By John Leung
So who is the greatest Canadian? Everyone has their own answer, but the CBC has attempted to give a definitive answer with their miniseries The Greatest Canadian. Last summer, the people of this great nation voted and jockeyed for whom they believe should wear the crown of beaver and maple syrup. The top ten were revealed last month and for the last four weeks, ten advocates for each of the candidates have pleaded their cases to Canadians via a series of hour-long documentary, advocates explain how their candidate represents Canadian ideals and values.
“One person embodied all of that, and took these difficult, altruistic ideals and got them done. To me that’s the greatest,” says MuchMusic host George Stroumboulopoulos of his candidate, Tommy Douglas.
While many do not know his name, after the miniseries has drawn to a close, if Stroumboulopoulos has his way, Canadians should have Tommy Douglas imprinted onto their brain, something the former Saskatchewan premier clearly deserves. After all not only is he the father of the Canadian health care system, but he also pushed for indoor plumbing for rural Saskatchewan and balanced the province’s budget 17 years in a row.
“His legacy is undeniable and his obstacles were almost insurmountable. Many smaller people were crushed by obstacles and compromise, but Tommy never was,” says Stroumboulopoulos. “Everything about this country that I value-these days, values in politics seems to be extremely exclusive things-Tommy Douglas’s values were simple: We all want to cross the finish line, so let’s all do it together.”
Thus for his documentary, Stroumboulopoulos blew up an outhouse, unexpected for what people assume are ordinary cut-up-and-dried documentary. “I think I’ve been to so many Metallica concerts in my life, that blowing up an outhouse just seemed more pyro, but [this was] pyro, prairie style,” George explains.
Not that it was a pointless explosion. In Saskatchewan, after rural indoor plumbing was introduced, it was common to see people sending their outhouse owners to send their outhouses to “outhouse hell” in flames. Many other advocates did similar actions, but none were more dramatic than George’s outhouse explosion. But according to him, it represented how much Douglas did for Saskatchewan and the liberation the people of the time felt.
George didn’t just get involved in the Greatest Canadian project to blow up shit. Tommy Douglas obvious means much more to George. Earlier this summer, CBC contacted the MuchMusic host and he was more than willing to take the proverbial soapbox for Douglas. “My response was pretty simple: I’ll only get involved if I could advocate for Tommy.”
For George, the Greatest Canadian program is an opportunity to demonstrate that Canadians have a lot to learn about their own country. “Most people think Bell invented the telephone and don’t realize all of the other things he did,” says George. “Usually, when you see these kinds of elections on TV, people voting for their favourite karaoke singer. Why don’t have them vote for someone who accomplished something, rather than doing a half-assed job of some Matchbox Twenty song? “
Can Douglas really win? His competition is stiff, having to take on Lester B. Pearson and Don Cherry, but looking at the latest standings, the former Saskatchewan premier is on the cusp of at last winning a national election. But unlike a conventional election, optimism sprung from the unknown factor. “When we got into this, we knew that Tommy Douglas was the underdog of all underdogs,” says George. “The fact is that most people have never heard of him!”
Note: Part 1 of the Grand Finale of The Greatest Canadian, the advocates’ debate, airs Sun., Nov. 28 at 8 p.m. on the main CBC network. All 10 documentaries will be replayed on CBC Newsworld Nov.27-Nov. 28 at various times throughout the day. Part 2 of the grand finale, where the winner is revealed, goes Mon., Nov. 29 at 8 p.m. Check TV listings for more details. To vote, visit http://www.cbc.ca/greatest for details and call toll-free 1-866-303-8683 or text message 22210 to vote. You get five votes per phone call.