David Lewis: founder of the CCF party

The Canadian Jewish News (Toronto) - - News - — SHERI SHEFA

David Lewis, in­flu­enced by his up­bring­ing in a Rus­sian shtetl and his fa­ther’s in­volve­ment with an anti-com­mu­nist so­cial­ist movement, helped shape Canada’s po­lit­i­cal land­scape as we know it to­day.

Lewis, born Losz in 1909, grew up in what is now Be­larus. Lewis’ fa­ther, Moishe, was in­volved with the Jewish Labour Bund, a so­cial­ist party that called for equal­ity for all, and na­tional rights for Jews.

His fa­ther’s vo­cal op­po­si­tion to the Bol­she­viks landed him in jail and prompted the fam­ily to move to Mon­treal in 1921.

Af­ter Lewis grad­u­ated from a Mon­treal high school, he en­rolled at Mcgill Uni­ver­sity, study­ing arts and law. When he won a Rhodes schol­ar­ship to at­tend Ox­ford in 1932, he lead the Young Peo­ple’s So­cial­ist League and gave lec­tures spon­sored by the anti-com­mu­nist so­cial­ist club.

Through­out his schol­ar­ship at Ox­ford, he es­tab­lished con­tacts with so­cial­ists in the Bri­tish Labour Party and by the time he grad­u­ated in 1935, he was of­fered a can­di­dacy in a safe seat in the Bri­tish House of Com­mons, and was even groomed by a Labour Party of­fi­cial to be prime min­is­ter.

Lewis ul­ti­mately opted to re­turn to Mon- treal to help build the Co-op­er­a­tive Com­mon­wealth Fed­er­a­tion (CCF), a pre­de­ces­sor to the New Demo­cratic Party. In 1935, he be­came the CCF’S na­tional sec­re­tary.

Lewis first ran for the CCF in the 1940 fed­eral elec­tion in York West and lost, but the party asked him to run in a 1943 by­elec­tion. Lewis suf­fered an­other hard-fought loss, and it took him many years to re­cover.

In 1950, Lewis re­signed as the CCF’S na­tional sec­re­tary – although he re­mained on the na­tional ex­ec­u­tive un­til 1954 – and he moved to Toronto to prac­tice law. He be­came the chief le­gal ad­viser to the United Steel­work­ers(usw).his­in­volve­men­twith the USW led to the cre­ation of the Cana­dian Labour Congress in 1956.

He was elected to be­come CCF’S na­tional chairman in 1954, and was in­stru­men­tal in the draft­ing and pass­ing of the Win­nipeg Dec­la­ra­tion in 1956, which meant CCF’S eco­nomic poli­cies would in­clude cap­i­tal­ism, un­der strict gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion.

In 1958, Lewis was elected party pres­i­dent at a Mon­treal con­ven­tion, and by 1961, the CCF be­came the NDP, with Tommy Dou­glas tak­ing the reins as leader.

But just two days af­ter the NDP’S found­ing con­ven­tion, Dou­glas in­sisted that Lewis run in the fol­low­ing elec­tion, and he did.

One of the big­gest chal­lenges Lewis would have to over­come to win the elec­tion was to ob­tain the Jewish vote.

Lewis, a sec­u­lar Jew who op­posed the found­ing of the State of Is­rael, was seen by many in the com­mu­nity as an out­sider. In spite of this, he man­aged to se­cure the Jewish vote and in 1962, Lewis was elected in York South, and fi­nally be­came an MP.

In 1963, af­ter the de­feat of Diefen­baker’s mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment, Lewis lost his seat, but was re-elected in 1968 and be­came NDP leader af­ter Dou­glas lost his seat.

Lewis, who led the NDP through the 1972 fed­eral elec­tion, is per­haps best re­mem­bered for re­fer­ring to Cana­dian cor­po­ra­tions as “cor­po­rate wel­fare bums.”

In the 1974 elec­tion, Lewis lost his seat, and he re­signed as party leader in 1975.

Lewis went on to be­come a Car­leton Uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor, and even a travel cor­re­spon­dent for the Toronto Star.

He was ap­pointed to the high­est level of the Or­der of Canada for his con­tri­bu­tions to social re­form in Canada and has a public school in Scar­bor­ough named af­ter him.

Fol­low­ing a years-long bat­tle with can­cer, Lewis died in 1981, leav­ing his legacy to his chil­dren and grand­chil­dren.

His son Stephen Lewis, is a for­mer On­tario NDP leader who served as the United Na­tions Spe­cial En­voy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. His other son, Michael Lewis, was a for­mer On­tario NDP sec­re­tary, and his daugh­ter, Janet Sol­berg, was pres­i­dent of the On­tario NDP in the 1980s. His other twin daugh­ter is Nina Libe­skind, the wife and business part­ner of ar­chi­tect Daniel Libe­skind. His grand­son Avi Lewis, is a broad­caster.


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