Douglas-Coldwell Foundation sets course for growth, greater influence

The charity inspired by Canada’s most beloved socialist politician is setting a course for growth and greater influence as it marks its 50th anniversary.

The Douglas-Coldwell Foundation hired its first-ever executive director, Josh Bizjak, in January. And now it’s in the process of recruiting an administrative assistant to further support its planned revitalization and modernization.

“I knew in my gut, in my heart, that people wanted to support Tommy Douglas’s charity,” Bizjak said. “But they didn’t know it existed… or, if they did know it existed, they didn’t know what we did.”

The DCF was founded in 1971 when the former Saskatchewan premier and “Father of Medicare” stepped down as federal NDP leader.

Douglas insisted that M.J. Coldwell, leader of the federal CCF from 1942 to 1960, be included in the charitable foundation’s name.

“One of the men who deserves the enduring gratitude of the democratic socialist movement in Canada was M.J. Coldwell,” Douglas later said.

Over the past five decades, the organization has funded scholarships for post-secondary students, provided research grants, and commissioned biographies of left-wing luminaries like Stanley Knowles, Grace MacInnis, and Clarence (Clarie) Gillis.

“Those scholarships are quite important,” Bizjak said. “We are able to assist in the education of the next generation of thinkers, writers, and researchers.”

As part of its reboot, the DCF is planning to facilitate more original, peer-reviewed research while expanding its existing scholarship network.

The first step on this path was the announcement this month of the new Tommy Douglas Graduate Scholarship at the University of Regina.

“The person who is awarded this scholarship will work with us, and we will help publish a final work,” Bizjak said. “The plan will be not only to publish their work and promote their work, but then hold an event where we can focus on their work at that school.”

The DCF is eyeing new partnerships with universities in Atlantic Canada and enhanced ones in other parts of the country, he said. It’s also looking to promote the legacy of more recent and diverse heroes of the mainstream Canadian left.

“We are in conversation with Alexa McDonough’s family about how we can bring her legacy into the organization,” he said.

Other projects will include the launch of a new-and-improved website and the digitization of archival photos and documents.

The success of these new initiatives will depend on growing the DCF’s donor base through the recently introduced Friends of Tommy Douglas monthly donor program and other means, Bizjak said.

All of these revitalization efforts coincide with the DCF’s 50th anniversary.

“We want to pay homage to the past 50 years,” Bizjak said of the group’s Nov. 18 gala celebration. “We want to recognize all the people who helped ensure that this organization existed. We may have slowed down for a period of time, but there were a lot of people who worked very hard to make sure Tommy Douglas’s charity stayed afloat.”

The in-person event is being organized with COVID-19 safety in mind, he said, and will be held at Ottawa’s Westin hotel, where banquet staff are members of the United Food and Commercial Workers.

The agenda for the anniversary event includes a tribute to Tommy’s daughter Shirley Douglas, an accomplished actress and prominent activist who died last year. Her son, actor Kiefer Sutherland, is expected to make a virtual appearance.

Speakers will include Canadian Labour Congress secretary-treasurer Lily Chang and former NDP MP Irene Mathyssen.

Bizjak said the foundation will deliver some “exciting” news at the anniversary celebration.

“My fingers are crossed that we’re able to bring Olivia Chow and some of the Layton family to this event for a very special announcement,” he said.

(Header photo: Cameron, Duncan / Library and Archives Canada / C-036222)