Parties on the right, with the support of the private health insurance industry, rejected the plan, saying it would intrude on provincial powers, undermine doctors and cost too much. Mr. MacEachen, who was minister of health and welfare in the Pearson government, found himself fighting cabinet colleagues who thought that the plan would be financially ruinous.
At the same time, the New Democratic Party, which was to the left of the Liberals, criticized the proposal for not going far enough in its medical coverage. It wanted dental care, prescription drugs and other services, like eyeglasses, to be covered as well.
It is generally accepted that Mr. MacEachen was largely responsible for winning over the New Democrats, allowing the legislation to pass and then, as health minister, pushing government administrators to implement the new system swiftly.
At Mr. MacEachen’s funeral on Sunday in Antigonish, a small town about 35 miles west of Cape Breton Island, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a Liberal and the son of Pierre Trudeau, said Mr. MacEachen’s political skills had been essential to the introduction of universal health care and other social programs, including an expanded national pension plan for low-income Canadians.
“Canadians are living in a country that Allan J. built, and they like it,” the Canadian Press news agency quoted Mr. Trudeau as saying. “Seniors are living in dignity because of the old-age supplement. We all enjoy health care according to our needs, rather than our ability to pay.”
In addition to having an encyclopedic knowledge of parliamentary rules and precedents, Mr. Axworthy said, Mr. MacEachen maintained a network of contacts in all the political parties and, just as important, demonstrated a remarkable political sixth sense.
“Allan had an almost innate ability to go into the House like a bloodhound and sniff the atmosphere,” he said.
In 1977, the elder Mr. Trudeau honored Mr. MacEachen by creating the title deputy prime minister and appointing him to the role, a position that carries no special powers or duties.
One of Canada’s least expected political reversals came in 1979, when the Liberals were out of power and Mr. Trudeau announced that he was quitting…