Paul Dewar: Desire for compassionate government 'burning in my belly'
By Lee Berthiaume, Postmedia News December 30, 2011 Be the first to post a comment
Paul Dewar, shown in this file photo, is seeking the leadership of the federal NDP.Photograph by: Blair Gable, ReutersMonths after the NDP was catapulted into official Opposition status after sweeping a record 103 seats in the May federal election, the man who led the Orange Crush suddenly lost his battle with cancer. Jack Layton’s unexpected death plunged the party into a leadership race nobody wanted.
But with the party’s first realistic crack at governance just three-and-a-half years away, eight people remain committed to leading the party at this critical time. One candidate, Robert Chisholm, has since backed down. Thomas Mulcair was the sixth candidate to declare. Here’s what he had to say in an interview with Postmedia News.
New Democrats will elect their new leader on March 24, 2012 in Toronto.
OTTAWA — As excited as Paul Dewar was at being in Morocco to help monitor the country's parliamentary elections in September 2007, it was only after leaving the capital, Rabat, and getting into the countryside that he says he got a real feel for the North African nation.
Moving through various towns and villages, Dewar saw the challenges and the tribulations faced by average Moroccans on a daily basis.
He says he remembers that experience now, four years later, explaining that it is only by connecting with everyday citizens that a government can understand the people's needs and concerns. That is what he says he wants to do as leader of the NDP and, eventually, as prime minister.
"I have that burning in my belly," he recently told Postmedia News. "To connect with Canadians and bring Canadians together and say 'We can work on these very substantive problems together; we can achieve amazing things.'"
Dewar is well known for his interest in international issues after having served as the NDP foreign affairs critic for four years.
He said he worries about what he contends is the damage being done to Canada's reputation by the Conservative government. But he said what is of equal concern is what is happening to federal politics in Canada, starting with the fact voter turnout is at an all-time low.
"I'm fascinated by that," he said. "Why don't they vote? They're not stupid people."
The former teacher believes Canadians look at government as a nuisance rather than a positive force in their lives. The Conservative government's negative attack ads and wedge politics have exacerbated the problem, he said.
Dewar's vision is to have the NDP become the change he said many Canadians hunger for.
"The way I see it is bringing people in to participate, not just to support," Dewar said. "And the difference for me is when people are actually involved, they become part of the expression of the party."
This will involve opening the NDP up to ensure it is addressing the concerns of the population, particularly those 40 per cent of Canadian who didn't vote in the last election.
Some have said the NDP could lose its identify or values if it follows such a path. Dewar doesn't see it that way.
"If we can stay in that frame of being connected with people in their everyday lives and putting forward ideas that are substantive and matter," he said, "it will come. It will come to us."
While he was first elected to the House of Commons in 2006, succeeding former party leader Ed Broadbent in ensuring Ottawa-Centre remained an NDP stronghold, Dewar's involvement in the party dates back to his childhood, thanks to his parents, particularly his mother, Marion.
Dewar said it was his mother's ability to excel at community politics while keeping a broader focus on the world, as evidenced by the numerous international peace initiatives she spearheaded and participated in as Ottawa mayor and NDP national party president.
To that end, his list of priorities, should he be selected NDP leader and prime minister, are a mix of home-and-abroad issues, including dealing with the conditions on First Nation reserves within 10 years, using Canada's natural resource wealth better, and having Canada re-embrace a compassionate foreign policy based on co-operation and dialogue, he said.
"I want to see Canada leading in diplomacy, investing in diplomacy and investing in international development," Dewar said. "This notion you can just have a strong military and that's your foreign policy, Canadians don't believe that and that's not what the world needs right now."
Dewar said he has plans to address the economy, such as attaching job-creation strings to corporate tax cuts and spearheading a national home-care strategy.
But he also wants to challenge the view that Canadians don't choose a party because of its positions on foreign affairs, saying that may be one way to get more people to the ballot box — and casting their vote for the NDP.
If he has one weakness, Dewar admits it is his French skills. The next leader will need to be able to communicate with the Quebecers who voted overwhelmingly for the party.
But Dewar said language can be learned, and more important is the ability to reach out to Quebecers and understand their needs and concerns, the same as with Canadians across the entire country.
Having had family in the Quebec, he said he understands the culture, and he cites a natural symmetry between it and the NDP.
"So embrace that and don't get into playing the kind of regional dynamic," he said. "And that's important for Quebec and that's important for the country."