Paul Dewar

Yesterday,’s online discussion forum, babble, hosted MP and NDP leadership candidate Paul Dewar for an interactive interview in which Paul answered your questions on his leadership bid. Here is an abridged and edited version of that interview. Read the complete interview on babble here and join the ongoing discussion. Be sure also to read babble’s interview with Nathan Cullen, available here and with Brian Topp, here.

And stay tuned as more NDP leadership candidates join us. Next up is Peggy Nash, who will be joining us on Friday, March 2 at 3 p.m. PST/6 p.m. EST. Niki Ashton will also be dropping by, so be sure to check babble and regularly.

Rebecca West: Good evening all. I’d like to introduce Paul Dewar, MP for Ottawa Centre and leadership candidate for the federal NDP. Hello Paul!

Paul Dewar: Hello everyone. Thank you for inviting me to Babble tonight.

As you know, I’m the MP for Ottawa Centre and I’m running to lead our party. I’m offering our members the combination of my experiences at the grassroots of our party, on the national stage and the international stage. Before politics, I was a teacher, my union’s vice president and a volunteer aid worker. I’ve always been close to people and that’s what motivates my politics.

I’m a proud New Democrat. I’m a proud social democrat. These are the values that guide my work and will guide my leadership as we stand up to Stephen Harper’s agenda. I have the experience, the energy and the passion to mobilize our grassroots and form Canada’s first social democratic government.

I look forward to our discussion tonight.

RW: Okay, here’s our first question: From Unionist:

Mr. Dewar,

On April 27, 2010, the Speaker of the House held the Harper government in contempt of Parliament for refusing to hand over all the Afghan detainee documents.

As in the case of many other such scandalous actions, Harper emerged unscathed, and the issue disappeared from the radar.

What is at stake is Canada’s possible complicity in torture and other war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Are you prepared to demand that all the documents be released to Parliament now — failing which, that you will publish them immediately when the NDP forms the government?

PD: Thank you for the question Unionist.

I was at the centre of that fight with Harper. Working with Amir Attaran and Paul Champ, we were persistent in seeking answers to what the government knew about torture in Afghanistan and when they knew it.

We made some major progress: my motion at the Afghanistan committee secured the opportunity for Mr. Colvin to give his explosive testimony. We found documentation on the evidence of torture in Afghan prisons. We fought Harper at committee and then in the House.

Let me say why the issue was so important to us.

First of all, it was about protecting human rights. Torture is dehumanizing. It’s a reprehensible violation of human rights and it must be eradicated. I didn’t want Canada associated with complicity with torture.

Secondly, it’s my deep belief that we should avoid and prevent military conflicts. But if our country is ever engaged in a war, it’s the responsibility of the civilian leadership to ensure that the orders we issue to our troops are beyond reproach. In this case, the government was shrugging off its duty, while exposing our troops to the risk of violating international law.

Finally, it was about accountability to Canadians. Harper and company came to power to clean up the Liberal mess. Look at them now.

What did Harper do when he was under pressure from us? He pulled the fire alarm and ran away. He prorogued the House.

Then, Harper was aided and abetted by the Liberals and the Bloc to avoid accountability to parliament. You’re right that the issue’s prominence went away, but a lot of Canadians who wanted accountability were disappointed with those other parties and came to us in the May election.

We still need accountability on this file. More than that, we need to review our whole engagement in the Afghan war. There are lots of unanswered questions that need to be discussed so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes.

And while we’re on this issue, let me just say that as leader of our party, you can expect the same persistent opposition from me that I showed on the detainee file. I’ve watched Harper for years, I’ve battled against him, and I’ve won on issues like securing Abousfian Abdelrazik’s return to Canada. It takes persistence and hard work to beat Harper. We’re up for it.

RW: Our next question is from Howard:

Given that you joined the NDP caucus in supporting the Libya mission, what do you see as the role for the Canadian military, particularly in Canada’s foreign affairs?

PD: Thank you Howard.

You raise an important question. Canadian military should be defending Canadians and Canadian interest. That’s why I believe we should strengthen our search and rescue capacity — not waste money on fighter jets that won’t work in Canada’s North.

