Few Americans may realize that a Baptist minister is recognized by Canadians as the "Greatest Canadian of All Time." Tommy Douglas, who died in 1986, is one of history's most influential Baptists that few outside of Canada know. And here in the summer of 2009, Douglas' legacy is extremely relevant to the biggest issue facing Americans: health care.
Tommy Douglas, you see, was the man who brought about Canada's universal public health care system, a health care system which Canadians for several generations now have chosen to pay extra taxes to operate and maintain, and a health care system which 91% of Canadians today view as superior to America's health care system. Furthermore, Douglas set Canada on the road to universal health care during the Great Depression, while here in America today President Obama is seeking to do the very same thing during the current Great Recession.
Douglas, a minister turned politician, first became personally aware of the moral imperative of health care when as a child he almost lost his leg to a disease because his family could not pay for treatment; only by the good graces of a doctor, who offered his medical services for free, was Douglas' leg saved. Influenced by the Christian principles of the Social Gospel while in college, Douglas pastored for several years before entering politics during the Depression in 1935, becoming the Premier of Saskatchewan in 1944. He remained a leading politician in Canada for many years, consistently advocating for universal health care and basic human rights. Under his leadership, the Saskatchewan Bill of Rights was enacted. And while securing public health care for all citizens, Douglas paid off government debt and created a surplus.
Although today most Americans want a public health care option, we as a nation are slow to the table in responding to the moral imperative of basic universal public health care (although a number of presidents, beginning with Teddy Roosevelt, have personally supported public health care). If Americans in 2009 do manage to place human life above the greed-driven free market health insurance industry by enacting a public health care option, we have Tommy Douglas to thank, one of the greatest Baptists of the past century.