Whatever the actual election results, at least 55 current MPs will not be returning to the House of Commons; they’ve already made the decision to retire and not seek re-election. To allow for a few parting words, the House set aside time this month for departing members to address the chamber. The MPs who took part shared stories, thanked friends, family, volunteers and staff who supported them, and reflected on their time in office. Here are some excerpts:
I remain imbued with the passion and desire to continue to be the voice of the people of Guelph, Ont., here in Ottawa, and to serve them with as much energy as my staff and I have been able to offer. However, that young family from seven years ago is still young and I am not. I need to spend what time I can with my daughter, Olivia, and son, Dominic. It is just as important to them, and to me, that I be there for their millionth steps as I was for their first ones. Indeed, it is more important. At this precious stage in their lives, I want to be a more constant presence . . . If I can leave with one final thought, I ask that you take the initiative to make this place and our work here more family-friendly. Countless Canadians have incredible contributions to make to this place and public discourse, but are rightly concerned about the strains that this place will put on them and their families. This is a job that is never done. There are no weekends or evenings to retreat to for quality time with loved ones. My marriage was a victim of the toll this takes on a family and relationships with loved ones, and I am by no means alone.
Sometimes people ask me how I put up with all the nonsense in the House. First, I say that, just as in teaching high school, a good night’s sleep and a sense of humour certainly help. However, most important of all, it is all those committed people who are fighting for social justice right across the country. When I meet with them, it is as if I recharge my batteries. It has truly been an honour to represent their views in Parliament. I have met with citizens concerned about world peace, Canada’s involvement in war, protection of the environment, food sovereignty, poverty, Canada Post, smart meters, women’s rights, international development and many other issues. It is amazing to see how many people, both in my riding and across the country, are consistently engaged in working to improve the lives of others.
I can remember telling the member for Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock at a barbecue that, during a question period, I thought it was awful to heckle and that I would never do that. I have not been able to live up to his expectations and, for that, I apologize to him.
Why do we not have the kind of respect in this place that we should have? It begins with us. We cannot expect others to respect us, unless we respect each other. Question period usually begins with the opposition asking: “Why are you the worst government that ever existed on this planet, on Earth, in this country?” We respond by saying, “We are the best government ever.”
That is where I have to congratulate our forefathers, other members of Parliament, and the rules and regulations that govern our behaviour, like using the third person to tone things down. This place often, according to many people, does not run very well. It brings to my mind those words of Sir Winston Churchill when he said this about democracy: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried.” I would have to say that about this place. We sometimes look rather slipshod and bad in other people’s eyes. But the right thing gets done. Canadians are well-served by this Parliament. In the end, Canadians always get the right kind of government, because we are in a democracy. There will be changes, and that is good. Change is good; change is healthy for democracy. I want to reiterate how privileged I have been to be here.
Heaven knows that we take our share of lumps around this place, and there is lots of criticism of people who make mistakes. It has been said before that 20,000 planes can land safely and that is not news, but, if one crashes, that leads the evening news. It is kind of the same around this place. I had been here about five years and, when I was walking in the building one day, a security guard stopped me and I showed him my ID and he said, “You must be new here.” I said, “No, I have been here seven or eight years.” He said, “Why don’t I recognize you?” I said, “I guess that’s because I’ve never done anything ridiculous.” He laughed and I said, “But I’ll bet you if I wanted to, I could lead the news tonight and it wouldn’t be by making an intelligent, rational speech in the House, but by doing something to draw attention.” It is the nature of this place that the fireworks get attention and all the quiet, good work that so many members do kind of goes unnoticed.
I think back to my nomination speech, and we all went through one. We all got our supporters out and dragged them to a fire hall or town hall somewhere and got them all to vote. I cannot tell members what I said in my nomination speech. I really have very little idea, because I was extremely nervous. However, I do remember quoting Robert Service from “The Shooting of Dan McGrew,” and I think it stood me in good stead for this job. It was probably the only part of my nomination speech that was delivered fairly well. I quoted this part:
When out of the night, which was fifty below, and into the din and the glare,
There stumbled a miner fresh from the creeks, dog-dirty, and loaded for bear.
He looked like a man with a foot in the grave and scarcely the strength of a louse,
Yet he tilted a poke of dust on the bar, and he called for drinks for the house.
I always felt that put me in the right frame of mind to come here, because this is a very adversarial chamber at times, with quite a rowdy crew at times. At times, we could be mistaken for that barroom in that piece of poetry written by Robert Service.
Many previous speakers referred to family, and I, of course, will do the same. There was one small contribution from my days as an opposition House leader. As my friend from South Shore-St. Margaret’s mentioned, we came to this place together—young, idealistic and ready to bring about change. I was a single man, and I argued successfully for the installation of baby change tables in all of the parliamentary precinct washrooms, both male and female, and I used one the other day with my son.
I made that presentation at the Board of Internal Economy, but it was really the brainchild of my good friend, John Holtby, a giant in my eyes, who remains one of the most knowledgable parliamentary procedural experts in Canada, an author and intellect, an icon and a friend.