There’s also a peacekeeping/peace-building role that our military can play. I’ve been on the ground in places like the Congo where the UN peacekeeping operations lack the kind of leadership that Canada could bring to the field to ensure rights are protected.

One of the people who has supported my foreign policy announcement in this race is Carolyn McAskie. She was the first UN commissioner for Peacebuilding. I think we need to listen to people like her about the important role that Canada must play in mitigating rather than militarizing conflicts.

A concrete proposal I’ve put forward is to create a Centre for Peacebuilding and Human Security with a dedicated team of experts to deliver practical and interdisciplinary responses to human security threats like conflict, humanitarian disasters, large-scale human rights violations, and environmental degradation. I’d like to see Ottawa as the centre of diplomatic activities that save lives and create a better, more peaceful and more sustainable world.

RW: Question 3 is from Murray Dobbin:

The NDP rightly gets credit for medicare and other social programs and on your agenda are things like child care, pharmacare and home care. The NDP has called for decreases in tuition fees and you have called for a permanent infrastructure fund. Yet you have said almost nothing about where you will find the revenue for these things and the Harper government has gutted federal revenue though massive tax cuts. Will you increase taxes on wealthy Canadians and restore corporate taxes to more reasonable level?

PD: Thank you Murray.

Yes, I’ve been clear and consistent on this issue: I will restore Canada’s corporate income tax rate to 19.5 per cent. That would be a saving of almost $10 billion per year to invest in a better place, like fighting poverty, building affordable housing, delivering better health care and protecting people’s retirement.

Under my government, Canadians would get value for their money. I’ll end the wasteful culture of this government: no more Tony Clement showering his backyard with our money, no more mega-prison projects, no more helicopter joy rides for Peter MacKay!

I’ve also said that by creating more jobs, we will have more revenue for government. Today there are more than 1.3 million unemployed Canadians — that’s 300,000 more than when Stephen Harper first took office. At the average industrial wage those additional Canadians without work represent more than $10 billion per year in lost wages for families and lost spending in the economy.

As for ensuring that wealthier individuals pay their fair share, I will crack down on tax havens. Billions have been stashed away in these offshore accounts. We don’t have tax justice when ordinary Canadians are paying their fair share and some of the richest individuals and corporations get to hide their money in offshore accounts. So cracking down on tax havens is a priority for me. Obviously it’s not a priority for Harper — he cut Revenue Canada resources to do this job. I think we all know whose side he’s on.

I will end subsidies to fossil fuel sector and introduce a cap and trade mechanism for green house gas emissions. We will reinvest these funds in greening the economy.

I’ve also made a commitment to work with other countries in establishing an international FTT (Financial Transactions Tax) to raise funds for some of the global challenges we have to address collectively and also reduce the kind of speculative activities in the market that undermine the real economy. This is something I worked on long before our leadership race. I believe we need to take international leadership in addressing global poverty, climate change, and global health.

Lara34: Good to see you here Paul! The Afghan mission was large part justified by the idea that we need to “save” the women. I’m very worried that we’re starting to see this same kind of rhetoric around Iran. Can you speak to your position on entering into war or sanctions with Iran?

PD: Good point Lara.

I’ve always said that as feminist allies, we should not talk about “saving” or “protecting” women, we should be genuinely working on empowering women. You’re right in Afghanistan that women’s empowerment was used for rhetorical arguments as opposed to a meaningful engagement.

My position on Iran is clear: no to war, yes to diplomatic engagement. As New Democrats we’re opposed to nuclear proliferation — everywhere. And we stand in solidarity with people who are fighting for their rights and freedoms. But we will not allow these values to be abused for rhetorical arguments in favour of a war.

RW: Question 4 is from Algomafalcon:

Should representation in the House of Commons reflect the principle of “one person, one vote” as embodied by representation by population? (Currently seven provinces are over-represented, and three are under-represented.)

PD: Thanks for the question Algomafalcon.

When it comes to regional representation, our federation’s uniqueness requires us to find ways of balancing representation between different regions. For instance, PEI’s population is roughly the same as some urban ridings but since it’s a province, it is entitled to four seats in the House. Some rural ridings have very small populations, but represent large parts of our country with diverse communities and unique needs. And I believe we need to secure Quebec’s voice in the House of Commons. At the same time, we have to recognize the demographic growth in Western Canada. It’s all about working together to find the right balance, not about pitting regions against each other.

