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In 1963, Lewis, the son of New Democratic Party leader David Lewis, was elected to the Ontario legislature at the age of 26 while still a student at the University of Toronto. Lewis was a charismatic, articulate, and ambitious figure, and because many members of the party felt that the NDP needed young, new leadership to reflect the changes wrought by the 1960s and persuaded Donald C. MacDonald to step down as leader in 1970. Lewis was elected leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party in 1970 but his initial experience at the helm in the 1971 provincial election was a disappointment with the party slipping from 20 seats to 19.
A radical left wing group nicknamed the Waffle had gained prominence with one of its leaders, James Laxer almost winning the leadership of the federal NDP in 1971. Lewis felt that the Waffle was threatening the credibility and stability of the party and led a purge against the group in June 1972 on the basis that it was a party within a party.
Lewis led a brilliant campaign during the 1975 Ontario election with his oratory and passion bringing new supporters to the party. The NDP highlighted issues such as the need for rent control and workplace safety with Lewis each day telling the story of a different Ontarian in trouble because of the lack of adequate legislation. Polls showed the NDP surging and the incumbent Tories in freefall and in the course of the campaign Premier William Davis was forced to commit his party to bringing in rent control and other progressive reforms in order to retain power. When the ballots were counted the Tories were reduced to a minority government and Lewis' NDP had doubled its seats from 19 to 38 and surpassed the Ontario Liberal Party to become the Official Opposition. It appeared that it was only a matter of time before the NDP would form the government.
The next election, in 1977, proved to be a disappointment. The growth of support for the NDP stalled and while the Tories were kept to a minority the NDP failed to make any gains and actually fell to 33 seats and third place behind the Liberals. A frustrated Lewis stepped down as party leader and as an MPP in 1978.
After working for several years as a labour mediator, columnist and broadcaster, Lewis was appointed Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in 1984 serving at that post until 1988. From 1995 to 1999 Lewis was Deputy Director of UNICEF and he is currently working for the United Nations as the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa.
Stephen Lewis also heads the Stephen Lewis Foundation, a charitable organization that helps victims of HIV/AIDS in Africa. He recently became a spokesperson of the newly formed Canadian chapter of Make Poverty History.
|Ontario NDP leaders||
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