'Resignation of member'

That’s the rather lifeless heading in Hansard whenever an MP announces in the House their intention to step aside. With Parliament on break for the next two weeks, the NDP’s Dawn Black chose Thursday to bid her adieu.

The House is rarely more warm than when somebody leaves, so Black’s speech and salutations from James Moore, Ujjal Dosanjh, Claude Bachand and Jack Layton are reprinted below. Glen Pearson posted a salute to his blog.

Ms. Dawn Black (New Westminster—Coquitlam, NDP): Mr. Speaker, this might be my last opportunity to stand and speak as a member of Parliament since the House will adjourn tomorrow. I want to announce that I will be resigning my seat on April 13.

    You and I were first elected, Mr. Speaker, in the 1988 election, although I must say I am rather envious of your win-loss record. I have had a couple of losses along the way and you have maintained your seat since 1988.

    It has been an enormous pleasure and honour to serve the people of New Westminster, Burnaby, Coquitlam and Port Moody.

     When I was first elected, Ed Broadbent was the leader of my party, and he remains a very close friend and confidante.

    I was a member when my party elected the first woman to lead a national party in our country and was and still am so proud to have served with Audrey McLaughlin. She is a women of tremendous courage and determination. She has also continued to provide me with encouragement and support over the years.

    I have been very honoured to be part of an NDP caucus, led by the member for Toronto—Danforth. His boundless energy, ability to think outside the box and to take the road less travelled has been an inspiration not only to me but also many Canadians.

    I am proud of my record. I introduced a private member’s bill, which was adopted by the House, to declare December 6 a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

    I was part of a committee that I suggested do a groundbreaking study on all of the issues around breast cancer, which led to real changes in the treatment of women with that disease and their families.

    I brought forward a private member’s bill on anti-stalking legislation, which the government of the day passed into law. That is now part of the Criminal Code of Canada.

    I have a couple of other private members’ bills on the books right now on body armour and non-returnable warrants. I invite the government side to take them over and present them as its own legislation.

Hon. James Moore: Ask for unanimous consent.

Ms. Dawn Black: I may ask for unanimous consent.

    The highlight for me of the 39th Parliament was an opportunity to travel to Afghanistan with the defence committee to meet with the men and women who were serving in the Canadian Forces there. I was very impressed by their determination, skill, high level of training and their commitment to Canada and the job they were being asked to do.

    The defence committee wrote a report on the war in Afghanistan. I, it will not be a surprise to most members, presented a dissenting opinion on that report. I believe that dissenting report is as valid today as it was two years ago when I wrote it.

    I mention these achievements because too often Canadians think there is no effective role for an opposition member of Parliament. Some think members in opposition cannot achieve anything. It is very important for Canadians to know that all of us in this place can and do achieve real results for ordinary Canadians.

    Canadians only see question period reflected in the news cycle, so they can be forgiven for thinking that Parliament is a nasty kind of sandlot filled with testosterone-driven egos. The truth is that all of us on both sides of the House have more in common than what divides us. We disagree on some fundamental policy issues, and that is an important part of our democratic system.

    I hold my values as a social democrat very strongly, just as others in this place hold different views. I only wish that we could debate these differences with a bit more civility.

    I urge all my colleagues to tone down the insults and abuse. What has been hurled back and forth across the floor has often lacked wit and wisdom. This place has become less civil over the past few years and I believe that this is evident in the increasing cynicism all of us hear from voters when we go door to door. It is, ultimately, dangerous for our democratic system.

    There is one other issue I must draw attention to, and that is the glacial rate of progress toward gender equality in this place. The first woman MP, Agnes Macphail, was elected in 1921. This was a breakthrough for my grandmother’s generation, my mother was not even born then.

    Now in 2009, women represent just over 22% of the House of Commons. We have hovered around 20% for the last 15 years. At this rate of progress, and I have used the most up-to-date scientific calculations to determine this, it will take until December 4, 2100 to reach parity. That is darn near 100 years from now, and it is simply not good enough.

    I urge all political parties in the House to get with it and nominate more women. After all, we are more than 50% of the population of our country. It is well past time. Our Parliament must more accurately reflect the Canadian population in every way.

    I want to conclude with a few words of thanks. I am trying not to get emotional. I want to thank the Clerk, Audrey O’Brien, for all the assistance she has given me. It is a huge privilege for me to serve in a Parliament with the first woman to ever hold this prestigious and very important position.

    I want to thank my staff in the constituency office, and all members know about this, because they are the front line people. They are the ones who face the sometimes angry constituents, the people who have issues around some of the government policies. They work so hard and I want thank them for all the work they have done for me over the years.

     I want to thank to my staff on Parliament Hill, without whom I know I would not have been nearly as successful as I have been over the last few years.

