General Articles


After four years of Socialist Government and four more ahead, how Socialist is Saskatchewan?

BLAIR FRASER August 1 1948
General Articles


After four years of Socialist Government and four more ahead, how Socialist is Saskatchewan?

BLAIR FRASER August 1 1948


After four years of Socialist Government and four more ahead, how Socialist is Saskatchewan?


General Articles

Maclean's Ottawa Editor

ON JUNE 24 the Government of Saskatchewan, the only CCF Government ever to hold office, was returned to power. It was the first time in Saskatchewan’s 43 years as a province that a non-Liberal government had won a second term. Liberals had been beaten once before, but when the Conservatives went to the people after their first term, they didn’t win a single seat.

The CCF did come back, but it lost a lot of strength. Its popular vote, 53% in 1944, was only 47% a month ago. Its Legislature seats, in the 50 ridings that voted in June, dropped from 46 to 31. Liberals, who held only four of the 50 in 1944, captured 18; a joint Liberal-Conservafive candidate won the 19th.

Why did the CCF come back to power, in a normally Liberal province?

Why, on the other hand, did it lose so much of its popular support?

Neither question can be answered with any certainty; in politics, all explanations are guesswork. However, all parties in Saskatchewan agreed to a surprising extent as to what factors were influencing the voters, and in which direction.

Old Parties Disunited

OBVIOUSLY in the CCF’s favor were the weakness and internal divisions of the older parties. The Liberals had deposed their ex-Premier and Opposition Leader, William Patterson. Walter Tucker, the new Liberal leader, had privately broken with the Jimmy Gardiner machine that ruled Saskatchewan for so many years, and thereby he earned its enmity. Publicly he still had to carry its aims on his back, and these sins were grievous. Liberals admitted, as readily as CCF-ers, that the memory of the old Liberal administration was anything but fragrant.

Not only Saskatchewan voters were wary of the Gardiner machine other Liberals felt the same way. Tucker’s men complained quite Openly that they were not getting the help fromOttawa headquarters that they’d a right to expect.

“The federáis are afraid that a Liberal win in Saskatchewan might give Jimmy Gardiher a leg up at the Liberal Convention in August,” a Liberal campaigner said. “They’d rather see us lose than do anything that might help Jimmy toward the leadership.”

Ostensibly Liberals and Progressive Conservatives were united against the Socialist CCF in a holy alliance called “fusion” in only six ridings did Liberal and PC candidates oppose each other. But in practice, their union was rent by mutual jealousy and suspicion.

Liberals hadn’t wanted “fusion” at all; they felt its short-term benefits in Saskatchewan, if any, would be more than offset in the long run by its

effect of making the older parties look like Tweedledum and Tweedledee. They accepted it reluctantly, and rather sullenly, at the insistence of campaign-fund contributors who demanded common cause against Socialism.

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Progressive Conservatives felt they were entitled, on the basis of the 1944 popular vote, to run candidates unopposed in 18 ridings; the Liberals allowed them only 10. “The Liberal motto,” said a PC campaigner bitterly, “has been ‘You supply the votes, and we’ll supply the candidates.’ ”

But the result seemed to show that the Liberals had been right. Fusion had been most complete and wholehearted in the six urban seats; every one of them went CCF. In all Saskatchewan only one coalition candidate was elected, and that was in Moosomin—one of the five seats that remained Liberal even in 1944. In riding after riding, the votes cast for a Progressive Conservative in 1944 were approximately equal to those cast for Social Credit in 1948; apparently your real Saskatchewan Tory will not, under any provocation, vote Grit. All in all, fusion was a fizzle.

The weakness of its opponents was by no means the CCF’s only strength, though. There was much in its first-term record that appealed to voters of all economic and political stripes. Most notable, by far, was its hospital and health program.

Every citizen of Saskatchewan is entitled to complete hospital care, tax-prepaid. One in every six people in Saskatchewan has been in hospital, for some period, since the plan went into operation in January, 1947.

Saskatchewan is a province of great distances and sparse population; on a prairie farm, an injured man is many miles from help. For a flat fee of $25, the Air Ambulance Service will carry a patient to hospital from any part of the province. The $25 is a mere token payment; the air ambulance isn’t intended to be self-supporting. It has saved a good many lives in years of operation.

One Sunday in June I flew with Hon. John Sturdy, CCF Minister of Reconstruction, to inspect a co-operative farm 150 miles northeast of Saskatoon. We were in a plane borrowed from the Air Ambulance Service.

