In The Media

Dewar ‘not considering’ leadership run, says party needs to rebuild from the bottom up

by Kyle Duggan (feat. Paul Dewar)

April 28, 2016

Former NDP MP Paul Dewar says he hasn’t had time to think about whether he wants to launch another bid for the NDP leadership since his unexpected defeat by the Liberal wave in Ottawa Centre last Oct. 19.

Though he won’t rule out a run to succeed Tom Mulcair, Dewar says he’s not sure what’s next on his horizon.

He’s spent his time since he left the House traveling – Lebanon, Texas, Ukraine – working with a local refugee group in Ottawa, and is a fellow at the Global Affairs Institute.

“It’s something I’m not considering right now. I’ve had people ask me, but I’ve said ‘look, I’m going to focus on some other things.’ I actually haven’t had any time since the election.

“As I joke with my wife, I haven’t figured out what I want to do with my life yet.”

As the NDP wades into a serious soul-searching journey over what exactly it should forge itself into against a charismatic Prime Minister leading a party that outflanked them on the left in the election, Dewar points to one lesson digested from that defeat: letting the party base take greater control of direction.

The LEAP Manifesto, a left-wing policy prescription called radical by some that has already divided the Alberta and federal wings of the party over fossil fuels, will be debated by party rank and file over the next two years. A recent EKOS poll showed that 50 per cent of Liberals and 54 per cent of NDP voters say they support it, pointing to a looming, potentially painful debate in the shadow of a governing party that’s left the NDP with not much room to maneuver.

Dewar, who became the party’s senior transition adviser and worked on its election post-mortem following his defeat, said what he takes from that is that people are searching for new ideas.

“That’s a message to all politicians. They want vision and they want leadership and if you have ideas, that’s what people are looking for.”

“People are thirsty, we should quench their thirst.”

For the party not to go through the briar patch debating Leap would be to not learn from the last campaign, in which they were “too cautious,” says Dewar. Whether the controversial document promises to protract the party’s identity crisis, he had a wait-and-see attitude – and deferred to the rest of party membership to sort it out.

The debate will inevitably return an age-old question for the party — does it act as a voice of conscience, or spend its efforts on winning and forming government?

Dewar, whose NDP pedigree as the son of the late Ottawa mayor and NDP MP Marion Dewar is powerful, calls that a false dichotomy. “We can do both,” he said.

“Look, if you want to actually have your ideas and your values represented, I think you shouldn’t shy away from the fact you want to become government. But within that frame you should also acknowledge that it needs to be a value and not just about…’we’ll throw this policy aside or not engage on that issue’ because it’s too controversial because it will affect our electability.”

The same poll said most Canadians see a role for the NDP — they just don’t know what it is right now. Dewar said the party needs to take that question back to its base and answer it before it worries about electoral math.

For young and active NDPers looking to veteran NDP MPs for guidance on reshaping the party, Dewar’s advice would be for them to turn to each other in search of ideas and direction, rather than have veterans like him act as a lighthouse leading the party into the future.

Dewar’s own diplomatic, if somewhat vague, overall vision for the party isn’t so much based on a particular political direction as it is a push for bottom-up reform and giving “a voice to the people who haven’t been involved in politics who just got involved.”

“That’s a vision about being a party really about grassroots,” he said. “And we weren’t that, in the end. We lost our way with that.”

In the short term, he backs Mulcair staying on as interim leader, saying the party will need a strong presence in the House as it figures out next steps while the Conservatives go through the same leadership motions.

“The fact that he’s staying on is more of an indication of his character than anything. He could have easily said ‘OK, that’s enough’, left and stayed on as an MP. It’s an important indication from him, personally, that he was ready to stay on…and seems to be accepted as a good thing.”

The next leader, he says, needs to be fired up and ready for a tough job retooling, but he shrugged off the suggestion that the challenge of redefining the party could be hindering any big name party vets from stepping forward yet, noting the position has “never been a guaranteed joy ride.”

“It’s never been an easy task, and it will be a big challenge, but whoever takes this on will have to have that fire in the belly to look towards the future.”

Dewar does miss his time in the House of Commons, minus watching some cynical political plays, but is currently enjoying a much quieter life.

“I loved it,” he said. “But there’s always other things to do. I never planned my life to be an MP forever… It can be quite hard on your personal life.”

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