The Associated Press

Until about 50 years ago, the Canadian and U.S. health care systems were fairly similar - part public and part private, for-profit and nonprofit, with large numbers of people uninsured and shouldering their own medical bills.

In Canada, change was driven by Tommy Douglas, Saskatchewan's longtime socialist premier. In the late 1940s he launched a campaign to create what became Canadian Medicare.

He faced stiff opposition from business and doctors' groups. Doctors in Saskatchewan even went on strike for 23 days in 1962 in a failed effort to derail the province's new program of universal medical insurance.

Within a decade, the Saskatchewan model had spread to all of Canada.

Today, Canada's health care system enjoys broad political support, from the left-of-center New Democratic Party founded by Douglas to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives, whose political views are closest to U.S. Republicans.

Harper, prime minister since 2006, campaigned on a pledge to reduce waiting times for health care services, but has not launched any major attempt to privatize the system.

As for Douglas, who happens to have been actor Kiefer Sutherland's grandfather, he is considered the "father of Medicare," and in 2004, in a contest run by CBC television, he was chosen as "The Greatest Canadian."