“We had quite a job the other day, sir,” the pilot told the Minister. “Man was run over by a big disc plow; he was still lying in the furrow when we got there. We had him in a hospital bed in Regina just 55 minutes after the accident happened—68 miles away.”

In Swift Current, the only region of Saskatchewan which yet provides full medical service as well as hospital care on a tax-prepaid basis, I talked to a well-to-do manufacturer who was certainly no friend of Socialism.

“I do a little business with the Government,” he said, “and a friend of mine used to kid me about being in the pay of the CCF. Last year his wife got a brain tumor. She’s been in hospital 13 months, had five operations—about $4,000 worth of medical expenses that haven’t cost a cent, except the extra they pay for her private room. Since his wife took sick he hasn’t pulled my leg once.”

These and other kindred services have run the costs of government in Saskatchewan dangerously high. The direct hospital tax of $5 per capita per year, levied on every man, woman and child up to a family maximum of $30 a year, pays a little less than half the cost of hospital care in Saskatchewan—last year it came to $8 millions, or nearly $10 per capita instead of the $5 paid in direct tax.

As a result of such ambitious projects, the Saskatchewan budget under the CCF regime has gone up to $52 millions this year, compared to a mere $30 millions in the last Liberal budget of 1944. If Saskatchewan should have a crop failure, or if the bottom should drop out of the wheat market, the CCF would be in serious trouble. They know that, but they intend to cross that bridge when they come to it.

Liberals were strongly critical of CCF spending, but not upon hospital care. On the contrary, they

offered “more for less”— i better hospital administration for $3 ¡ year instead of $5. The CCF rumpe ted that the Liberals, if elected, would abolish the hospital plan; the liberals replied, “That’s a dirty lie. tye invented it; all they’ve done is extend what we began.” Which seems [o be the best proof that the hospital )lan is popular with all kinds of voters.

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Pink Home in the West

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This should not, however, be mistaken by either friend or foe for an endorsement of Socialism as a doctrine. Ideology worked against the CCF in the campaign, not for it.

CCF-ers had no hesitation, in the early weeks of June, in naming the chief cause of any loss they might suffer: “The Communist label.” The campaign cry of the Liberals, thundered from every platform and displayed in black capitals in newspaper advertisements, was “Socialism is the bridgehead for Communism.”

Some farmers, especially among the foreign-born, believed the charge that “the CCF will socialize your farms, as in Russia.” Mennonites and Germans, who had an all-too-keen memory of what state tyranny can mean, were impressed by Liberal warnings about collectivism and state control. And the CCF feared that the Roman Catholics, about 30% of the population, might be alarmed by the unwanted support which the Communist Party had bestowed on the CCF.

Actually the Catholic distrust, in so far as it existed, appears to have been created as much by the CCF itself as by hostile slogans. A wise and learned Catholic, himself not unfriendly to the Government, explained it thus:

“The CCF has never repudiated doctrinaire socialism—the atheistic, materialist, revolutionary socialism condemned by the Pope. We know these people aren’t Communists. We know most of them aren’t doctrinaire Socialists, either; they’re good Christian democrats. But if the CCF doesn’t endorse doctrinaire socialism, why can’t some party leader say so?”

Propaganda in School

More than Catholics were uneasy over another charge, of which the Liberal campaigners made much—that the CCF was “teaching socialism in the public schools.” Specifically, the charge hung on a book called “The World of Today,” the Grade IX textbook in social studies. It was written in 1937 for Alberta schools, but the late Premier Aberhart took it off the curriculum when he found out what was in it; Saskatchewan adopted it about a year ago, revised to 1946.

The textbook has the merit of having been written for western Canadian children. It does deal particularly and directly with the social conditions and problems of Western Canada. But it is unmistakably slanted,' throughout, against the existing economic order, and in favor of socialism and of the Soviet Union.

One passage says: “The Soviet

leaders claim as their goal the total abolition of poverty in their country. To do so, they believe they must do away with the class of people who work in order to gain wealth and hold it, also the class who have wealth (perhaps by inheritance) and merely spend it, in favor of a class who will work without wanting to achieve wealth—the educated type to whom property is of minor importance, who work to serve and not to own.”

This is not. a unique or isolated quotation; the book contains dozens of similar import. CCF-ers have defended it, when challenged, on the ground that it’s only a “factual account” of the Soviet Union as well as of other nations, but the selection of facte showed a tender care. No exploit of the Red Army is left unchronicled, but the Moscow-Berlin Pact of 1939 is not mentioned, nor the role of Russia between 1939 and 1941.

