David Lewis Dead at 71

David Lewis, a founder and former leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP), whose life was dedicated to improving the conditions of Canadian workers, died of leukemia last Saturday in an Ottawa hospital. He was 71 years old.

Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, in paying tribute to Lewis, said that Canada “has lost a rare human being” whose “life was dominated by enduring passion for social and economic justice.” Trudeau added that Lewis “was a formidable political opponent but also a man of profound compassion and integrity.” Conservative Party leader Joe Clark praised Lewis for his “astounding contribution to our country. The strength of his intellect and commitment will be remembered by us all.”

Born in Swislocz, Poland, Lewis emigrated with his family to Montreal at the age of 12. He was a brilliant student at the Baron Bying High School in Montreal and won a Rhodes scholarship at the age of 18. In 1936 he joined the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, the radical forerunner of the NDP, and was the Federation’s national secretary for 12 years. In 1961 he helped broaden the socialist movement by transforming it into the NDP.

Lewis was elected to the House of Commons in 1962 and in 1971 he became the leader of the NDP. He retired from active politics in 1975 following his defeat in the elections that year. After his retirement, he taught political science at the University of Ottawa until three weeks before his death. A powerful orator, Lewis spoke both in the Parliament and in public meetings in support of Israel, which he visited on several occasions.

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