Yesterday, I chaired a board meeting of the Douglas Coldwell Layton Foundation for the very last time. As I had announced at the AGM in June, after six years, it was time for me to move on and allow other people to carry Tommy’s charity towards the next chapter.
It was an honor and a privilege to follow in the footsteps of Tommy Douglas, the first President of our Foundation, created in 1971. When I became President in 2016, there was a clear need to revitalize and modernize the organization. It wasn’t easy. The DCF had become a small outfit with limited output and little recognition outside of a limited circle.
This wasn’t the vision Tommy had for his charity. His dream was to build an independent, progressive charitable think tank, unbound to any other organization or political party. His goal was to "provoke discussion…to keep the movements on the left-whether the co-operative movement, the trade union movement or the political movement- from getting in a rut."
The Foundation was awarding grants and scholarships across the country, but despite having been strengthened in 1987 through a merger with the Woodsworth Memorial Foundation, it was no longer growing. It was doing good work. But it was not reaching its full potential.
That had to change. So we embarked on a process to make the Foundation a more effective source of civic education and support in these times of rampant inequality. We had to grow our capacity for more original research and provide greater access to education by diversifying our reach. We had to do more to protect and promote the legacy of our founders M.J Coldwell, T.C. Douglas and J.S. Woodsworth and their contributions to the Canadian fabric.
And so we did. There were many challenges. A pandemic that slowed everything down. It wasn’t easy. But we are getting the job done. We increased our fundraising. We hired our first full time Executive Director. We renewed our partnerships with post-secondary education institutions, re-launching the Tommy Douglas Graduate Scholarship at the University of Regina. We welcomed Jack Layton’s legacy within our Foundation. We launched the Alexa McDonough’s Women Leadership Center. We published our first original, peer-reviewed research report on the timely and important subject of mental health and wellness in the workplace. And we celebrated - and still are celebrating - with our 50th anniversary reception and dinner in Ottawa this November.
Friends, I am grateful for the opportunity I had to contribute to pursue our founders’ dream and I am thankful to have been asked to stay on the Board as Past President by delegates to the AGM. I am very thankful for the trust and confidence you have placed in me over the past few years. And I am also thankful for the support of current and past board members and staff over the years.
Thanks to your help and contributions, a lot has been accomplished. But a lot more still needs to be done. But fear not, the Foundation is in even better hands now. In its wisdom, the Board of Directors have elected Irene Matthyssen as the new President of the Douglas Coldwell Layton Foundation. I have worked with Irene for years and I know she will bring the same passion and dedication to serve the Foundation and Tommy’s dream as she did to serve her constituents as a Member of Parliament.
Please join me in welcoming Irene as our new President by contributing to the Foundation today.
‘Tis not too late to build a better world.
Karl Bélanger, Past President
Douglas Coldwell Layton