In this sense, communism and socialism were important issues in the June campaign, and probably cost the CCF more votes than anything else. In actuality—things actually done by this avowedly Socialist Government— socialism was hardly a major issue.

The fact is, there isn’t very much socialism in Saskatchewan—less than you would think either from the boasts of its supporters or the alarm of its enemies. The Douglas Government is composed of Socialists, all right, but it would be an overstatement to call it a socialist government.

Premier Douglas and his advisers know they can’t build socialism in one province. Their avowed aim has always been to use all kinds of enterprise—state, co-operative, private—to develop Saskatchewan’s resources. In their second term it looks as if the emphasis would be rather more on private enterprise, less on the others.

Wooing the Risk-Taker

Saskatchewan is keenly aware of the boom in Alberta, next door. New oil was found in 1947 on the Alberta plains; this year, oil firms will spend $50 millions on exploration and development there. Geologists say it’s quite likely that Saskatchewan’s plains have oil under them, too.

In socialist theory, oil is the kind of natural wealth that even a provincial government should retain and develop. At the CCF provincial convention in 1946, the Saskatoon section moved an indignant resolution that “the Government be called upon to show cause why the exploitation of (oil and gas) has been allowed to fall into private hands.”

Two Cabinet Ministers explained: Wild-cat prospecting for oil was too risky, too costly for a provincial treasury. The province had neither money nor skilled personnel for such long-shot gambling. However, the people’s interest would be protected; no private interest would be allowed to corner all of Saskatchewan’s mineral wealth.

That proviso, plus the whole political atmosphere of Saskatchewan, has scared off private investors. Investment in the search for new oil fields has been negligible compared to the outlay in Alberta. The story with regard to other minerals was the same—only 319 claims staked in 1947 in Saskatchewan, 6,732 in Manitoba. After some heart-searching, the Government took steps to attract private enterprise.

A program of encouragement to prospectors was set up. The CCF Government will grubstake a prospector, fly him into the north country and out again in the fall, and leave him free to dispose of what he finds.

Oil regulations were amended; in some ways, Saskatchewan now offers private capital a better deal than Alberta. But so far there has been no rush by the bigger oil companies to take advantage of the new rules. They’re still afraid the CCF might take over any well that turned out to be valuable, or—more likely—expropriate any unleased land around a producing well, and thus share the benefit of a strike without investing any money in the costly, risky search.

Whether that’s the whole reason or not, most of the big oil companies have stayed out of Saskatchewan so far. The Government says it’s getting a response from smaller companies, though.

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I n any case its intention is to encourage private firms and not to launch out on its own in this field. Some other natural resources are being exploited directly by the Government, but the scale is fairly limited.

A typical Crown corporation is the Timber Board. Formerly, wood on Crown lands was sold standing and cut by private operators who sold it to wholesale dealers. Now the CCF’s Timber Board has the cutting done on contract, mainly by the same operators, and sells its lumber directly to the retail trade at the market price. In seven months of last year the Timber Board’s net profit was $236,975.

Saskatchewan’s Government operates the bus system of the province, expropriated from private interests in 1946. Telephones have been a provincial monopoly for many years; the province has also been in the power business, though this the CCF has considerably expanded by buying up private companies. Other CCF business ventures are mostly small--a little boot factory in Regina, a woolen mill in Moose Jaw, a brick yard, a new sodium sulphate plant, a fish board to market fish from the northern lakes and a marketing service for trappers.

Tax-free Profits

All told, the investment in the new Crown corporations (exclusive of telephones and power) has been about $6 millions, and the aggregate surplus reported last year was $600,000, or 10%. However, these Crown corporations pay no corporation tax (40% in the case of a private company) and they pay no interest on their capital. The CCF argues that the amounts invested in Crown corporations are “venture capital,” and that the return on this investment to the province should all be credited as surplus.

One CCF business, the Prince Albert box factory, came into state control because the capitalists outsmarted the Socialists. In a labor dispute the former owners did some fast legal footwork and put the CCF Government in a dilemma. It had to choose between a humiliating backdown on its new labor law, or expropriation of the box factory—at a very high price.

