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Saturday, February 25, 2012

NDP leadership candidate meets with local supporters

NDP leadership candidate meets with local supporters

February 22, 2012
Jeff Heuchert - Staff Reporter

Federal NDP leadership candidate Paul Dewar speaks with party members and supporters at Foster’s Feb. 15.
Federal NDP leadership candidate Paul Dewar's campaign push through southern Ontario last week included a stop at Foster's in downtown Stratford.
“My campaign is all about building up the grassroots, and to do that you have to hear from people,” said the Ottawa-Centre MP.
Dewar, one of seven candidates who will vie for the party's leadership when New Democrats meet in Toronto on March 24 to hold their election, said the message he has been hearing on this travels, which included earlier stops in Quebec, Kingston, Guelph and Hamilton, is that people want to see the party rise to the next level.
That means winning and having stronger showings in the many ridings across the country that haven't traditionally been NDP strongholds.
Here in Perth-Wellington, a Conservative-leaning riding for nearly a decade, at least federally, the NDP rode to a second-place finish in the polls in last fall’s election. But candidate Ellen Papenburg was still well behind Conservative incumbent Gary Schellenberger.
“People are saying we need support from the party. We need to be able to have appropriate resources to be able to organize people on the ground,” said Dewar, who stressed the party cannot take for granted the support it was shown in the last election, when the so-called “orange wave” swept across Quebec and parts of Ontario giving the party more seats in the House than ever before and Official Opposition status.
Dewar, a former aid worker and public school teacher, suggested the days of looking at the NDP as a third-rate party that cannot form government are over, something he said is a welcome message to the party faithful who have been on the ground working as volunteers for many years.
“Now that we are the Official Opposition, we have an offer like never before,” he added.
Dewar said it will be important for the party to connect with voters on the issues that are important to them, whether that is health care, jobs or “how we can make life more affordable and frankly better for people.”
He said the NDP represents the best interests of farmers, noting the party supported wheat farmers in their fight to stop the federal government from taking over control of the Canadian Wheat Board.
The NDP also supports small producers and agricultural policies that protect farmland, he added.
“We see land disappearing and opportunities disappearing, and we don't see a lot of support from the federal government.”
Just how strong a chance Dewar has of securing the party’s nomination next month depends on which poll you happen to be looking at.
A poll released last week from the campaign of leadership candidate Thomas Mulcair places Dewar a distant fifth in the race, but a poll from Dewar’s camp has him sitting third, and suggests he stands to win if the election moves to multiple ballots.
“This is not going to be won on the first ballot,” said Dewar, who noted party members will be looking for the candidate who they believe can connect with and unite Canadians.
Whoever that will be certainly has some big shoes to fill. Dewar, however, said the death of Jack Layton has not had the negative impact on the party that some people assume, and suggested the NDP has seen growth in Ontario since Layton’s death in July while holding strong in Quebec.
“That's not bad, and once we have the leadership contest we'll be able to put all of our energies together on focusing on providing solid opposition.”

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