It has been an incredible journey, one that has been filled with ups and downs. My first days walking in these halls were indeed bittersweet, because my dad, who was my best campaigner, had cancer, but I did not know it and he did not know it. We walked the campaign trail together, successfully winning in March. My greatest joy would be to spend part of my career walking with him in Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte, my riding. He was here, just up above me, as I was sworn in. He passed away on July 27 at 7 p.m., just three short months later.
I would do anything; I would surrender all if I could spend one more day with him. However, if I were to ask him if he could share another day with me, he would tell me: “You have to share the next day with the people who are most important to you.”
That became my fundamental philosophy: to understand who I am and whom I represent and who is most dear to me. With my dad no longer by my side, but always in my heart, I kept his values and I stayed as the member of Parliament seeking reconfirmation of election in 1997, in 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2011. Finally, after 19 years of serving in this place, I said that maybe a change is due.
My first inclination was not to run. Being an introvert and more reserved than most politicians, I was not sure it was a good fit for me. I wrestled with the decision for several days and nights, but, eventually, Ruth lost patience with me, which almost never happens, and said, “Don’t be such a coward,” so I jumped in.
Some listening will know that I was not expected to win the nomination. I was criticized by some for not being ambitious enough, or, as one friend put it, “I want to vote for someone with fire in his belly.” I admit that my nomination campaign slogan, “I’m willing to win,” was not too inspiring, but Ruth is a formidable woman and ran a strong campaign, and I won.
I have had the opportunity to form friendships with many people from all the parties over the past four years. Whether it was on parliamentary trips or during our prayer breakfasts, I was able to learn more about my colleagues from all parties. I think it is important to recognize that, although we may disagree on many things, we all came here with a desire to make our country a better place. We may not always agree on what path to take to get there, but the only way to get there is by working together.
As honorary members know, I had some wonderful times during my term here. However, to be honest, it was not always easy. I also had to deal with some very dark sides of politics. I went through some very tough times. I saw how complicated being a young female member of Parliament can be. I saw how partisan politics could become harmful and toxic. There were days when things were not really easy. However, I was able to remain hopeful and persevere, thanks to the love and support of my gang here.
Mr. Chair, it was an accident. That will be my defence at the pearly gates when I, a 22-year politician, am making my pitch for entry, but I will not be lying, because it was an accident. I never intended to get into politics. It just kind of happened.
By the way, when I told my wife that I was considering a run in politics, her response was: “You? You’re going to be an MP? Who is going to vote for you?” Well, it was not quite like that, but I read between the lines. We know how it is with our wives; we can kind of tell. I really appreciate her support. I did then, and I still do.
Certainly and fortunately, I still retain that great respect and reverence for this institution, which I regard as the centrepiece of our democracy, the cradle, the nurturer for the pursuit of justice.
In this, I am reminded and, indeed, inspired by another set of teachings on the pursuit of justice from my late parents, a blessed memory. For it is my father who taught me before I could understand the profundity of his words. As he put it, the pursuit of justice is equal to all the other commandments combined. As he said: “This, you must teach unto your children.”
It was my mother who, when she heard my father say this, would say to me, “If you want to pursue justice, you have to understand, you have to feel the injustice about you. You have to go in and about your community and beyond, and feel the injustice and combat the injustice. Otherwise, the pursuit of justice remains a theoretical construct.”
Regardless of who we are or where we have come from, we all come to this place for the right reason, and that is to make a positive difference for our constituents and for our country. I believe we all want basically the same things, like financial and personal security, good education and health care, a sustainable and healthy environment, a respected place in the world community, and pride in ourselves and pride in our country. What we argue about is the road that we are on to get there. As difficult as it is around here, if we could spend just a bit more time on each other’s roads, we might all get a little closer to our common destinations. When I have had the opportunity to do that, it has been a very satisfying experience, and I want to cite one example.
I have great respect for Bob Rae as a brilliant parliamentarian and, despite our ideological differences, we could work together behind the scenes on things like the mission extension in Afghanistan. I do not say this with malice at all, but Bob made it clear that, if there were political advantage, he would stab me in the heart, and I would stab him, in the right circumstances, too. However, we would stab each other in the chest, eye to eye, and not in the back. I can certainly respect that.
The negative aspect of the experience—we cannot ignore it if we want to move forward as a nation—is the extreme partisanship. Partisanship leads us to make assumptions about our adversaries’ opinions. It makes debate sterile, and the value of the individual is lost. We end up by looking at one another through the lens of prejudice. One side sees people wearing cowboy hats who enjoy shooting at coyotes on the prairies; the other side sees the granola crowd sitting on a patio in a big city, criticizing the oil industry.
My knowledge of Canada prevents me from seeing the world like that. I like the member for Prince Albert. I actually think that, if we were sitting in a boat on Baker Lake with our fishing rods, we could even have an intelligent conversation.
During my tenure here, I have always loved working as an MP, but, as a husband and father of two young daughters, I am especially sensitive to the sacrifices my own family would be making if I were to pursue another four years of political life at this time, so I have chosen not to run for re-election this year. In so doing, my desire is to remain faithful to my original reason for seeking elected office. It is what I said when I launched my nomination campaign in 2010: Our children deserve to inherit our world without the troubles we have created.