Liberal campaign speakers made few specific references to any Crown corporations. They spoke of the CCF “squandering millions on socialist experiments of doubtful value,” though as a matter of fact the new Crown corporations have made more money than they’ve lost, so far. Liberals also denounced the CCF’s “imported planners,” who include an Englishman and a couple of Americans as well as imports from Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and parts of Manitoba. But so far as I could learn, they didn’t undertake to abolish any particular Crown corporation. They didn’t even commit themselves against the most socialistic venture of all, the Saskatchewan Government Insurance Office.

There are two kinds of Government insurance in Saskatchewan, one compulsory, one voluntary.

Every motorist must buy automobile accident insurance, at a charge of $6 for most models of car, plus $1 for each person who drives the car. This insures him against public liability to $5,000 and $10,000, property and collision damage to $1,000. However, the insurance is $100-deductible for both collision and property damage—most private poticies make the insured pay the first $100 of damage he does to his own car, but give him 100% coverage on damage to the other fellow’s car.

This $100-deductible feature is an important financial advantage to the CCF Government. About 80% of all motor accidents cause damage of less than $100, so the Government escapes all liability for property damage in four cases out of five.

On the other hand, Government insurance offers a unique benefit: In-

demnity for personal injury regardless of who is at fault. Anyone disabled gets $20 a week for the period of his disability, up to $2,400. In Saskatchewan 70% of motor accident victims are hurt by their own fault, and ordinary standard public liability auto insurance would entitle them to nothing. Liberal campaign speakers strongly endorsed this particular feature of the CCF insurance plan.

Besides the compulsory insurance, the CCF Government sells a voluntary policy for $18.80 which plugs the gaps in the compulsory coverage. Thus, for a total outlay of $25.80, a Saskatchewan motorist can buy auto insurance which from a private company would cost about $51.

Saskatchewan insurance agents cannot compete with these prices, but they do insist that Government insurance gives poor service. A common charge, for example, is that “you have to take your car to a Government garage, where they keep it for months and do a poor job.”

There are three repair garages in Saskatchewan actually operated by the Government. However, last year they handled only six per cent of the dollar volume of insurance business. The other 94%. was handled by private garages all over the province. The insured motorist can take his car to any garage he likes; it will only be removed, and then very often to another private garage, if the garageman’s estimate of the damage is substantially higher than the adjuster’s estimate.

One of the leading garage owners in Regina, a man warmly recommended by anti-CCF sources as honest, competent and level-headed, said: “Frankly, the system has worked better than I ever expected. We made a special point of being careful in our estimates of cost, and we’ve never had one challenged nor had a job taken away. At the beginning there used to be some delay in making the appraisal, and in getting payment through, but they’ve got that fixed. Now the whole thing operates just as fast as any other insurance.”

Needless to say, the 5,000-odd insurance agents in Saskatchewan regard this portion of the CCF program with anger and alarm. I could find no evidence, though, of any widespread resentment among the rest of the population. The Liberals made no issue of it, and tended to be embarrassed by questions on the subject. On balance, insurance looked like a political asset and not a liability to the CCF.

The Swift Current Plan

Even more unmistakable was the popularity of tax-prepaid medical service in Swift Current, a little town of 7,000 about 135 miles west, of Regina.

All Saskatchewan has tax-prepaid hospital care, but only in Swift Current and the surrounding countryside are all the costs of medical care, including even dentistry for children under 16, paid out of taxes. Any of the 14 “health regions” in the province can have this by voting for it; so far, Swift Current is the only one to have done so.

Doctors are supposed to be virtually unanimous against this kind of “state medicine.” In the town of Swift Current I talked to five leading practitioners, none of them CCF-ers (to judge by their conversation). To my astonishment, every one of them was strongly in favor of the scheme.

They are paid on a fee-for-service basis, so much for each call or each operation. They make up bills for each case in the ordinary way. butsend them to the regional health board instead of to the patient. Doctors accept 75%) of usual rates because they are guaranteed 100% collection. It seems to pay fairly well—in 1947 the average gross income of doctors in Swift Current was $12,192, the average net $8,025.

Doctors’ one complaint about the scheme was that it encouraged people to call them out in the evening—often because the patient was too lazy to go and wait his turn in the doctor’s office.

The people seem equally content. At a meeting of Swift Current Rotarians, who appeared to be anti-CCF to a man, I met no one who opposed the medical service plan.

It’s fairly expensive. A single man pays $15 a year, besides the $5 provincial tax for hospital care; man and wife pay $24, family of three $30, family of four or more $35. Thus if a family is large enough to be paying the $30 maximum for hospital care, the total taxation for medical expenses would be $65 a year in Swift Current.

