CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 6 . . . .November 12, 2004
Tommy Douglas: In His Own Words is a video about a great Canadian whose long political career has had an enduring impact on the way we live and work today in Canada. The video is well-worth watching in many educational settings for many reasons. It is especially appropriate for the study of 20th century Canadians and their individual contributions to our history and to our place in the world today.
The video sets out six clearly-defined segments focusing on Tommy Douglas' personal opinions, abilities and how he used these in his political career. The segments consist of the following: Medicare, Leadership, Democracy, The Orator, The Visionary and Values. Throughout the video, we are shown Douglas speaking to a interviewer in the late 1970's in a television studio, as well as numerous clips from public speeches he gave during the late part of his political career. The basic chronology of Douglas' political life is set out in print near the beginning of the film.
A modest man, Douglas was clearly "a man of the people." He described himself simply as one of those who had the privilege of carrying the banner, while praising the grassroots -- those he describes as having done the hard work such as collecting the money, knocking on doors, driving the tires off their cars, and writing policy -- as the real heroes. A keen sense of humour was something he used -- not simply as a means to get a laugh when giving speeches and not to denigrate other politicians -- but as an ice-breaker, a hostility-easer and as a way to explain his message in terms that people would understand and long remember. Once, when Douglas had to stand upon a manure spreader where he was giving a speech, he quipped that he was standing on the Opposition's platform.
Douglas was an educated, highly-principled man, well-schooled in the political history of the world. He used memorable quotes from George Bernard Shaw and Abraham Lincoln to John Kenneth Galbraith and Marshall McLuhan both in his political speeches and his explanation of his political life and times. He was a Baptist minister before entering politics where he served the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) and later the National Democratic Party (NDP) both in provincial and federal arenas.
The video makes good use of archival footage in showing us who Tommy Douglas was and what he stood for. We get a fairly good sense of how it was that how he accomplished so much. Some still photographs are used to good advantage to illustrate the points about which we hear Douglas talking. However, seeing only this film on Douglas would leave many unanswered questions about the details of his political accomplishments. Other resources are needed to fill in the gaps in the story of his long political life. The video does not give a clear explanation why his ideas were originally perceived as extremely radical, nor does it show the many ups and downs of what has been called elsewhere "a roller-coaster" of a political ride.
Through the video though, we gain a good understanding of Tommy Douglas, best-known as Canada's Father of Medicare (socialized medicine). The great relevance of Douglas' life and accomplishments to our common history shines through his accounts as we hear him explain why he believed in medicare, who its detractors were at the time it was brought in, and how medicare was never an automatic certainty in Canada. We are reminded by Douglas of the crucial importance of joining a political party, staying involved with the issues and not allowing democracy to die. We are better able to understand how it was in "the old days" and what we risk losing today if ordinary Canadians do not stay politically active.
Cathy Vincent-Linderoos is a member of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act (ODA) Committee who retired early from elementary and secondary school teaching. She lives in London, ON.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.