Friday, November 7, 2008

Marion Dewar, 1928-2008. R.I.P.

I take a certain amount of pride in following current events in Canada. However, until yesterday I did not know that former Ottawa mayor Marion Dewar had died in September. She was injured after a fall while attending the Toronto International Film Festival and passed away three days later.

She was 80 but was a very active 80. She continued to be active in community affairs up until her sudden death.

I knew Marion Dewar and wish I had known about this when it happened.

Although I have parted ways with the NDP I have not parted with the affection I hold a number of people who were involved with it and Marion Dewar was amongst those.

Dewar is best known when she was Mayor of Ottawa from 1978 to 1985 and was well regarded in that job by people of all political stripes. Dewar made yeoman efforts to welcome Vietnamese boat people into Ottawa and Ottawa is a richer place for it.

The first time I saw her was in 1988 when she spoke at the nomination meeting of Ernie Epp, who was running for re-election as the Member of Parliament for Thunder Bay-Nipigon. At the time she was running for re-election as an MP in Hamilton Mountain and it was very gracious of her to take time out of her campaign to speak on behalf of a colleague. As it turned out both of them would lose their seats in that election. Dewar was on the left wing of the party and held strong views but had a way about her that never antagonized her political opponents.

I came to know her personally in 1993. She was making a political comeback and was running in the federal election in Ottawa Centre against the Liberal incumbent Mac Harb. I had the opportunity to canvass and commiserate with her. Unfortunately, it was a bad year for the NDP due to the unpopularity of the NDP government that was in power in Ontario at the time and Harb was easily re-elected.

Marion had no pretensions about her. I remember travelling to Toronto on a VIA Rail train the following year and we saw each other. She invited me to sit down with her and we talked all the way to Toronto. Now there are some people in this world who after they've attained positions of power develop a certain aloofness (if they don't already have it in the first place) and are disinclined to acknowledge you even if they know your name. Marion was the opposite of that. I wouldn't describe her as a populist but she had a warmth about her that made her approachable.

I last saw Marion in November 2000. I had moved to Boston only half a year earlier but was in Ottawa on vacation. I spent part of that vacation canvassing for the NDP during the federal election that was going on at the time. Heather Jane Robertson was the NDP candidate and I spent the afternoon canvassing with Robertson and Marion Dewar. Robertson was unable to unseat Mac Harb. Although I didn't know it at the time it would be the last time I would ever campaign on behalf of the NDP.

Marion's son, Paul Dewar is now the MP for Ottawa Centre. He was elected in the 2006 election and re-elected last month. This might be belated but Paul and the Dewar family have my sincerest condolences.

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