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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Paul Dewar: a Canadian leader with a domestic and global conscience.

Paul Dewar: a Canadian leader with a domestic and global conscience.

By Alexandra Taylor

The first time I saw Paul Dewar interviewed was following Jack Layton’s funeral in August of last year. A reporter asked him what the NDP’s strategy was now that the party’s leader had passed on so suddenly. With tears in his eyes and his voice cracking with sadness, Paul simply said “We just lost the captain of our ship. We’re all devastated, but we’ll carry on and keep Canada moving forward.” His words were reassuring to me, and the humanity he showed by openly expressing the feelings I think we all felt –lost, sad, and almost angry at being robbed of something and someone so great– allowed me to feel a connection to him, because that’s exactly how I felt. Knowing that there was someone in Ottawa who felt the way I did but was vowing to continue Jack’s fight and honour his legacy was reassuring to me and gave me a measure of solace in what was one of the saddest periods of my life.
When Jack died, I was lost, because I felt like we’d lost the only good voice in Ottawa who could save us from the bad guys – ie. the Stephen Harper and the rest of the Conservatives. And when I say “bad,” I do truly mean that I believe that Harper is evil. I don’t dislike him just because of his politics, but as a human being, I doubt whether or not he has a conscience. I cannot believe some of the things that his government has done (dissolving gay marriages of non-Canadian couples who married here), is proposing to do (militarization and all these weird Orwellian-esque super-prisons and security measures against unnamed enemies, quite bizarrely) , tried to do (hike up the retirement age from 65 – 67 and screw up the pension plan / the proposed bill for internet surveillance and collection of information without warrant) or has been linked to (robocall scandal).
I volunteered at the BC NDP convention for two day in December, and saw Dewar, along with the other leadership candidates, speak at the convention. I honestly didn’t know what to make of anyone, because I was very much still in the frame of mind where I listened to all of them speak, and I just thought to myself “But you’re not Jack.” It wasn’t fair for me to pass judgment on any of them at that point because there was still so much sadness in my heart, so I listened without committing to any candidate.
A picture I took with my phone when I was volunteering at the BC Convention back in December in Vancouver.
Later on that same night, I went to a mixer held not far away from the convention centre in Vancouver and met him personally. He was engaging and warm, in a genuine manner, not in a politician baby-kissing, hand-shaking manner. Perhaps this is due to his background in education, as he worked as a teacher for some time before being elected to represent a teacher’s union in Ontario. Quite obviously having held that position, Dewar is very much pro-union and still attends rallies around the country to lend his support to workers’ rights.
The first question I asked Paul Dewar was how he felt on the Israeli/Palestinian situation and whether or not he believed that Palestine deserved to be honoured as a state. Having been elected as an MP in 2006 and serving as the official opposition’s Foreign Affairs Critic, I knew roughly from the research I’d done on him prior to the BC convention that he favoured a dual state solution, but I wanted to see whether or not the commitment was there. With politicians, I watch how they say what they say, not just what they say, because body language is far more telling than the words themselves. I knew Dewar meant what he said, and that was that he believed in defending the rights of the Palestinian people and very much agreed with me when I told him that I felt their human rights were being grossly violated. He said that he felt that the international community needed to do more, and that as leader of the NDP, he would be a voice for the Palestinian people, as they are terrible underrepresented and almost maligned by the world’s superpowers. Considering that the current Prime Minister is staunchly pro-Israel (meaning he does not disagree with some of the horrendous military actions and harsh sanctions against the Palestinian people that have left them not just in poverty, but without even basic medical supplies), this was such a wonderful thing to not only know, but to see him say it in person to me, because I saw the conviction. He is not against Israel in any way, but believes that what is happening to the Palestinian people is a violation of human rights laws.
Dewar also asked a bit about myself, and as I was just leaving a few days later to go to Florida where I planned to participate in as many of the Occupy events down there as I could, I told him this, somewhat embarrassed, as the movement was, at least in American media, presented as being some sort of collection of deadbeats looking for handouts and protesting the fact that there were rich people in the world. But he knew what the movement was truly about and he expressed his solid support for the Occupy movement and spoke about how important and admirable the movement as a whole was, and told me that what we were doing was important and world changing. He then told the young people at the table with us, two of whom had earlier laughed at the fact that I had attended community college, what I was doing, and how important it was. The fact that he made a point to stand up for me in the small way left a mark on me as well, as it showed that he’d stand up regular people like me.
Perhaps what I like most about Paul Dewar is the fact that I know he cares about the world and does not act like a politician when engaging with people, but as someone who genuinely believes that human beings have value and that he is in the position to help, rather act as though he were some authoritarian figure who dictates, like Harper & Co behave. Dewar worked as an aid worker in central America as a young man, and that speak volumes to me. Perhaps that experience is what inspired all the work his done toward fund-raising for international development – something I also feel very strongly about.
Dewar has a Jack Layton quality about him, and that’s what I love the most. He honours Jack, but he doesn’t try to copy Jack’s style in order to get elected. He doesn’t capitalize on his connection to the beloved late leader. And that to me show great integrity.
I focused this post mostly on Paul Dewar’s stance on Occupy and the Palestinian-Israeli situation, because those are the two major things that I care about the most in the entire world. This was about my take on him and my own personal, albeit brief, encounter with him and what I was able to deduce from that time. I will follow this up with a post of more of his great points and credentials (besides everything I mentioned in this post and the fact that his favourite band is The Clash, which is one of my favourite bands ever as well!).
I’m very proud to say that I will be campaign for him at the Federal Leadership Convention in Toronto on March 22 – 25. He’s the man.
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