, he said, and you could tell that that was very important to him. Many feminists felt quite sorry for Doris for the many years that she raised their three boys while Jim pursued his work as a university instructor, principal, writer, and many times politician. I, too, cared about the load that Doris carried, but Jim’s contribution to his community, and his service to disadvantaged Canadians through several service clubs was never lost on me. They were an amazing couple. My wife called me in January, 2008, to tell me that Jim’s health was failing. I left Nanchang with my class in good hands a few days before Spring vacation and flew home. I was too late; Jim had died, and his funeral was being held in Langford as my plane was touching down in Vancouver. I spent the Chinese Spring Vacation in Victoria, and flew back to China in late February. Another great Canadian had left us.
My last favourite politician is my good NDP friend and wannabe politician Bob Cameron. Bob ran federally for the NDP in Saanich several years ago but never won. However, he has conducted a Thursday night beer-drinking, political discussion session almost every Thursday for forty years with the same 6-15 session members at the same pub. Now, I have to admit that the pub site has changed four times, so roughly we meet at the same pub for only a ten-year span each. And I exaggerated when I said the group meets every Thursday. It meets every Thursday that Bob Cameron is in Victoria. You see, Bob Cameron travels around the world as often as the rest of us go to the movies. It wasn’t like that the first 25 years when Bob was a Victoria teacher. He missed a few Thursdays travelling around Asia and Europe a couple of times. He’s a history buff. I remember like yesterday when Mary Alford, our social studies department head at Elizabeth Fisher Jr. Secondary was injured in a car accident that necessitated leaving the school for the rest of the year. Our principal John Holt came into the staffroom a couple of days later looking white as a sheet. “What’s wrong, John?” I asked. Flustered, he muttered that Mary wouldn’t be back and he couldn’t find an adequate replacement. “Is that all,” I said. “There has to be lots of good social studies teachers out there.” Mr. Holt rose, his face reddened, and for the first time ever , he screamed at me–in front of the staff. “All right, Smart Alec. Give me a name. Just one will do,” he shrieked. “How about Bob Cameron?” I replied. “Who the hell is Bob Cameron?” he countered. “Well, he’s a social studies expert who has just returned from a trip around the world. He’s a teacher without a job, and he was a student at this school and graduated next door from Belmont. What do you think, Rik?” I asked Rik Warrington who knew Bob well. “Excellent choice,” Rik responded. The following day Bob joined our staff for the rest of the year.
(Since we were talking about John Holt, bear with me while I mention a couple of other Holt items. My friend Fred Birkenhead, a shop teacher, asked me how I got along with John Holt. “Each time I go into his office with a problem, he gets pissed off and the problem doesn’t get solved. Instead, now I have another problem, his anger,” Fred said. “He’s fine with me,” I told Fred. “Probably because I never go to see him. You have to solve your problems yourself, or ask a colleague how you can solve it. Holt is the leader here. If you have a problem you can’t solve, then it becomes his problem, and he has enough problems of his own. You’d be surprised at how much rope you actually have to solve problems the way you want to.”
The other Holt thing concerned the 1972 Canada/Russia Showdown Series in hockey. Jim Gauley and I both brought our TVs to school for the three games in Moscow that would be played during school days at 9 am. Obviously because so many students came from other classes to be in Gauley’s room and mine, at least one teacher went to the principal to complain. Mr. Holt, still very much an Englishman, came down to my room to see why “so much disruption” was being caused by Gauley and me. I told him to look at the faces of the kids watching the game. I asked him what it would be like if England was in the World Cup Football Championship against Russia during the Cold War; would he let his students watch? This is a Canadian’s heritage, like soccer is to the English. This is a war in Moscow, and ‘O Canada’ is played before every battle. This is something the students will remember all of their lives, and if Canada wins, they’ll tell their children that they were there to see it. He said: “Okay.” He understood, and for every game our rooms were packed to the rafters with students.
Janet Arnold, a dedicated first year teacher that year, complained to me about her students not showing up at class while those ‘hookey’ games were on. She said that she had worked very hard on English lesson plans and it was like a waste to be giving lessons to five or six people. “Sorry, Janet, but there’s only two more games.”
When the series was over and we were at the pub Friday afternoon, Janet told me of a dream she had had. She was carrying precious paintings when she became accosted by thieves attempting to steal them. She screamed for the police, but when the scene switched to the police station she was shocked to see that Jim Gauley and I were the cops, and we had our feet up on our desks, and weren’t to be interrupted while we were watching a hockey game on television. (Oh, for a Freud dream interpretation!)