By RON FANFAIR
Advocating on behalf of the disenfranchised and working class was more appealing to James Shaver Woodsworth than following his father’s footsteps as a Methodist minister, says his grandniece and Vancouver City councillor Ellen Woodsworth.
So Woodsworth left the church to lay the foundation for the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), a political party that was the forerunner of the New Democratic Party (NDP).
“J.S. went from all the privileges of being the eldest son of a Methodist preacher to working with the very poor new immigrants in the poorest of Winnipeg’s neighbourhoods,” she said in her feature address at the 15th annual J.S. Woodsworth awards ceremony. “The deeper he became with the desperation of these new immigrant lives, the more alienated he became from the church…He stood firm, committed and strong and he believed in the importance of leadership and working with the community.”
Woodsworth helped create Canada’s social security system and he forged the coalition of labour, farmers, workers and the unemployed into the CCF.
“When other people were worrying about lowered profits, dividends and business, he was pointing out the appalling conditions under which the unemployed had to live.
“When others were calling for concessions for certain industries, he was doing his best to see that social legislation was enforced and was standard in its scope.
“When others were trying to repress opinions which were not theirs, he was working for greater freedom for the individual to say freely what he thought…He was always a champion for the unemployed and the down-and-out.
“To champion the cause of the forgotten people is seldom popular and usually it draws on the wrath of those for whom the present system is all that could be desired under normal conditions. J.S. wasn’t afraid to fight hard and to struggle with his own principles as he confronted new structures. He used his various positions in life to fight for a better world for all.”
This year’s J.S. Woodsworth award winners were the late Peter Leibovitch, Justice for Migrant Workers organization and the Stephen Lewis Foundation. Lewis was the province’s NDP leader from 1970-1978.
The Urban Alliance on Race Relations, founded by the late Dr. Wilson Head in 1975, was also nominated.
“Tonight, we take the time to recognize those who are at the forefront of that important work in our community, the work of creating that better world,” said party leader Andrea Horwath. “Each of the nominees is a true leader in the fight to open doors for inclusion, equality and respect. They range from organizations mobilizing hundreds of supporters across the province and country in support of important issues to individuals working with like-minded allies to make concrete changes in their neighbourhoods and in their communities.
“They are fighting for change across the spectrum of legal, social and economic issues and they bring a drive and a deep commitment to the task of building a better Ontario where racism, prejudice and discrimination have no place.”
The party administers the awards which commemorate the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination which is celebrated on March 21.
The annual awards honour Woodsworth’s memory.
“The world has changed a great deal since the formation of the CCF, but the values that we hold dearest remain constant,” said Horwath. “Today, we stand for inclusion, understanding, equality and respect just as we did in the party and just as we will continue to do well into the future. We are unwavering in our commitment to building a society that opens the door of opportunity to all equally.”
Previous winners include retired Canadian citizenship Court judge Stan Grizzle, former Ontario Federation of Labour director of human rights and race relations June Veecock and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.