CCF politician Tommy Douglas was masterful orator who combined humour, sarcasm, irony, anecdote, and self-deprecation in ways that allowed him to become the country’s most effective popularizer of socialist ideas. Fellow MP Clarence Gillis first told the story of Mouseland and Douglas picked it up. It is a drama in which mice keep voting against their better interests for either black or white cats, but cats nonetheless. Douglas used the story to show that mice should vote for mice rather than cats. He created a dramatic metaphor for an electoral system that did not serve the average person.
“The laws that were good for cats weren’t very good for mice”
Mouseland was a place where all the little mice lived and played, were born and died. And they lived much the same as you and I do.
They even had a Parliament. And every four years they had an election. Used to walk to the polls and cast their ballots.
Some of them even got a ride to the polls. And got a ride for the next four years afterwards too. Just like you and me. And every time on election day all the little mice used to go to the ballot box and they used to elect a government. A government made up of big, fat, black cats.
Now if you think it strange that mice should elect a government made up of cats, you just look at the history of Canada for the last ninety years and maybe you’ll see that they weren’t any stupider then we are.
Good laws for cats
Now I’m not saying anything against the cats. They were nice fellows. They conducted their government with dignity. They passed good laws—that is, laws that were good for cats. But the laws that were good for cats weren’t very good for mice. One of the laws said that mouse holes had to be big enough so a cat could get his paw in. Another law said that mice could only travel at certain speeds—so that a cat could get his breakfast without too much effort.
All the laws were good laws, for cats. But, oh, they were hard on the mice. And life was getting harder and harder. And when the mice couldn’t put up with it any more, they decided that something had to be done about it. So they went en masse to the polls. They voted the black cats out. They put in the white cats.
White cats, black cats
Now the white cats had put up a terrific campaign. They said: “All that Mouseland needs is more vision.” They said: “The trouble with Mouseland is those round mouse holes we got. If you put us in we’ll establish square mouse holes.” And they did. And the square mouse holes were twice as big as the round mouse holes, and now the cat could get both paws in. And life was tougher then ever.
And when they couldn’t take that anymore, they voted the white cats out and put the black ones in again. Then they went back to the white cats. Then to the black cats. They even tried half black and half white cats. And they called that coalition. They even got one government made up of cats with spots on them: they were cats that tried to make a noise like a mouse but ate like a cat.
You see, my friends, the trouble wasn’t with the colour of the cat. The trouble was that they were cats. And because they were cats, they naturally looked after cats instead of mice.
Vote for mice
Presently there came along one little mouse who had an idea. My friends, watch out for the little fellow with an idea. And he said to the other mice, “Look, fellows, why do we keep electing a government made up of cats? Why don’t we elect a government made up of mice?” “Oh,” they said, “he’s a Bolshevik. Lock him up!” So they put him in jail.
But I want to remind you: That you can lock up a mouse or a man but you can’t lock up an idea.
Video adaptation of Mouseland: 06:21. Douglas-Coldwell Foundation
Listen to Mouseland: 05:30. CBC Radio Archives
Mouseland transcript: Canadian Museum of History
Tommy Douglas: The Canadian Encyclopedia