Thursday, June 3, 2010

Canada: Prairie Socialism

TIME magazine 1960
May 16, 1960

North America's most comprehensive welfare state is the Canadian prairie province of Saskatchewan. In a flat wheatland more than twice the size of New Mexico, 907,000 scattered inhabitants share a tradition of help-the-other-fellow frontier radicalism that is as old as provincial incorporation 54 years ago. But most of Saskatchewan's social-welfare schemes have been concocted since 1944 by Canada's only socialist government, run by the ever-winning (four straight elections) Cooperative Commonwealth Federation party. Last week CCF Premier T. C. ("Tommy") Douglas dissolved his 53-seat legislature, in which the CCF has 36 of the 53 seats, and called for an election on June 8.

At stake in the campaign is still another of Douglas' welfare plans: a compulsory insurance program that would provide complete medical care at an annual cost of $40 for a family, $17.50 for a single person. Both the opposition Liberals and the province's 1,000 doctors are against the Douglas scheme, challenging its practicality. The province already has cradle-to-grave security that matches anything in such better-known socialist Edens as Sweden, Uruguay and New Zealand.

Care & Cure. Blue-eyed Douglas Alexander Stewart (6 lbs. 13 oz.), one of some 500 babies born last week in the province's 150 government-supported hospitals, is a good example of the benefits of CCF largesse. Thanks to a compulsory hospital-insurance program introduced in 1947, Douglas' mother Donna, wife of a Regina accounting clerk, received prenatal care free; when she leaves the hospital she will simply get a bill marked "Paid." Douglas will be immunized against childhood diseases at a free public-health clinic. If he should become mentally ill, he would get free psychiatric care. If Douglas is orphaned, he will be raised in government-supported foster homes.

Eventually, Douglas Stewart may become one of the 5,000 who work for the twelve Crown corporations that operate utilities, an airline, a sodium sulphate plant. As a car owner, he must buy compulsory auto insurance at rates $20 cheaper than elsewhere in Canada.

If he can find no job, the province will pay 93% of his upkeep, his home town the rest; if he gets cancer, all care will be free; if he is injured on the prairie, a government aerial ambulance will wing him to the nearest hospital. In retirement, Douglas Stewart may choose to live on his pension (up to $75 a month) in one of Saskatchewan's new geriatric centers (four in operation, one more planned), which will give him food, a bed, and all medical care.

Rights & Royalties. If the CCF is reelected, and Tommy Douglas' medical plan goes through, Douglas Stewart may well spend a lifetime without a medical bill: prepaid compulsory insurance will pay for everything. The premier promises that under his plan, patients would be free to choose their own physicians, and doctors would retain the right to a private practice.

Saskatchewan spends 34% of its budget ($148 million this year, 10% from oil and natural-gas royalties) on welfare. But the CCF's early-days loud talk of "eradicating capitalism" is not even a whisper now. Saskatchewan's Deputy Minister of Travel and Information now makes a dozen trips yearly to Eastern Canada and the U.S. luring new industry to the province, hoping that the profits of free enterprise will make possible an economy that can afford Tommy Douglas' social welfare.

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