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PEOPLE
Meet Senator Dennis Dawson
June 12, 2019

In 1977, at age 27, Dennis Dawson became one the youngest MPs to be elected in Canada. He went on to serve three consecutive terms under the Liberal Party of Canada.

After launching a government relations firm, he was later appointed to the Senate in 2005 by former prime minister Paul Martin to represent the Quebec region of Lauzon. During his nearly 14 years in the Red Chamber, Senator Dawson has been a member of several committees, including the Senate Committee on Transport and Communications and the Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

One of Senator Dennis Dawson’s campaign posters for the 1977 federal election.

How did you first get involved in public life?

I first got into politics as a school trustee when I was 22. I then became chair of my local school board. I’d always been active in student politics, which then led me to become an active member of the Quebec Liberal Party, particularly in the beginning. That’s how I started to work alongside men and women in politics.

I first started at the provincial level. My entry into federal politics was rather coincidental. The MP for my riding passed away, and the Liberal Party asked me to find a good candidate to take her place in the by‑election. So, I found the best!

I come from a very modest family; my parents didn’t have any money. The only reason I was able to get an education is that Liberal governments — both in Québec City and Ottawa — reformed education in Quebec and paved the way for CEGEPs, which meant being able to get a higher education without having to pay for it. I come from a family with 82 cousins, and I was the only one to continue on after high school, mainly because I was the youngest and CEGEPs didn’t exist before then.

The system has always helped me a lot, so I’ve always believed that giving back is only natural. I got ahead in life thanks to the decisions made by women and men in politics. Decisions such as those to build better ties between the federal and provincial governments gave me the opportunity, after the Parti Québécois was elected on November 15, 1976, to join the political debate that had moved to Ottawa.

What legislative or committee work are you most proud of participating in to date?

Senators do two things. Not only do they study and try to improve bills from the House of Commons, but they also write important reports. I worked on two reports I’m particularly proud of, one of them included a detailed analysis of Canada’s airports, which was welcomed by many air carriers and airports. Incidentally, in its most recent federal budget, the government followed through with the recommendations.

Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, Senator Dennis Dawson and former senator Art Eggleton during a fact finding mission at the University of Waterloo in 2017. Senator Dawson is a member of the Committee on Transport and Communications, which tabled a report that found that Canada is ill-prepared for the arrival of automated vehicles.

The second is a report that the Committee on Transport and Communications wrote on automated vehicles. Self-driving cars will soon be appearing on our roads, so Canada must be prepared. If governments don’t act quickly, self-driving cars will invade us just as fast as iPhones and iPads did.

What is a hidden gem in your region that more Canadians need to know about?

I’m honoured to be a senator representing Québec City. It’s North America’s best-kept secret, thanks to its splendid attractions, cuisine and architecture. Every first-time visitor to Québec City wants to come back someday, because this beautiful capital with a European flair is one of North America’s finest hidden gems. It’s not only the cathedral, the Château Frontenac, or the Saint Lawrence; everything is beautiful!

Senator Dennis Dawson was inspired by politicians of his generation, such as former Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa.

The Château Frontenac is featured in magazines all over the world; it’s as important a symbol as the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The only difference between them is that you can spend the night at the Château, but only visit the Eiffel Tower. It symbolizes Québec City and its history. That includes not only its political history — since premiers have lived there — but also the city’s cultural history, since great artists have worked there. The Château’s restaurants are truly first-class, and its bar has a breathtaking view on the St. Lawrence River. No matter the season, it’s always beautiful.

What is a song or an album that always makes you smile?

La langue de chez nous by Yves Duteil is one of my favourite songs. I just heard an a cappella version of it this morning and it was wonderful!

What is the last book you read or film you saw that you would recommend?

The Green Book, which won the Oscar for best picture, is very recommendable.

I enjoy reading in both English and French and I’m particularly fond of political biographies. Those that had the greatest impact on me were about René Lévesque and Pierre Elliott Trudeau, because I’m of that generation. However, my greatest influence is Robert Bourassa. I got to work with him during his leadership campaign when he entered politics in 1969–1970. And anything written about Winston Churchill I find really interesting as well.