News spoke with Yahoo! Canadaveteran MP Paul Dewar, on Friday, about his NDP leadership bid and about the future of his party.Prior to being elected to parliament in 2006, Dewar worked as an elementary school teacher and was Vice President of the local teacher's union. He also worked as an aid worker in Central America.
Here are some excerpts from his interview with Yahoo! Canada:
Yahoo!: It's a crowded slate of candidates running for the leadership of the NDP. What do you bring to the table that perhaps others don't?
Dewar: My experience in parliament as well as my experience in doing grass roots politics is an advantage and something I think our party needs right now.
I have been elected since 2006, [and have] been the foreign affairs critic since 2007 and that's a portfolio that carries with it a lot of difficult issues. ... My experience outside of parliament in doing grassroot politics since I was knee high [also helps]. My mother was mayor of Ottawa, was a member of parliament, was president of our party and influenced me greatly in terms of doing grassroots politics.
I was involved both with the party, in terms of organizing, but also outside the party, working in international solidarity work and international affairs.
Yahoo!: The perceived frontrunners in this race—Brian Topp, Thomas Mulcair and Peggy Nash—have the majority of caucus support. Does not having the same level of caucus support hurt your campaign?
Dewar: I'm running a grassroots campaign [that's] based on connecting with as many New Democrats as possible—people that voted for us but haven't become members yet. It's not anything against my colleagues but…I have been to more locations than any other candidate, I have done more events. Essentially, that's what this job is about, building the grassroots, building up the party.
Yahoo!: Where do you stand on potential cooperation, coalition, or even merger with the Liberals?
Dewar: Where we are at right now is the Official Opposition—a government in waiting. Why would we then go and look to merge with anyone, let alone the Liberals who right now have a significant debt intellectually as well as financially, who don't know where they're at. I don't think that makes any sense.
For sure, people want to replace [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper but I want to replace Harper with a strong … social democratic alternative. But I'm not interested in making deals with parties.
What we neeed to do is grow the party. I'm focused on the 40 per cent of the people that don't vote ... [I want to] put forward a vision that's going to attract them to our party.
Yahoo! Some have argued that the NDP need to move towards the centre of the political spectrum to ultimately form government. What are your thoughts about that?
Dewar: I don't think we need to move to the centre. We need to move out to places where we haven't brought our message before.
A couple of weeks ago, I talked of ... having a western agenda from our party, so people [see] us as a party that is connected to their region, to their community.
So I think we would do a disservice, just for crass political purposes to water down our values or principles. What I think we need to do is ... take our messages, as I said, to places we haven't taken them to before.
Yahoo!: Your colleague, NDP MP Pat Martin recently stated that your party's prolonged leadership race is making it "very difficult" to mount a vigorous opposition. Your party also seems to be down in the latest polls as well. How do you respond to Martin's comments?
Dewar: Pat was reflecting on the challenge dealing with a Conservative majority government that is railroading democracy, essentially, when they shutdown, when they invoke enclosure. The good news for us is that we have such a huge wonderful caucus, giving a lot of the new MPs the experience to go toe to toe [with the Conservatives].
[Martin] will have noticed, just as I have, we are now seeing the cream rise to the top as they are getting more experience.
Yahoo!: You recently spoke about an initiative to pay political parties a voter subsidy based on how many women they nominate to run for them. Why is this issue important to you?
Dewar: It is appalling we are 38th in the world in terms of women's representation in parliament. We're below countries we go out and do development for—Afghanistan comes to mind.
This is a very straightforward way to providing incentives for parties to nominate more women.
Can anyone honestly say that we should have the status quo and be satisfied with that?