The real unbalance in our voting system is the lack of proportionality. The whole concept of one person, one vote is really thrown out of the door when a party with less than 40 per cent of the vote can secure 100 per cent of power. It’s unjust. It creates phoney regional divisions in our country. 32 per cent of the voters in Saskatchewan voted NDP. That’s about the same portion of voters in B.C. who voted NDP. Why should the electoral map suggest that there’s a total domination of Saskatchewan by the Conservatives?

So, one of my commitments as leader will be to campaign at the grassroots on the idea of introducing proportionality into our system. I personally prefer a system similar to New Zealand, where a mixed-member proportional representation ensures that we can maintain the connection of MPs to their ridings, and at the same time balance out the results of a first-past-the-post election. We must implement this important reform and you can count on me to do that.

Unionist: Follow-up on Iran — I believe you’ve supported sanctions against Iran (correct me if I’m wrong). How do we justify sanctions against a country that does not have nuclear weapons, while we exert no pressure against one in the region which does (Israel)?

PD: Thanks Unionist. Yes, I’ve supported targeted sanctions against some Iranian authorities and also to reduce Iran’s access to technologies it used to crack down on protesters. For instance, I heard from a lot of Iranian activists that Siemens had sold Iran the technology to crack into activist cell phones and track their movements. (Don’t give Vic ideas!) So, I do support targeted sanctions that stop this kind of activity — not the blanket sanctions that would hurt ordinary people.

On Israel — Jack and I co-authored a letter calling for a Nuclear Free Zone in Middle East.

Unionist: Merci!

Boom Boom: Awesome! Either I had forgotten, or didn’t know this at all.

RW: Our next question is from dacckon:

As we look to Europe, some are questioning the lack of involvement of the central bank there. Tommy Douglas once stated that Canada used the Bank of Canada to fight against Nazi Tyranny in his final speech as party leader. He was also famous for doing whatever it took to balance the books in Saskatchewan. In short, how do you describe yourself economically? Keynesian? New Keynesian?

PD: Thanks for the question dacckon.

Keynesian — I also have a lot of respect for the analysis of Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, for instance, on the issue of FTT.

The 2008 financial crisis has really shown us that governments need to take leadership on behalf of their people to secure the public good. It’s interesting that the bankers and financiers who had a central role in creating the financial crisis were perfectly happy with governments taking action to bail them out. But now that they’ve secured their own jobs, they want to go back to business as usual.

Your question touches on another important point too. Everything we do these days is in a global context. That’s why we need leadership that understands the world and has the knowledge and experience to project and protect our social democratic values on the global stage. When we talk about FTT, when we talk about cracking down on tax havens, when we talk about responsible trade — these are all issues that require a leader who can work with others on the world stage.

RW: And again from Murray Dobbin:

Economic policy will dominate the political debate in the next few years at least. You have said you want to train people for the jobs of tomorrow but the private sector is sitting on over $700 billion in cash and not investing any of it. So the questions arises – what are the jobs of tomorrow and where will they come from — the private sector or the public sector?

PD: Thank you Murray.

We need public leadership in order to kick-start the job creation. We have great untapped potentials in the green energy economy in our country. But Harper’s policies are locking us into an unsustainable future. Not only we lack public sector jobs in the green energy sector, Harper is killing incentives for private sector growth in this area as well. Just look at his decision to kill the retrofit program — again!

I announced my ideas for promoting a green energy future in Alberta. I chose Alberta because over the course of the campaign and prior to that, I’ve talked to so many Albertans who are thinking about the future in much longer-term perspective than Harper. They don’t want an economy locked into a fossil fuel future. They don’t want our raw resources sold out. They don’t want long-term environmental damage. They want to see leadership that invests in our future.

We can retrofit our buildings, create jobs and improve energy efficiency. We can make targeted investments in greening the grid. We can be on fully renewable electricity within the next couple of decades if we made the right decisions now. Again, that would create jobs and would mean public investments at federal and provincial levels. We can make breakthroughs in technologies for producing renewable energy if we had the right research and development policies in place — not the current policies which get abused by some companies as a tax loophole.

