Tommy Douglas: The Greatest Canadian… EVER!

Back in 2004, the CBC decided to undertake the process of determining ‘The Greatest Canadian’. Since the CBC is quintessentially Canadian, they seem to be the best people for the job. They conducted a survey via email, telephone, website and mail to figure out the top fifty Canadians. They then took the top ten and those individuals all faced off head to head to determine which was the ‘Greatest’. The list was a mix of politicians, athletes, and personalities who have been well known in Canada. Each individual on the list was assigned a ‘celebrity’ who argued for their case, as to why they were the ‘Greatest Canadian’. The final vote was conducted and the winner was… Tommy Douglas. Huh?

On a list that included Prime Ministers Macdonald, Pearson, and Trudeau, hockey personalities Wayne Gretzky and Don Cherry, national hero Terry Fox, inventor Alexander Graham Bell, environmentalist David Suzuki, Nobel Prize winner Sir Frederick Banting and Douglas, he somehow came out on top. I for one was surprised. Now obviously, this was not a serious, scientific poll. Only those who actually watched the CBC and furthermore watched the show, would have voted. There was no input from French Canada, and the ‘celebrities’ who argued for each person easily could have influenced voting one way or another. It doesn’t take an academic genius to know this was not going to be a perfect decision.

I personally thought Douglas would be lucky to place in the top five. Knowing Canada’s love for hockey, I figured Gretzky or Cherry was a lock. Or surely Terry Fox would tug at enough hearts to propel him to the top spot. But somehow Douglas won the competition. Did the CBC rig it? Not likely, but it’s still odd. Canada has never had a strong love for the NDP, which Douglas was the first federal leader of (it had existed previously as the CCF). He had been a premier of Saskatchewan, which as we all know, is not one of Canada’s most populous provinces. It was obviously not the NDP crowd or support from Saskatchewan that propelled him to the top. So what was it?

Well I believe it was Douglas’ legacy as the father of medicare. Canadians are extremely proud of their healthcare system, which (despite its problems) is touted around the world. There is no doubt in my mind that this fact played significantly into Douglas’ victory. The only other reason I can come up with would be that Douglas was simply a very nice man. He was well loved, in Saskatchewan, and throughout the country. Even though Canadians have never been in love with the NDP, they did love Douglas quite a bit more. Had Douglas run for the Liberal party, we might see his name in the history books as a Prime Minister. But all speculation aside, he was a genuinely kind man, and that was evident no matter which party you belonged to.

So all thanks to the CBC, we can now rest easy knowing the ‘Greatest Canadian’ has been determined (regardless of the criteria they used to determine it). I am sure there are many out there that would beg to differ. What I would like to know is who do you think is the ‘Greatest Canadian’? Is it Douglas, or someone else on the list? Or is it someone else all together? Is it possible to determine the ‘Greatest’ Canadian? What does that even mean?

All of the Greatest Canadian videos can be seen here.


About Chris James

A student of political science at a Canadian University sharing stories of interest on Canadian and American political and social issues.

Posted on January 10, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I think the “Greatest Canadian” is all about perspective… I mean you cant really compare Tommy Douglas vs. Don Cherry vs. Wayne Gretzky vs. Terry Fox vs. Alexander Graham Bell… they are all famous for different reasons. It would be like comparing who is the greatest leader: General George Patten or President JFK? They are two completely different people so there is very little criteria to base any decisions off of. If the CBC had clarified the contest such as the “Greatest Canadian Icon” or “Most Influential Person in Canadian History” or “Canada’s Greatest Politician” then the survey would hold more water. That being said, I dont think Tommy Douglas deserves to be #1… I am willing to bet the majority of people do not even know who he is…

  2. The CBC didn’t just ask young people who were born after Tommy Douglas died. I’m sure if you asked people under 21 right now about Pierre Trudeau, most wouldn’t know what he was all about.

    But Canadian Medicare is one of those things that you don’t have to be old to appreciate, and although on a quiz many young people might not know who its chief founder was, when push comes to shove a lot would say “the guy who brought us Medicare? Yeah, that guy is pretty amazing”.

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