At: the Town Hall, though, tax collectors said that relatively few people complained. “The dead-beats who never paid a doctor bill in their lives kick like steers,” one official said. “But of the people who pay their bills, rich or poor, the majority seem to he In favor of it.”

And so of the schemes actually in effect that could be called socialistic, few appeared to be doing the CCF any great harm politically — with people most bitterly opposed to socialism as a doctrine. The CCF, in its own belief at any rate, lost more votes because of the larger school unit than because of any of its more famous or notorious ventures.

Politics, Politics

Larger school units are favored by departments of education, and opposed by rural school boards, in many a Canadian province. The CCF Government pushed the larger unit— grouped Saskatchewan’s 5,000 school districts into 60 bigger ones and by last year had 45 of the 60 actually established.

This made for better and more efficient schools, but it also made for higher school taxesespecially in the more prosperous districts, which formerly liad enjoyed good schools of their own on a low mill-rate. Some farmers found their school taxes doubled and even tripled. It cooled their ardor for the CCF Government.

One thing that may have lost the CCF more votes than any other single factor was Douglas’ personal attack on Walter Tucker in the latter half of the campaign. The CCF itself was keenly aware of this mistake. The charge concerned a matter that lay in Tucker’s own riding; best proof of its effect was that Tucker’s CCF opponent lost his deposit.

Some voters also found fault with the Government for the kind of political tactics normally played by the outs when they get to be the ins. The CCF is a political party, not immune to the world, the flesh and the devil.

Saskatchewan has very few stretches of paved highway—can’t afford it. But of those few, one of the newest runs from Saskatoon to the Minister of Highways’ own riding; another pops up, a smooth black oasis in a desert of gravel, in the riding of another CCF Minister.

The CCF has increased the civil service, exclusive of Crown corporation workers, from about 4,000 to about 6,000. Many of these newcomers appear to have been recruited from the party’s members and admirers. But it’s fair to say that in these matters the CCF record is a great deal better than that of its predecessors. The chairman of one long-established Government board, a Liberal who had been in the Government for 25 years in different posts, said, “I don’t remember any Saskatchewan Government that made as few dismissals on political grounds,”

Initiative Pays Oil

Shortly after the 1944 election, the medical director of a Saskatchewan mental hospital called upon Premier Douglas. ‘T want to see you about staff,” he said. “When the Liberals were in power 1 used to see Mr. X, and he’d tell me whom to hire; when the Conservatives were in power I dealt through Mr. Y. Now, who’s your man?”

“You are,” Tommy Douglas said. “Hire anybody you like.”

The Conservative Premier of 192934, the late Dr. J. T. M. Anderson, had been an inspector of schools before going into politics. He was an able educator, a doctor of pedagogy, but after his defeat in 1934 the Liberals refused to give him back his old job or any job in the education department. For a while in the later 1930’s, the ex-Premier was actually on relief. One of the first acts of the CCF Government was to give Dr, Anderson a job suited to his talent and training.

This enlightened policy was not followed without complaint from within the CCF. Party conventions of 1944 and 1945 called on the Government to “clean house” and appoint people to office “who share the CCF’s ideals.” Tommy Douglas said nothing doing. Before it came to power the CCF had passed resolutions demanding appointments on merit and not on political grounds: if they wanted to change that decision they’d have to repeal their previous resolutions. Also, they’d have to get a new Premier.

That’s the kind of thing that kept the CCF in powerthat, arid a general attitude of activity and initiative, Up in the Carrot River district, for instance, the Reconstruction Department is clearing hundreds of square miles of rich land, burnt over years ago and derelict ever since. Each year’s crew is made up of veterans who want to settle, the next year, as co-operative farmers on the land they’re recovering. The co-operative farms are anywhere from 10 to 15 square miles in size, farmed with heavy equipment which no individual farmer could afford but which works out to be cheap enough when shared by a dozen or more families.

In one Government establishment, I was being taken around by a civil servant who was remarkably outspoken about politics. He made no secret of his low opinion of socialism in general and the Regina Government in particular. I asked if this meant he thought the Government would be voted out.

“No, I don’t think so,” he answered. “I’m a Liberal myself, but I must admit the old Liberal Government here was no great shakes. Now they want us to put the same old gang back in—what’s the point? I’m willing to put up with a certain amount of woolly idealism that I don’t agree with, just to keep a bunch in office who are trying to do a job.” ★