Paul Dewar turns focus to future despite terminal illness

Paul Dewar has confirmed he has terminal glioblastoma — the type of brain cancer that The Tragically Hip singer Gord Downie died from last year — but he's vowing to use his remaining time to support grassroots projects by young people.

Former Ottawa Centre MP to spend remaining time supporting grassroots movements by young people

Former member of Parliament Paul Dewar has confirmed he has grade 4 glioblastoma, a terminal type of cancer that forms first in the brain. Dewar is now throwing his energy behind a new initiative called Youth Action Now. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Former MP Paul Dewar has confirmed he has glioblastoma — the type of brain cancer that The Tragically Hip singer Gord Downie died from last year — but he's vowing to use his remaining time to support grassroots projects by young people.

"It is grade 4, which is terminal. There is no cure. There is treatment, and so that's what I've been dealing with for the last couple of months," Dewar told Robyn Bresnahan, host of CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning, in an interview on Tuesday.

"To treat it there are limited tools in the tool kit. What I've gone through is surgery and then radiation and chemotherapy, and then you hope for the best in terms of how much time you have to live."

Dewar, the former NDP MP for Ottawa Centre from 2006 to 2015, first announced publicly on Feb. 17 that he has cancer.

He said he felt discomfort in his arm after skating on the Rideau Canal. He thought he might have some kind of vascular problem or a thrown arm, so went to the hospital to have it checked out.

Having terminal cancer has made his interactions with family 'so damn real,' says Dewar. 1:29

Tumour discovered by chance

"And then just by happenstance I had my arm over my head for the CT scan. They picked up the tumour," Dewar said.

A followup MRI revealed that the tumour was large, and on Feb. 14 he underwent brain surgery to remove it. The tumour was then sent for analysis, revealing the grade 4 glioblastoma. He was with his wife and children when he found out, after deciding to let them know what's happening.

"They're obviously the best kids in the world because they're your kids, but they've been just amazing and we've been open with them. And it's been tough but we've been transparent about everything, and they heard the news, they took it in, and they've been dealing with it with their friends and with us ever since," he said. "I love them to death, and they've been great support." 

Since then, Dewar hadn't spoken publicly about his condition, other than to say he was continuing treatment.

Dewar said his diagnosis has changed both his political ambitions and his perspective on the work he considers important.

Paul Dewar is in studio to talk about his health, his hopes and what's getting him through treatment. 16:26

No run for mayor

As recently as the fall, Dewar hadn't ruled out taking a run at the mayor's job in Ottawa — a position his mother held in the 1970s and 1980s.

Now, Dewar said, that's off the table.

Instead, he is throwing his energy behind a new initiative called Youth Action Now to connect young people who are working on grassroots projects with the means to carry them out.

"I had some decisions to make after ... the diagnosis and looking at what we should do with the rest of the time I have. And I've always been passionate about young people. Before I was in politics I was an educator ... and talking to my sons who are 22 and 19, and their friends, you just see the potential for young people," Dewar said.

Watching the students in Parkland, Fla., fight for stricter gun control was another inspiration and a reminder of the power youth have to change how we live, he said in an interview ahead of his Ottawa Morning appearance.

Dewar represented the riding of Ottawa Centre from 2006 to 2015. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

"There are many issues here in Ottawa that need a young person's perspective, and what I believe in strongly is that they actually have the answers but often aren't given the support and the platform to do it."

That's where Dewar hopes to draw upon his work in politics and social justice to help guide youth on how to execute a plan and access decision-makers who can help see it through.

Dewar hopes to officially launch the initiative on June 19, and is expecting to begin work with youth groups in the fall.

Ontario election signalled desire for change

While his political ambitions have changed, Dewar is still engaged with the changing political landscape.

His provincial counterpart for many years, Liberal Yasir Naqvi, lost to the NDP's Joel Harden just as the provincial Liberals were swept out of power by the Progressive Conservatives.

"It was obviously a clear desire for change but I'm not sure what people wanted," he said. "I guess that's what has to be articulated by the new government."

He said after an acrimonious campaign, politicians from all sides should "put down their shields" and look out for the best interests of all Ontarians.

"It was an election that didn't always reflect the best of our political culture," he said. "I'm hoping that's something everyone reflects on and not go down the path we've seen south of the border."

Watch the full interview

CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning