Thompson Committee (1960–62)

The Advisory Planning Committee on Medical Care consisted of twelve members: its Chair, Dr. W.P. Thompson, recently retired as president of the University of Saskatchewan; Beatrice Trew and Cliff Whiting (representing the people of the province); Drs. J.F.C. Anderson, E.W. Barootes, and C.J. Houston (College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan); Dr. I.M. Hilliard (College of Medicine); Donald McPherson (Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce); W.E. Smishek (Saskatchewan Federation of Labour); and Dr. V.L. Matthews, former Health Minister T.J. Bentley, and Deputy Minister of Public Health Dr. F.B. Roth (the last three representing the government of Saskatchewan). John E. Sparks served as the non-voting secretary. Six of the twelve members were medical doctors.

The committee received its instructions on April 26, 1960, and deliberations began on May 9. The committee held 23 meetings for a total of 43 days; it conducted 33 public and 7 private hearings, analysed 50 study documents, and received 1,226 pages of documentation in 49 briefs. Teams of committee members visited health care programs in Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Holland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. The committee was instructed to report to Walter Erb, Minister of Public Health, on “the extent of public need in the various fields of health care as related to a medical care program,” following the broadest possible interpretation. They studied in detail the doctor-sponsored plans (GMS and MSI), municipal doctor plans, the plan for public assistance recipients, as well as existing mental health, cancer and tuberculosis programs.

The interim report, issued on September 25, 1961, recommended that health services be developed in a coordinated way, that physicians be paid on a fee-for-service basis, with use of modest “utilization fees” of $1 for a first office visit and $2 for a home visit, and that the program be administered by an independent commission who reported to the Minister of Public Health. Such a plan was estimated to cost close to $20 million per year. Walter Smishek appended a 17-page minority report, in which he argued the case for a system with salaried physicians and for making the Minister of Public Health directly responsible for its administration. The three representatives of the College of Physicians and Surgeons appended a 3.5 page minority report, signed also by Donald McPherson, recommending a less ambitious and less expensive plan which included a selective aid program for those not covered by existing plans, at an estimated cost of $3.6 million per year. They added that mental health services and rehabilitation facilities required attention before an all-inclusive plan was introduced.

Between this interim report and the final report, momentous events took place. The CCF government passed the Saskatchewan Medical Care Insurance Act on November 17, 1961, and four days later appointed William Gwynne Davies, former executive-secretary of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, as Minister of Public Health. This appointment, from the doctors’ viewpoint, was the equivalent of raising a red flag in front of a bull. The health plan was slated to begin on April 1, then was postponed to July 1. The doctors began the “23-day doctor’s strike,” which they termed a work stoppage, on July 1. Lord Stephen Taylor persuaded both sides to moderate their positions, and the Saskatoon Agreement was signed on July 23; this agreement was adopted into law at a special session of the Legislature on August 2. Meanwhile the department operated with Dr. Vince Matthews as acting Deputy Minister from June 30, 1962 to September 1, 1963--at which time J.G. Clarkson was appointed Deputy Minister. One week later, Allan Blakeney, a man whose integrity was recognized by most doctors, took over the ministry. It was an anti-climax when the final report of the Thompson Committee was submitted on September 26, 1962: it added useful data and details, but was now, after the fact, an interesting document for historians to ponder.

C. Stuart Houston