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Reviewed by:
  • Dream No Little Dreams: A Biography of the Douglas Government of Saskatchewan, 1944-1961
  • Forrest D. Pass (bio)
A.W. Johnson , with the assistance of Rosemary Proctor. Dream No Little Dreams: A Biography of the Douglas Government of Saskatchewan, 1944-1961University of Toronto Press. xxxix, 394. $65.00, $35.00

Out of the current discussions of the future of Canada's health care system, the 'father of Medicare,' Tommy Douglas, has emerged as something of a folk hero. Douglas's apotheosis is most evident in his selection as CBC's 'Greatest Canadian' and in the recent publication of numerous popular books and articles devoted to his life and legacy.

Dream No Little Dreams shares with these works a profound admiration for Douglas and his contribution to a just Canadian society. A.W. Johnson 's main interest, however, is the first CCF government's approach to policy formulation and public administration. He demonstrates that the CCF's ambitious program evolved to fit the exigencies of government, and conversely that the structures of government were adapted to serve the demands of democratic socialism. Even before its election victory in 1944, the party had begun to reconsider its commitment to complete socialization, and through its first years in office the government sought instead to provide the conditions necessary for individual fulfilment. This ideological flexibility was coupled with a comprehensive program of administrative reform. Recognizing that the machinery of the state was ill suited to its expanded role, Douglas's government created new advisory agencies and modernized the province's civil service. Administrative changes facilitated the implementation of a remarkably diverse array of program initiatives, of which Medicare is only the best known. Rural electrification, the expansion of the province's highway system, and increasing support for education and the arts also figured prominently. Indeed, during Douglas 's second term in office his famous social welfare programs were secondary in importance to economic development and diversification. The book thus depicts the premier not simply as a single-issue crusader but as a skilled politician supported by a strong cabinet and an efficient bureaucracy.

Johnson himself was part of the Saskatchewan bureaucracy, serving as deputy provincial treasurer from 1952 onward, and his analysis of policy formation is frequently rooted in first-hand experience of the events and [End Page 432] processes he describes. The book, a revision of the author's 1963 doctoral dissertation, is also based upon exhaustive primary research and he acknowledges Premier Douglas's personal assistance in making sources available. While his primary research is impeccable, Johnson could have done more to assess the originality of the Douglas administration 's approach through reference to broader Canadian and global contexts. He alludes, for example, to British and American antecedents for the Economic Advisory and Planning Board and the Budget Bureau, Douglas's central planning agencies, but a comparison of these agencies with their models might have shed light on the relative creativity of the CCF's approach to policy development. Britain's revolutionary National Health Service is mentioned only once, yet this example of a state-managed universal health care system must have been in the minds of Saskatchewan policy-makers. Johnson offers an authoritative analysis of the relationship between the Douglas government and Saskatchewan local governments and interest groups, but he relegates relations with Ottawa to an annex on CCF financing rather than including discussion of the federal-provincial aspect throughout. The growing acceptance in Canada of Keynesian political economy is raised in the first chapter and again in the annex, and reference to the secondary literature on this trend, including the works of Doug Owram and Barry Ferguson, might have led Johnson to revise his conclusion that the Douglas government was principally responsible for legitimizing 'a fundamentally new role of the state.'

Policy studies lack the mass appeal of mythology, so it is unlikely that Dream No Little Dreams will enjoy the same audience as recent popular treatments of Tommy Douglas. Nevertheless, this clearly written, soundly researched book offers an informative look inside the machinery of Canada's first socialist government and will be a must-read for students of Canadian political history and public administration. [End Page...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 432-433
Launched on MUSE
2006-02-10
Open Access
No
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