OTTAWA — NDPers in the centre of the nation’s capital turned away from a gay candidate with a national profile and sterling reputation as a great communicator Jun 22 in favour of the schoolteacher son of a former Ottawa mayor.
Jamey Heath, an out gay man and former writer for Capital Xtra, was passed over by a packed house at the Ottawa Centre NDP riding meeting, held at the St Anthony Soccer Club in the heart of the city’s Italian community. Party members instead picked community activist Paul Dewar, son of Marion Dewar, a former Ottawa mayor and former NDP MPP. Dewar, supported by t he local party machine, won on the first ballot.
Heath is known across the country as the voice of the NDP in radio and television debates. As the director of research and communications for the federal NDP caucus, he’s been involved in developing the strategies that have seen the party rebound in public opinion and force the Martin government to pass an NDP budget. Heath has also worked on housing, environmental and education issues since 1991.
His Jun 22 speech to Ottawa Centre delegates was a barnburner, resulting in loud, sustained applause from members. But most voted for Dewar.
“People have a sense that Jamey, in the capacity he serves the party now, is in the right place,” said Heath-supporter Michael Warren after the vote. “He’s an exceptional communicator and people here think Paul Dewar is the guy to knock on doors and for Jamey Heath to stay where he is.”
Heath carried the party banner in the 1997 federal election, getting better results than expected. The Liberal party has largely dominated Ottawa Centre federally, while the NDP often holds it provincially. That changed last election when former NDP leader Ed Broadbent beat Liberal candidate Peter Mahoney, a close friend of Paul Martin.
The NDP, riding high in the polls and gaining, see Ottawa Centre as a riding they can keep when voters return to the polls, despite Ed Broadbent’s recent retirement announcement.
Some Heath supporters at the nomination meeting wondered why the party would run a gay man when the race was impossible – 1997 – but not when it was considered winnable.
Heath twice mentioned gay issues in his speech. In contrast, Dewar twice mentioned his wife and family, but never queer issues, human rights or the gay community which has a strong presence in the riding.
He didn’t mean to insult the community, Dewar later told Capital Xtra. He’s comfortable with his riding being the centre of gay Ottawa, he says. “Members of my family are gay and lesbian. It’s not something I shy away from.”
Dewar says he supports a gay and lesbian centre for the riding and believes government needs to do more in schools to combat homophobia and antigay violence.
Heath appeared onstage to make the vote unanimous, and he’s supporting Dewar’s candidacy.
“Paul has deep community roots and he’s a credible candidate and I wish him well,” Heath told Capital Xtra moments after a member came up to tell him that she voted for Dewar because the party needs Heath communicating on behalf of the party to the entire nation.
“I’m disappointed,” Heath sighed.
Also running for the NDP nomination was Tiffani Murray, a restorative justice lawyer and film producer, and Shannon Lee Mannion, an automotive columnist for the Ottawa Citizen.
The riding’s Liberals have nominated Mahoney for the next election. The Conservative choice is Keith Fountain, a former foreign service officer.