PAUL DEWARPaul Dewar is the NDP MP for Ottawa Centre, and he has a fine political pedigree: his mother was a popular mayor of Ottawa. While Stephen Harper is happy to pose next to Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, Dewar says he prefers the storytelling songs of Leonard Cohen.
PS: Recent debates have been described as two hours of “heated agreement”;how do you gather interest and support without disagreement and antagonism?
PAUL DEWAR:First off, as New Democrats and colleagues in the House of Commons, you should expect that we have a lot in common. However, as this race has progressed I feel that we’re starting to see where the differences are, and what kind of leader each of us would be.
PS: Some have suggested that a friendly race results in lacklustre fundraising. How do you get donations without inciting fear and rage?
PD: With hope: fear is the easy way to motivate people, but it doesn’t provide a direction, a vision that people can share. In this era, when fear and anger dominate much of the political discussion, folks are a little sceptical when they see someone offering a positive alternative. However, I feel that in the long run it is the positive message — that the message of hope will win out.
PS: What, if anything, should be done to Canada’s Old Age Security system?
PD: One of the big myths out there is that only seniors care about our pension system, but the more I travel the more I find young people want to talk about it. Old Age Security and CPP are what a lot of Canadians are looking to underpin their income as they get older. The days of working for just one company are going away.
PS: How do you debunk the myth of Conservative economic performance?
PD: Economic leadership is about choices. We’ve seen how Stephen Harper’s government has ignored hardworking families and rewarded profitable corporations that didn’t need a handout. One example is how, at a time of deficits, Stephen Harper still gave tens of billions in corporate tax breaks, pushing Canada further into debt, and now he’s looking to cut things like OAS to pay for it. I don’t think that’s the priority of someone who understands how to get the economy to work for you or [me].
PS: Prime Minister Harper promised senate reform, and we’ve seen nothing of the sort. Brian Topp wants to see a mixed proportional house; what would you like to see?
PD: Back when I was the democratic reform critic under Jack Layton, I was a strong promoter of mixed-member representation in the House of Commons. The current system is broken and leads to people feeling like their votes don’t matter. That’s a problem in any democracy.
Stephen Harper used to talk about Senate reform, but he has now appointed more senators in his term in office than almost any other prime minister while failing to bring forward any real reforms. We need to take a very serious look at the Red Room and decide, as a country, if it serves a purpose any more.
PS: What kind of relationship would you like to see between the federal government, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, and aboriginal people in Canada?
PD: Just recently, Stephen Harper hosted a big meeting in Ottawa and announced that there’s a new era in Federal-First Nations relations — yet after the cameras go away and the leaders go back to their communities, things just go back to the status quo. To see the real way this government feels about First Nations, just look at Attawapiskat.
We need to walk away from old practices and attitudes and start treating First Nations as the true nations they are. By actually working with them, making the changes they deem important, we will make a large step forward in our relationship. To keep the status quo is no longer an option. The stakes are too high.
PS: “Occupy” was one of the most used words in 2011. What, if anything, do you think the Occupy movement contributed to Canadian politics?
PD: I was motivated by the Occupy discussion — the movement initiated discussions in the streets, in the boardrooms and in the news about the growing economic disparity in our country. It seemed that the whole world was talking about how our economic system wasn’t working for people anymore. I think it contributed a great deal to our awareness of the growing inequality in Canada and the absolute necessity to deal with it.
PS: Stephen Harper has been the brunt of criticism during this leadership campaign. If you become leader of the NDP, will you take a more aggressive approach towards your political opponents?
PD: As leader of the NDP I will never stop fighting for fairness, equality and prosperity for Canadians.
Unlike Liberals, New Democrats aren’t pushovers. Just watch the House these days: you can see MPs like Linda Duncan, Peter Julian, Charlie Angus, Alexandre Bollerice, Guy Caron and Megan Leslie stand up and fight the Conservatives day after day. Every day our front bench gets stronger and Harper’s looks weaker.