The Saskatchewan Medical Association has a storied history dating back to 1905 when it was formed under the leadership of Dr. Maurice Macdonald Seymour, the Saskatchewan Commissioner of Public Health at the time. This year we celebrate the 50 year anniversary of the SMA coming into its own - 50 years since a motion was passed at a College of Physicians and Surgeons meeting marking the official birth of the SMA as an independent organization. To mark this occasion we've poured through our archives, salvaged long forgotten photos, and delved into over 5 decades worth of SMA publications to provide you with a glimpse back through the years at our proud history, and how we grew into the association we are today.
Whether it was through a re-birth or a revival, the Saskatchewan Medical Association grew into its own 1966.
Fifty years later, in 2016, the SMA celebrates an important milestone in its history. However, the story of the SMA begins in 1905 when 20 physicians from the new province of Saskatchewan met to form a provincial medical association, affiliated with the Canadian Medical Association.
The SMA was instrumental in shaping health policy in those early years, advocating for better health-care services for tuberculosis and cancer patients and working with government to supplement physicians’ incomes. However, by the mid-1930s, physicians in the province decided that the association ought to merge with the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the body tasked with licensing physicians. It was a decision that would be reversed thirty years later.
“Those who propose the revival of the S.M.A. suggest that the dual role played by the College may lead to conflict. The two functions would be better served by two distinctly separate bodies. The responsibilities in both areas have escalated rapidly over these 30 years, and neither body would suffer disuse atrophy. Such is the essence of the debate,” wrote Dr. Ernie Baergen, in The Saskatchewan Medical Quarterly, Vol. 30 No. 4, published by the College of Physician and Surgeons of Saskatchewan and the Canadian Medical Association, Saskatchewan Division, in December, 1966.
“Its revival is not a separation of two bodies. It is the assignment of two distinct functions to appropriate parts of the same body,” continued Baergen, executive secretary of the Saskatchewan Division of the Canadian Medical Association in 1966 and who would become the SMA’s first executive director in 1967.
The potential conflict within the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan became apparent during the “Medicare Crisis” of the early 1960s. The college had statutory obligations under the Medical Professions Act to protect the public as the sole authority to register, license and discipline physicians. The college also represented physicians in negotiations with the provincial government.
When, in 1961, the provincial legislature passed the first draft of the Saskatchewan Medical Care Insurance Act, physicians were infuriated by the lack of consultation.
“To make matters worse, the government made a surprise amendment to the Act on April 13, 1962, which empowered the Medical Care Insurance Commission to act as the agent between physicians and patients. This aggravated the initial fears of physicians that they would be placed under the absolute control of the government,” says a report called Saskatchewan Medicine 1905 to 2005, published by the SMA in recognition of Saskatchewan’s centenary.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons called a special, general meeting of physicians in May 1962 where the vast majority agreed to withdraw services if the Act was implemented on July 1, 1962. The Act came into effect on July 1. And all medical services, except for free emergency clinics in selected hospitals, were withdrawn. The next 23 days proved to be the most difficult days in Saskatchewan’s medical history.
This was the turning point when government and the physicians recognized the college could no longer perform the dual role of protecting the public and representing the profession. The SMA was soon to be “reborn” as the sole representative of physicians in Saskatchewan.
The decision to re-establish the SMA with its own constitution and by-laws was made at the 1966 annual meeting of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Division of the Canadian Medical Association held jointly on Oct. 18 and 19, 1966, in Regina.
The “separation of the college and the division” was debated and unanimously carried at that meeting, setting the stage for the SMA to hold its inaugural Representative Assembly on April 15 and 16, 1967.
Dr. Marc Baltzan, who would be elected that spring as the first president of the newly formed SMA, spoke at the annual meeting in favour of the separation.
“He stated that his own father, Dr. D. M. Baltzan, who was the last president of the S.M.A. had felt that the move of unification in 1937 was appropriate, but in view of changing economic factors, he now agrees with the move toward separation,” says the Minutes of the 1966 Annual Meeting.
However, the separation of the SMA from the College of Physicians and Surgeons was slow in coming.
Dr. Baltzan submitted a report to the 1967 annual meeting of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan.
“A considerable amount of time was devoted to the question as to whether the S.M.A. should be a voluntary or a compulsory organization,” said his summary of the previous year’s proceedings.
“It was finally agreed that, while in principle, a voluntary organization was probably the more satisfactory, the unfortunate economics of the situation dictated that a compulsory organization was necessary to be successful. In order to have a compulsory organization it was necessary to approach the Government to have this enshrined in law, and to have certain changes made in the Medical Profession and Medical Car Insurance Acts.”
Dr. Baltzan’s report went on to say that the provincial government had rejected the proposal, leaving the new SMA board, the Representative Assembly and the college council “in somewhat of a quandary as how to proceed from this point.
“This brings us to the present time and where do we go from here? How do we approach the problem of the future of the Saskatchewan Medical Association? Do we go back to Cabinet and request a compulsory organization or do we attempt to form a voluntary organization?” wrote Dr. Baltzan, in his 1967 report.
The government wasn’t to be persuaded of the need for compulsory membership in the SMA for all physicians and the SMA was left to operate, while an independent organization, under the financial stewardship of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan.
The situation changed with a change in the provincial government. In 1972, the Medical Profession Act was amended that prohibited the college from collecting dues on behalf of the SMA and paved the road for the SMA to collect its own dues. Compulsory membership was never approved.
Voluntary membership continues to this day. However, in 1986, provincial legislation was adopted that allows the SMA to collect seventy-five per cent of regular dues from non-member physicians.
Today, Saskatchewan physicians overwhelmingly support their medical association. More than 93 per cent of those practising are members of the SMA. The SMA also represents all medical residents and the vast majority of medical students enrolled in programs in Saskatchewan.
The mission of SMA focuses on promoting the honour and integrity of the profession by providing a common voice for physicians; supporting the educational, professional, economic and personal well-being of physicians; and advocating for a high quality and patient-centred health-care system.