Noteworthy face? Online campaign makes case for Tommy Douglas to grace $5 bill

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The father of medicare — and the man once crowned the greatest Canadian — is among the names circulating as the potential next face on the $5 bill.

An online campaign is pushing to see politician Tommy Douglas grace the note, an honour held by former prime minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier since 1972.

“I can’t think of anything more significant that any Canadian, politician or not, has done for me and my family,” said Ron Woznow, one of the Douglas’ campaign organizers.

“Probably every Canadian has been touched some way by the availability of that medical care.”


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Douglas served as premier of Saskatchewan from 1944-1961, before becoming the leader of the federal New Democratic Party until 1971.

During his time as premier, Douglas implemented government-funded health insurance with the Saskatchewan Hospital Services Plan coming into effect in 1947.

By 1954, the plan — the first of its kind in Canada — covered around 810,000 people in the province. It prompted the federal government to create a national plan.


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In January, the Bank of Canada announced public consultation would start to pick a new Canadian to be featured on the next $5 banknote.

The deadline for nominations, done through the bank’s website, is March 11.

“This will be similar to the public consultations that led to the selection of Viola Desmond for the $10 note,” said Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz on Jan. 9.

Sir Wilfrid Laurier is shown on Canada’s current $5 polymer banknote.

Sir Wilfrid Laurier is shown on Canada’s current $5 polymer banknote.


Flickr/Bank of Canada

“This time we will be asking all Canadians to nominate any historic Canadian — someone who is truly banknote-able.”

Douglas isn’t without a problematic past. In the 1930s, he wrote a master’s thesis supporting eugenics policies — including sterilization. The views weren’t unique, with two Canadian provinces and several American states passing sexual sterilization laws at the time.

According to the online Canadian Encyclopedia, Douglas had abandoned his support for those policies before becoming premier of Saskatchewan.


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Some of the more popular candidates include Marathon of Hope runner Terry Fox and Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie, both of whom died after inspiring battles with cancer.

Others have suggested honouring an Indigenous leader or an inspiring Canadian woman, just as the public chose Viola Desmond for the $10 note.

The $10 bill featuring Desmond’s face went into circulation in November 2018. It was the first banknote with a Canadian woman on it, and it was later named the banknote of the year by the International Bank Note Society.


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