With the NDP leadership convention just a few weeks away, we dug up an old lunchtime interview with local leadership hopeful Paul Dewar. Interviewer Ken Rockburn tries to get Dewar to reveal all over snacks at the Black Tomato. (Reprinted from the October 2008 edition of Ottawa Magazine.)
You were born where? Ottawa.
Where did you go to university? Trent University, Carleton University, Queen’s University, and a year at the University of Winnipeg. I liked university. I still do.
So you were at university for a total of how many years? Six and a half.
What was the strangest thing you ever saw at university? It would be between two events at Trent. A couple of guys jumping off the roof of the library — which I don’t recommend at all, it’s highly dangerous and irresponsible — and something that I was involved with in my first year. The students took over the president’s office for close to a couple of weeks and we had a shuttle, of which I was a part — I wasn’t one of the protesters taking over the office. We had this little assembly line of people who delivered food to the protesters in a kind of under-the-radar way. The other strange experience — also at Trent — was watching my dad go into a coed bathroom and walk right back out. This guy had been in the army and everything, and he says, “There’s girls in the bathroom!” And I said, “Yeah, Dad, they’re coed.” And he had, well, different thoughts on whether that was good or bad.
How long have you been friends with your oldest friend? We were nine when we met but not friends until we were 11. He didn’t like me initially. And I didn’t care one way or the other, but it’s been more than 28 years.
You’re still in touch with each other? Yep, yep, on a regular basis.
Do you sing in the shower? Yes.
What do you sing? Whatever comes to my mind. Everything from really cheesy bad songs — and I’m talking Mungo Jerry, when-the-weather’s-fine kind of stuff — to the Pogues, Dylan, Springsteen, whatever’s on my mind. I’ve got a music track in my head, so it’s whatever’s playing in there.
Have you ever googled yourself? Yes, absolutely.
Were you surprised at what you found? Yes. Well, the fact that you can google yourself to start with is a surprise. And, yeah, really weird things — like I presented to a committee way back when and someone had actually put that on the Internet — to posts by people who said not-so-pleasant things about me.
What was the last movie that made you cry? Chariots of Fire. I just replayed it. I was watching with my kids. That was the last movie I cried at, I think. Oh, but I came very close — one of these, right? [He looks away and wipes his eyes surreptitiously.] It was probably a suppressed cry. It was Juno. I can’t tell you what part of that movie made me cry. I was identifying probably with the circumstance of the couple vis-à-vis the world around them and thinking that this happens to everyone.
What was the last non-political book you read? Rory Stewart’s The Places in Between — about his journey on foot through Afghanistan — is not really political. I just finished that a month ago. I try in the summer to read non-political books and read a serious work. This year I decided to read The Places in Between, and I’m reading a serious book on Afghanistan that’s the other side of what Rory’s talking about.
Have you ever punched anybody? Yes — and got punched back. This isn’t the only time, but this is the one I’ll tell you about. I don’t go around swinging at people. This particular one is interesting for people from Ottawa who remember the Chaudière and remember the infamous bouncer there,
Mr. [Gerry] Barber. He had three boys. His middle son, Bobby, and I got into a fight. I was at St. Basil’s Elementary School, and I was in Grade 6 and Bobby was in Grade 5. We got in a fight and he was taunting me, and I turned around and gave him a swing. He pushed me back and forth, for probably up to five minutes, but it seemed like half an hour.
The funny thing about that was that the next day his older brother, who’s the eldest of the Barber boys, came up to me and said, “Well, Paul, I have to beat you up now because my dad found out that Bobby was in a fight and you might have beaten him up, and he told me I have to beat you up now.” I was able to talk my way out of that, but I had a Plan B and I was going to run my way out of that because I was close to home. But he cornered me, and I simply said to him, “Tell your dad that you beat me up, and I won’t say that you didn’t or tell anyone else who asks, for that matter.” And I got out of that one.
Bob Dylan or Frank Sinatra? Ooohh! Tough choice. I love jazz, but I love Bob. I’ll go with Bob. I listen to him more, and if I’m true to who I am and who I listen to, I listen to Bob more than Frank. But if it was Louis Armstrong, that would be much more difficult.
Céline Dion or Martha Wainwright? Martha! C’mon!
22 Minutes or Air Farce? I would go with the old 22 Minutes when it first started, but I had to part company in the last couple of years, and I liked the menu that the Air Farce provided. And I also grew up with the Air Farce on the radio, so I’m going to say Air Farce, for the hell of it.
Have you got a thick skin? Oh, that really is interesting. I think I do, but I’m trying to think of the occasions when I don’t. I think generally, yes, but there are people who get under my skin and I — you know. I am similar to my mother [former Ottawa mayor Marion Dewar] — and I didn’t appreciate this when I was younger, but she was very open-minded in public, but if your room wasn’t clean on Saturday morning, look out! That’s a bit different, I guess. But I think I have a thick skin. I’ve tested it out in the last couple of years.
What was the best piece of advice you ever got? Oh, this is so campy. It was around politics, and I asked my mother what advice she had, and she was very straight-up. She said, “Be who you are. Don’t be anyone else.” It’s actually extremely hard to do all the time, and it’s profound advice. So be who you are, not who you think you are. And I didn’t know who I was until I was 25, which, by the way, is when adolescence ends. It’s not 14 or 15, it’s 25. Depending on gender, probably later for men.
What wakes you up in the middle of the night in a sweat? Usually a problem around my family. I’m concerned about my kids or my siblings or my brother. And where the hell our planet’s going. Not every night — I’m not over the top on that. There are occasions where you think too much about it, I suppose. I have been up during the night thinking, What kind of place am I handing over to my kids? But, yeah, it’s usually about the tribe, if you will, the family.
What’s the most significant thing about you that people don’t know? Know the film Billy Elliot? I entirely identified with that. I was like that as a kid. You can ask my mother about this, but I loved the idea of ballet. I thought it was extremely interesting and engaging, but I just could never talk about it because there’s no frigging way growing up in McKellar Heights that you’re going to declare that. My father was a very nice man and very tolerant, but if you actually had any real interest in ballet… I found ballet — and figure skating as well — very engaging and I wanted to try it, but I never admitted to it. When I watched Billy Elliot, I just thought that was me at that age, and I’m a gross-motor guy, right? I like to run, I like sports, but I found the first time I saw ballet — it was on CBC and I think it was Swan Lake — I was utterly amazed at the strength. I had no idea that’s what ballet’s about. I’m watching a guy do that. So as a kid, I loved ballet.
What single word would your mother use to describe you? This isn’t the word I’m looking for, but it’s as close as I can get: compassionate. But empathy is in there. Compethic?