The Commons: Tuesday night in Cornwall

Paul Dewar takes his campaign for the NDP leadership across the 417 and down the 138

Into the pouring rain and the pitch-black night, a young man named Liam is driving Paul Dewar to Liam’s parents’ place. Across the 417 and then down the 138 (watch for deer), stopping for dinner at Tim Hortons, and then up a few steps to a red-brick house where a couple dozen people are waiting in the living room. There’s coffee and pumpkin chai tea in the kitchen and cans of Coca-Cola and ginger ale in a cooler with ice. The dining room table is crowded with veggies and cheese and gooey chocolate cranberry squares (check the milk calendar for the recipe). An embroidered sign on the kitchen wall bears wisdom: “Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.”

Courtesy of Liam, a former NDP riding association president for Ottawa Centre, Paul Dewar arrives around seven o’clock. He immediately begins mingling. A reporter from the local paper is here and wants an interview, so he ducks into the kitchen for a bit to explain himself. Then Liam’s dad, Brian, president of the local NDP riding association and former mayor of Cornwall, calls for everyone’s attention so that he can introduce tonight’s guest of honour.

The candidate is explained thusly. Son of a mayor. Former aid worker in Nicaragua. Former teacher. Current Member of Parliament for Ottawa Centre. Effective. Eloquent. Experienced. Articulate. Focused on bringing people together. Generous with his time.

The man described as “an ideal person to lead the NDP to victory” then takes the floor. “Thank you, it’s great to be in Cornwall, again,” he says. He starts in English, then goes into French, then back to English. He talks about his time in Nicaragua. “What I learned then is to make a difference, you work with people and you do it together and you can do anything,” he says. “And I think that’s the story of our party, frankly … And that’s, for me, what politics is about, at its best.”

He talks about Jack Layton. He says we need to take better care of each other. He says the party should carry this message.

He talks about everywhere he’s been already and he makes a self-deprecating joke and people laugh. He talks about the “jobs deficit” and corporate taxes and the trade deficit and tax havens and the green economy and building an east-west grid and “energy sovereignty.” The crowd—older, save for a few who might not yet be 30—applauds when he talks about ensuring access to home care.

He is standing on a light brown carpet, in front of white curtains, framed by light green walls and a wide white ceiling. He is all in blue. His tie is slightly loose and his hair is not entirely under control and a tailor would probably tell him to shorten his pant legs a touch so they don’t bunch up at his shoes. His five o’clock shadow is a few hours old. His delivery isn’t soundbite crisp. His tone is insistent, periodically pleading (for reason). He is at the end of a day that began at 6am in Halifax, after talking to a living room there last night. He is tired.

He finishes with Attawapiskat. He was in Timmins a couple weeks ago and Charlie Angus showed him the footage. And now the rest of the country is waking up to it too. “It’s wrong,” he says, “we know that.”

He talks about the kids living in sheds with no running water and no sewage, huddled around barrels for heat. “And when I saw it, I thought, who is looking out for our fellow citizens and what are we going to do about?” he says. “And I think we have to commit ourselves to say that within ten years—and that sounds like a lot of time, but there’s a lot of work to be done—we have to make sure that every reserve in this country and every First Nations person has the following: affordable housing, affordable power, clean water and education. And we have to commit to that because I think when we see what we now see and hear what we’ve heard from Charlie and other people who’ve been there, it’s not just Attawapiskat. And Attawapiskat, by the way, is right next to one of the largest diamond mines in the country. It’s about First Nations right across the country. And I’m tired as you are of hearing the stories. But I think as social democrats we have to commit ourselves to make that change to make sure that this doesn’t continue.”

“Because if we don’t raise our voices, if we don’t use our collective power to do that, who will?” he asks. “It will be us and we need to take that on. So I just leave you with that because that’s something that’s current, but it’s about who we are.”

He takes questions then about the environment and renewable energy and “taking on the Conservatives” and ViaRail service and poverty and the influence exerted by media monopolies. And then he’s done and everyone is reminded that there are sign-up sheets if you want to stay in touch with the campaign and free buttons and plenty of food left in the dining room.

There is more mingling and then Liam extricates him and then it’s back into the pouring rain and the pitch-black night and the drive back home.

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