Emmett Hall (1898-1996)
As the Chair of the Royal Commission on Health Services, Emmett Hall is revered as one of the key instigators of medicare in Canada. His commission’s recommendations reflected his belief in the importance of universality and accessibility, principles that motivate the activities of the Justice Emmett Hall Memorial Foundation
Hall was born on November 9, 1898, at St. Colomban, north of Montreal. He moved with his family to Saskatoon in 1910. He studied law at the University of Saskatchewan and graduated in 1919. For the next 35 years, he practised law in Saskatchewan. During this time, he ran twice for elected office on behalf of the Conservative Party but was defeated both times. In 1957, at 58 years-of-age, he was elevated to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal as Chief Justice just after the election victory of the Progressive Conservative led by his old law school colleague John G. Diefenbaker.
In 1961, Prime Minister Diefenbaker asked Hall to lead the Royal Commission on Health Services which he then conducted in the midst of a firestorm over the introduction of universal medical care insurance in his home province. In 1964, his commission reported to a Liberal administration under Primer Minister Lester Pearson. To the surprise of many, the Hall Commission recommended a universal, single-payer model of medical care insurance similar to the plan in Saskatchewan not only for medical care insurance but for a broad range of other health services to build upon universal hospital insurance that had been introduced by most provinces a few years before. The federal government was deeply divided on the model of administration and the timing of the introduction of Medicare by the Hall report contributed significantly to Pearson and his cabinet agreeing to cost-share Medicare with those provinces that agreed to adopt a universal, single-payer model. Due to his role, he has often shared the title of “Father of Medicare” with Tommy Douglas, the Premier of Saskatchewan.
During the Royal Commission, Hall became a member of the Supreme Court of Canada. Known as a hard-working and decisive judge, he participated in a number of landmark cases. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was highly influenced by Hall’s minority judgment in the Nisga’a land claims case of 1973, after which Trudeau opened claims’ negotiations with Aboriginal peoples. Hall continued his work on public policy through other federal and provincial commissions and studies during his years on the bench and after his retirement. In 1979, he was asked by the federal government to conduct a check-up on Medicare and his report the following year, as well as his concerns about the growing use of extra billing and user fees, led to the Canada Health Act of 1984.
As described by one of his biographers, Emmett Hall was an establishment radical. Although he was a member of the privileged elite in Canada, he put social justice ahead of position, and believed deeply that all Canadians should have access to basic health needs on the same terms and conditions without financial barriers.
For further information on Emmett Hall, see:
Entry for “Emmett Hall” by Dennis Gruending in The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan: http://esask.uregina.ca/entry/hall_emmett_1898-1996.html
Dennis Gruending, Emmett Hall: Establishment Radical (Toronto: Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2005).
Frederick Vaughan, Aggressive in Pursuit: The Life of Justice Emmett Hall (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004).