OTTAWA—Paul Dewar, a teacher and union leader from Ottawa who became the New Democratic Party's foreign affairs critic, died yesterday after contending with brain cancer for a year.
Despite struggling with dyslexia as a child, getting trounced by Ed Broadbent during his initial foray into politics, losing his seat in the House of Commons in the Liberal wave of 2015, and being diagnosed with a terminal illness, the 56-year-old was infused with a positive, hopeful attitude and belief that the world could be made a better place.
So it was startling when Dewar revealed in June, 2018 that, as he was recovering from brain surgery several months before, he saw news of the high school shooting in Parkland, Fla. that killed 17 people—and that he “abandoned any hope” and was ready to give up.
Except giving up never was really in Dewar's vocabulary.
Inspired as Parkland students channelled their loss and pain into a rallying cry against gun violence in the U.S., Dewar decided to launch a new initiative to try to empower a new generation of leaders who would work for the greater good.
In a farewell message posted to Facebook after his death, Dewar wrote that “true change can only come when power is transferred to young people unburdened by cynicism,” which is why he used what little energy he had left to create Youth Action Now.
“Hopefully, it will help unleash the power of the young people in our community to make a real difference,” Dewar wrote.
“I hope you will be inspired to be a part of that project and continue my work.”
He urged Canadians and his former constituents in Ottawa to respect the earth, to build a future rooted in indigenous wisdom, to welcome people who need safe homes, and to help people who have been left behind.
“Let's make more art. Let's play more," the message said. "Let's embrace each other in these days of cynicism and doubt.”
Dewar is survived by his wife, Julia Sneyd, and their two sons, Nathaniel and Jordan.
A statement from the NDP said they were with him when he died at home.
Dewar perhaps is best known for having served as the MP for Ottawa Centre from 2006-15, much of which he also spent as the NDP's foreign affairs critic, following an early career as an elementary school teacher and union executive.
Whether it was the war in Afghanistan, free-trade deals, or the defence of human rights and democracy in developing countries, Dewar was fierce in his convictions but also willing to listen to differing viewpoints to try to find a consensus.
That combination of principle and pragmatism, combined with the aforementioned optimism, earned Dewar respect on both the government and opposition benches, and helped the NDP shed some of its image of being idealistic and naive on Canada's dealings with the rest of the world.
Dewar's path into politics meant following in some pretty big footsteps. His mother, Marion Dewar, not only was one of Ottawa's most beloved mayors but also a heavyweight in the federal NDP and social-activist circles in the 1970s and '80s.
Dewar often would say that he learned about politics from his mother, telling the Ottawa Citizen in September, 2011 that while Marion warned against running for office just to get power, “power isn't a bad thing, it's how people use it.”
Former political opponents praised him yesterday, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying in a statement that Ottawa had “lost one of its most dedicated voices.”
“Paul Dewar brought people together, stood up for the most vulnerable, and touched lives in Canada and beyond,” Trudeau said.
“He showed us what stewardship looks like, and earned the love of his community and the respect of so many of us.”
Former Conservative cabinet minister Jason Kenney tweeted that as much as they disagreed, “there was no doubt that he was a principled, dedicated public servant who cared a great deal about his country.”