Dave Kerwin died unexpectedly on 6 February 2023, age 84. The news came as a huge shock to everyone who knew him. To me he seemed indestructible and he would go on forever. When he retired from municipal politics in 2018 he was the longest serving councillor in Canada. An astonishing 39 years.
On Monday, Newmarket councillors paid tributes to Dave Kerwin, led by the Town’s Mayor, John Taylor. In an engaging riff, the Mayor reminds us that whenever Dave was asked how he was doing he’d say:
“Never been better.”
And that captured the essence of the man. Living in the moment. Enjoying life to the full.
The councillors all struck the right note. Together they painted a picture of Dave we would all recognise. Approachable, convivial and someone who enjoyed the company of others. He laughed a lot. He was intensely interested in the world around him. His was a life well lived.
I remember him telling me the secret of being a successful councillor. Just walk the ward. Get to know it inside out. And talk to people.
But there was another Dave Kerwin - the renaissance man who rose early in the morning to study. He spoke Latin, French, German and Spanish but carried this erudition very lightly.
I was always interested in the techniques he employed as a practising politician. I told him that in his immensely long career he flattered his opponents into submission.
We had an email correspondence for over a decade. He would regularly comment on my blogs, congratulating me on my powers of perception and my insight before putting forward the contrary view. His flattery often went completely over the top – and he knew it. We used to josh about it. He would sign off:
“Cheers and love life!”
I had a soft spot for Dave Kerwin. I wanted to know more about his politics and how he saw the world and what needed to change. (Photo right from Ron Eibel: at the candidates' "Meet and Greet" at the Newmarket Community Centre on 27 September 2022)
Years ago, he urged Newmarket to buy the former 140 acre Glenway golf course when it was offered to the Town for under $10M. He told me it broke his heart when the Town decided not to. Glenway was certainly one of the most consequential decisions the Town has ever taken. On that one, I was on Dave Kerwin’s side.
Dave was always looking to the future, thinking about the long term. He was intellectually curious. He liked provoking people into taking a position on things. He saw himself as a gadfly.
In his mind’s eye he saw a changed Newmarket studded with high-rise buildings of 15-25 storeys. He cared about the environment and conservation. He fretted about the collapse in voter turnout, people tuning out politics. He worried about young people who believed they would never be in a position to buy a house. He fumed about building land being controlled by a handful of wealthy families.
Controversially (for some) he supported a wealth tax. He told me no one person should be allowed to accumulate $200B and that 80% of the world’s wealth should not be in the hands of 5% of the population. Right on!
He was someone who believed in fiscal responsibility and early last year he warned me to expect 10% inflation in Canada. He wasn’t far off the mark.
Kerwin's crystal ball
He liked predicting future events, often calling on me to bet with him on some outcome or other. I figured I was being set up to fail and never took him up on it – even though no money would ever change hands!
He predicted Doug Ford would win another term, backed by the developers and their money. But a few months earlier he had told me with equal certainty Ford would not win a majority and that the Bradford Bypass would be defeated by a coalition of NDP and Liberal members of the new legislature. Dream on!
Dave will be remembered as a great raconteur. He and Erika were restless travellers, moving from one adventure to the next. He would write to me from Mendoza, in Argentina, describing it as “the capital of Malbec”. I picture him with a glass of wine in his hand.
In St Lucia he tells me he is going lobster snagging and mango picking in a beautiful balmy breeze. And afterwards he relaxes with a dollop of rum in his milk. From Barbados to the Falkland Islands and from a thousand other destinations he has a story to tell. But after his globe-trotting with Erika he is always glad to be back home.
A year ago this month, he was back in “wonderful Newmarket” enjoying cross-country ski-ing. In his eighties!
In the summer he loved his garden, watching the birds, sipping calvados. Enjoying retirement.
Just after Covid arrived in Canada in early 2020 Dave told me he didn’t fear the virus – and at that stage there was no known cure.
He quotes the poet John Donne:
“A short sleep past and I shall awake eternally.”
Update on 19 February 2023: From Newmarket Today: He loved to help. Family and friends remember Newmarket's Dave Kerwin