A keen supporter of devolution, Dennis gained recognition for voting against the Blair Government’s proposals to cut benefits for single-parent children, abolish student grants and introduce tuition fees, as well as successfully amending parliament’s landmark right-to-roam legislation to extend access to the Queen’s estates, and introducing a bill to make St Andrew’s Day a national holiday. Despite being a stalwart of the Labour Party, Canavan was rejected as an official candidate in the 1999 Scottish Parliament elections and stood as an independent, winning and subsequently being expelled from the party. He retained his seat in 2003 with the biggest majority in Scotland. When Dennis announced his retirement before the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections, he received an ovation in the Chamber of the Scottish Parliament.
But alongside the professional highs, there have been very personal lows. The father-of-five lost his first son, Paul, to skin cancer in 1989, and his 35-year-old son Dennis to a brain tumour in 2006. His eldest son, Mark, died in Australia at the age of 41 in March 2007, after a three-year battle with motor neurone disease.
Courting praise and controversy in equal measure throughout his career, Canavan’s contribution to public life was honoured when Falkirk Council decided to set up a new educational scholarship in his name.
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