Saturday, 26 November 2011
Paul Dewar's personal history
OTTAWA - He may not have Winston Churchill's gift for oratory, Ludwig van Beethoven's musical genius, Albert Einstein's Nobel prize or Bill Gates' billions.
But NDP leadership hopeful Paul Dewar shares a common trait with many of history's greatest over-achievers.
"There's a lot of people who wouldn't know because I don't broadcast it," the Ottawa MP told The Canadian Press.
"It's not all of me. It's part of me ... I've never believed that it's something that I needed to tell the world about."
As an elementary school teacher, Dewar used to talk openly about it, especially with kids struggling with their own learning disabilities. Since becoming an MP in 2006, however, the subject hasn't come up — until now.
"I certainly identify strongly with people who are needing help in taking on things, be it with learning challenges, life challenges in general," he says. "It's about empathizing and understanding."
He believes mastering the challenge of dyslexia has also made him tougher, more resilient, more determined to overcome other obstacles thrown in his way.
As an MP, that work ethic has gained Dewar a reputation as someone who knows his files and who, occasionally, gets frustrated with colleagues who are less well-briefed.
"I've been known to comment, 'Doesn't anybody read anymore?'" he says, without a hint of irony.
Because he processes information differently, Dewar says he's also sometimes able to "make associations others don't see." For instance, in poring over the 2009 budget, he noticed the government had booked $2 billion in sales of federal assets which Finance Minister Jim Flaherty later admitted might not occur, blowing "a gaping hole" in his deficit projections.
Dewar figures he was lucky. He was diagnosed as dyslexic early, when alert Grade 3 teachers noticed he was struggling to read and write, although his oral and numeracy skills were "off the chart." His diagnosis led to the discovery that dyslexia ran in the family — his mother, former Ottawa mayor and New Democrat MP Marion Dewar, his older brother, Bob, his grandfather and his uncle had all struggled to read and write, without anyone realizing they were dyslexic.
Bob, 11 years older, had quit high school in frustration, fed up with being told he was "lazy" or "not working hard enough." He'd been sent to pyschologists and psychiatrists for what was deemed a behavioural problem. He eventually learned to adapt, went back to school, graduated from university and went on to become chief of staff to former Manitoba premier Gary Doer.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Dewar cites his late mother, his brother and grandfather — all people who overcame the challenge of dyslexia without the benefit of early diagnosis — as his role models."Paul Dewar certainly has an inspirational story and some very solid attributes. It'll be interesting to see how he does in the race, which (despite some satire over the crowded field) is yielding real talent.