To take these steps we need public leadership, we need a social democratic government that takes action. I’m convinced when we put the right policies in place, create the incentives and direct our economy in a more sustainable direction, the private sector will follow.

KKinVan: Paul, you’re a dad. And you used to be a teacher. How do those parts of your life affect the kind of leader you are now?

PD: Hi KKinVan,

Both of these experiences keep me connected to the realities of everyday people. I was a stay-home dad for a year and it was really an amazing experience. I also learned a lot about the importance of having support for families and for children.

As a teacher, I learned firsthand the challenges that new Canadian families face and the impact of poverty on children. I also learned the art of teaching and convincing people — you can lose the control over your classroom very quickly if you’re not engaging the students in a meaningful way. And young people demand clarity and honesty. These experiences have shaped my approach to politics.

Catchfire: Paul, I’m interested in your education background as well. Currently, almost every post-secondary student in Quebec is on strike opposing tuition raises. Two of the top three English-speaking universities face looming TA strikes. Do you have a plan to fix the neo-liberal assault on higher educations which increasingly take it out of the hands of all and into the hands of a privileged few? What will you do to protect education as a right to be enjoyed by all Canadians?

PD: Hi Catchfire.

I’m so impressed with students in Quebec. They’re standing up for their rights. Yes, we need a PSE act, we need federal support to reduce tuition fees, we need targeted grants for low-income students, and I have put forward a new idea: Your Canada Year. Let’s give young Canadians the opportunity to spend a year doing volunteer work and let’s reward that with a year of tuition coverage. My personal experience of working as a volunteer in Nicaragua shaped who I am. I want the same opportunities available to every young Canadian.

Catchfire: Thanks, Paul. “Your Canada Year” is definitely some food for thought. I do worry about dropping young people in countries and communities with compromised economic and social situations, but I’m sure with a strong ethical, anti-colonial backbone and proper training it could show some promise. Thanks!

RW: From terra1st:

In the wake of the robo-call scandal, in a time of increased use of closure and ‘in camera’ meetings, my questions for you are: Will we see a policy plank in your campaign directed at making our democratic system more democratic? Will you provide stronger oversight mechanisms? Will you shift power from the PMO and give it back to cabinet ministers and backbenchers? How? What will you do to encourage more grassroots democracy? What will they do to move power away from party offices, and into the hands of party activists and ordinary Canadians? Will you advance the policies of Open Source Governance?

PD: terra1st:

It’s shameful that Conservatives are engaged in these kinds of tactics to suppress voter participation. My whole campaign is about engaging people and turning them on to politics.

When I first got elected, Jack appointed me as the critic for democratic reform. I was on the committee that worked on the Accountability Act and the Elections Canada Act. I moved motion and motion to amend and ensure we can have better accountability. But the Conservatives and the Liberals voted them down. We must end this culture of centralization of power which leads to abuse of power and undermines our democracy.

I’m all about empowering the grassroots — in our party and in our democratic process.

Mike Gifford: I’d be interested in hearing your views on building Gov 2.0. It’s definitely a buzzword, but I’d like to see ideas on how you as leader of the NDP might be able to make our public service something that all Canadian’s are proud of. There’s a lot of bashing of the bureaucracy and everyone in Ottawa knows a few folks with lots of stories about problems on the front line.

The Harper government is again showing us how not to work with our civil service, but I’d like to hear your ideas on how to revitalize the public sector. It needs to be an area where collaboration & innovation are commonplace. Federal departments need to work better together, collaborate more with other government agencies at all levels and also reach out to the public that they ultimately serve.

PD: Mike! Thanks for the question.

I always want to consult people who do this work and know how to innovate instead of making top-down decisions by people like Tony Clement. I believe in open source, I believe we make better decisions when we collect and share data. So yes, let’s engage with people who do this work and update the way we run our government.

RW: I’m afraid we’re all out of time. Paul Dewar, thank you so much for joining us today!

PD: Well, folks, thank you for a great conversation.

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