In Memory of Dr. Richard B. Splane

From L to R: Karen Truscott, Courtney Szto, Piita Irniq, Patsy George.
From L to R: Karen Truscott, Courtney Szto, Piita Irniq, Patsy George.

On November 16, 2015, we held our Annual Dr. Richard B. Splane Lecture on Public Policy at UBC’s Liu Centre.  It was another full house to hear Piita Irniq, former Commissioner to Nunavut, speak about issues of reconciliation, and the colonial experiences for the Inuit.

This was a particularly special lecture because just days before the lecture, Dr. Splane passed away at the age of 99.  UNA-Vancouver Past-President and Honorary Member, Patsy George, gave a touching introduction in Dr. Splane’s honour.  Below is her full speech:

Dr. Richard B. Splane, known to most of us as Dick, passed away peacefully on November 8, 2015 just six weeks after his 99th birthday.

splaneNine years ago on Sept 25th, when we were celebrating his 90thbirthday, UNA-Vancouver, the World Federalists, and U.B.C decided that a special gift to honour and celebrate Dick would be to set up a public lecture in social policy in his name. He was very pleased and somehow had understood that it was just one lecture. The next year when I went to consult him on behalf of the planning committee, he simply could not believe that it was an annual event to honour his contribution, and to engage the public, particularly students, in social policy discussions. Dick had attended every lecture until this year.

It is indeed a true honour for me to remember Dick as he was a mentor and a friend to me for many years, as he was to many of you in this audience. Dick introduced the people of my generation to the concepts of social administration and social policy in the 50’s and 60’s in Canada. After he received a Masters degree, and the very first PhD in social work given by the University of Toronto, Dick went off to London to study with Richard Titmuss at the London School of Economics. Titmuss, the very first professor of social policy and Founding Chair in that subject at L.S.E, became very influential in his thinking. He has told us that those were the best of times for him and returned to Canada to practice all what he learned.

My own memory of Dick goes back to the summer of 1965, exactly 50 years ago when his then wife Marion, also a social worker, organized a lecture under the auspices of the Welfare Council and invited graduate students to attend. The speaker was Dr. Richard B. Splane, a senior public servant working closely with Judy LaMarsh, the Minister of Health and Welfare under Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson. He described with much enthusiasm all that he had learned from Professor Titmuss. It was a most exciting time to be a senior public servant since he was implementing programs such as the Canada Pension Plan, Canadian Medical plan, and Canada Assistance Plan with the blessings of the new Liberal government elected in 1963. Dick remained a towering figure of Canadian social policy developments throughout his life.

Graham Riches, our Splane Lecture speaker from earlier this year, sent his regrets that he could be with us because he is giving a lecture in Bilbao, Spain right now. He did, however, have this to say about Dick’s leadership in crafting the Canada assistance Plan:

“Introduced in 1966 CAP, a cost shared programme brought order, national standards, financial stability and social rights to a patchwork of underfunded provincial income assistance programmes and social services. It was progressive public policy at work in an era of co-operative Federalism with the Federal government playing a lead role in meeting the needs of vulnerable Canadians”.

For a young student aspiring to be the best ever, Dick’s speech was an inspiration. The values he promoted remain in my mind. He was determined to convince us of the critical role of the state serving as the instrument of fundamental social and economic reform. In addition to the already recognized rights such as free speech, equality before the law, and human rights, he argued with a lot of conviction for other issues such as the right to work, decent wages, access to education and leisure, protection against insecurity, illness prevention, and unemployment insurance. His preference for the values of public service over private or commercial forms of care will have great influence on me and my generation of social activists.

He deeply believed that ordinary people are capable of making significant contributions to the shaping of their own destinies, and that civil responsibility has to be tapped to release a new social order. This was evident in his involvement with so many local and global N.G.Os, professional associations, and his encouragement for many of us to do the same.


With the force of a warm and generous personality, with an impish sense of humour and sharp wit, Dick converted many of us into local and global activists, in addition to shaping the social welfare policies in Canada. It is appropriate that his name is attached to this annual public lecture in social policy where issues of social justice such as equality, human rights and peace are discussed with the hopes that these conversations will influence public policy in the years to come. As a committed multilateralist, Dick spent many years at the UN advancing human rights and human well-being. Not too long ago, in watching the deterioration of civil and social rights in Canada, he made the following statement, “We are faced with having to win back what we had once attained, and to move forward with skill and determination to realize the values proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” This evening, I am certain that his sprit is urging all of us, to do all what we can, to get the new government in Ottawa to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples. Rest in Peace, Dick.

We will continue to remember you and be inspired by these lectures in your name. We thank you for showing us the way to be decent and proud Canadians.

Dr. Splane’s obituary can be found via The Globe and Mail.