The medical care issue as a factor in the electoral defeat of the Saskatchewan government in 1964
Dosman, James Arnold Herman
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In 1944, the first socialist government of any province in Canada came to power with the election of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) party in Saskatchewan. A basic principle of the party from the outset was the determination to institute a complete comprehensive compulsory state operated medical care plan. Although a province-wide state supported program for providing hospital care to the residents was instituted quickly by the new government and many other social measures regarding medical care problems were implemented over the years, no attempt was made to provide for an universal scheme to pay the costs of doctors' services until the late 1950's. At this time certain events combined to make the provincial government decide to proceed with assuming the responsibility for the payment of doctors' fees. In 1960, the CCF party was re-elected in an election which was fought basically on the medicare issue and the doctors of the province participated vigorously in fighting the CCF in that election. Despite intransigence and opposition by the doctors through their organization (the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan) the provincial government proceeded with the establishment of the medical care program and its implementation on July 1, 1962. For twenty-three days following the implementation of the scheme the doctors withdrew their normal medical services, closed their offices, and administered only emergency medical care and cancer treatment through hospital based centres. A severe crisis occurred in which a large proportion of the residents of the province were involved until the abandonment of several clauses from the original Medical Care Act (in a special session of the Saskatchewan Legislature) induced the physicians to return to their normal pattern of duties. From August 1962 to April 1964 a number of issues surrounding the medical care controversy continued to be prominent in the Saskatchewan news media. In April of 1964, another provincial election was held in which the CCF Government tried to make medical care an issue, in which the Liberal party (the opposition party in the legislature) urged the electorate to "fight the socialists," and the doctors were silent. The CCF Government lost that election by a very narrow margin. This thesis probes the reasons causing the delay of the implementation of the medical care program by the CCF Government until 1962, attempts to explain why the program was initiated following 1958, and examines the medicare conflict between 1962 and 1964. The conflict is examined from the point of view that a democratically elected reformist government is limited in the amount of reform it can undertake (in the face of powerful opposition), by the amount of grass roots support existing for that change. The models used to examine the conflict are embodied in a sentence by Seymour Martin Lipset and in a systems analysis by David Easton. An initial survey of the historical development of medical prepayment services of various kinds in Saskatchewan up to the late 1950's intends to show that a relatively satisfactory situation regarding medical insurance existed. Because the basic needs of the population had been in good part met by a number of insurance schemes it appears that there was no strong popular demand for further medical care legislation. An attempt is made to determine what factors were instrumental in the initiation of the medical care program if there was no great popular demand for it. The nature and degree of the conflict engendered by the reformist government being opposed by a powerful opposition, the College of Physicians and Surgeons and its supporters, is explored. Events following the settlement of the dispute and the way in which they led up to the 1964 provincial election are examined. The conclusion is drawn that in the very close election of 1964, the medical care issue was a vital factor and contributed significantly to the defeat of the CCF Government. Occasionally opinions will be found in the text which are not substantiated by source material. These are the impressions of the author. This study is in part a memoir of that exciting period in Saskatchewan's history.