The Saskatchewan Medical Care Insurance Act provided for the creation of a publicly administered medical insurance commission that would report to the Minister of Public Health. The plan was to be universal and funded by premiums as well as taxes. Doctors were to be paid on a fee-for-service basis, and patients would pay a small portion of the cost to ensure that no one perceived this as charity. The administrative commission was to be composed of lay people and doctors and was to have the right to propose regulations concerning the plan’s administration. The CPSS opposed the measure on the grounds that it infringed on doctors’ rights to treat their patients and that it would lower the quality of service by forcing doctors who believed in free market principles to leave the province. The CPSS received strong support from Ross Thatcher, a former CCFmember who was now the leader of the provincial Liberal Party.
Although the initial expectation had been that the plan would start on April 1, 1962, negotiations with the province’s doctors led to changes to the legislation and postponement of the plan’s launch to July 1, 1962. With Tommy Douglas’s departure in November 1961 to head the federal New Democratic Party (NDP), his successor, Woodrow Lloyd, a long-time Cabinet member and former schoolteacher, faced the daunting task of dealing with the increasingly intransigent doctors and their supporters. As the crisis intensified, the doctors indicated that they would be withholding their services from July 1 if the government did not withdraw the legislation. This led to the formation of “Keep Our Doctors” Committees, which organized rallies at the legislature in late June and early July. The press in Saskatchewan favoured the doctors and the Liberals and, as the editorial cartoons found at http://scaa.usask.ca/gallery/medicare indicate, opposed the government.
But like Douglas, Lloyd believed in negotiation to solve contentious issues, and so he refused to allow the act’s supporters to stage counter-rallies, arguing that “the issue is whether the people of Saskatchewan shall be governed by a democratically elected legislature responsible to the people, or by a small, highly organized group” (Malcolm G. Taylor, Health Insurance and Canadian Public Policy: The Seven Decisions That Created the Canadian Health Insurance System and Their Outcomes, 2nd ed. [Montréal and Kingston: McGill–Queen’s University Press, 1987], p. 307). Instead, he and his Cabinet continued to attempt to negotiate with the doctors while also organizing emergency medical assistance by hiring doctors from Great Britain and elsewhere. Whose approach would prevail?