    I also want to thank some of the support people on the Hill: the drivers, the food services people, the postal workers, the messengers, the clerks, the interpreters, the security guards and the pages. All of these wonderful people make it possible for all of us to do our jobs. I know I could not have been nearly as effective without their help.

    I want to thank my husband, Peter, who has sometimes taken abuse because of the road I have travelled and my choice to run for political office. I know at one point, while canvassing for me on the doorstep, one angry man said to him “What kind of man are you? How do you allow your wife to do such a thing?” I know that has been tough, and it has been hard to have me away. I appreciate his support all these years.

    I want to thank my sons, Matthew, David and Stuart, their terrific partners and my seven very brilliant grandchildren.

    There are some things I will not miss. I will not miss the weekly flights from B.C. I will not miss the jet lag. However, there is much I will miss here. I will miss my colleagues on both sides of the House. I will miss the work, especially at committee where great things are sometimes accomplished.

    I wish all of my hon. colleagues in this place great wisdom and great compassion as they face the crisis that is affecting Canadians today. Finally, I want to thank the voters of New Westminster—Coquitlam for putting their faith and confidence in me.

Hon. James Moore (Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, CPC): Mr. Speaker, while the very popular member is receiving congratulations on an incredible political career as she is saying goodbye, I just want to add our best wishes to her on behalf of the Prime Minister, on behalf of the government and on behalf of a fellow tri-city resident who has taken many flights with my hon. colleague across this country over many years.

    I am very pleased to have the opportunity to say farewell to a friend, farewell in the political sense of the House. She is leaving this place but she is not leaving public service. She is seeking the nomination in an election in a provincial campaign which will be decided on May 12 of this year in British Columbia.

    Politics and public service has always been a part of the member’s life. As a matter of fact, she worked for a number of years for Pauline Jewett who was a former well-respected and well-regarded NDP member of Parliament in this place and served four terms, three of them from British Columbia. The member served in her office, serving constituents in her own way, which we all know that our staff does in a multitude of ways that only help to serve our civil society. When Pauline Jewett decided not to seek re-election, a door opened and the member stepped into it and stepped through it.

    The member was elected into the House in the campaign of 1988. She made some substantive contributions, not the least of which is the one for which she is most noted and which she mentioned in her speech. After the tragic murder of 14 women on December 6, 1989, the member passed a private member’s bill to recognize nationally the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. This year marks the 20th anniversary of that horrible tragic moment. It is a remarkable tribute that 20 years later this will not just be recognized as a local tragedy but as something the entire country needs to recognize as we all move forward to try to build a better society. That is, in part, because of the work of the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam.

    It is often very easy for these tragedies to come and go and for us to say how awful they were, but to elevate and define the greater problem, to point a light on it and to force debate and discussion is a very helpful thing. It is a remarkable tribute to a remarkable woman who has served the House in many ways with distinction.

     I have looked at the list and I have looked at the dates that she was in the House and I saw that she has had the opportunity to debate Prime Minister Joe Clark as minister, Prime Minister John Turner as opposition leader, Prime Minister Mulroney, Prime Minister Chrétien, Prime Minister Paul Martin, our current Prime Minister and, of course, to serve with Ed Broadbent, Audrey McLaughlin and Alexa McDonough in this place. A lot of Canadian history has come across this floor that she has been a witness to and in fact has been a part of in very important and very helpful ways.

    When she discussed and mentioned in her talk about the importance of civility in the House, I can say that those were not empty words. I know from personal experience. About a year ago, I had a situation in the House and that member was one of the first people to call me and to recognize that what happened was wrong.

    We have neighbouring ridings and in an election campaign a few years ago, when it was particularly nasty and personal but unnecessarily so, she went out of her way to call the opposing NDP candidate and tell the candidate to cool it. She walks her talk when it comes to civility in Canadian politics and not just in the House but elsewhere.

    I looked on the Library of Parliament website and it says that the member has served for 2,965 days. I suspect she has felt every one of those days. With those long flights to and from Vancouver, I know it is not easy spending 10-plus hours every week in a tube, in an airplane and suffering through the food, the waits and all that sort of stuff, but we all do it because we believe in service and we believe in greater values.

    When she was engaged in these debates, she would say that good strong debates in politics were a part of politics and that it was the best of politics when people had firm disagreements and disagree in thoughtful ways. She has given more than she has gotten. She has won more than she has lost.

    What is the federal NDP caucus’ loss may well be the provincial NDP caucus’ gain.

    To Peter, to Stuart, Matthew and David, and to Christopher, Ian, Meagan, Lauren, Kate, Maggie and Rebecca, “your bride, your mother, your grandma is coming home and she has earned it”.


Hon. Ujjal Dosanjh (Vancouver South, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I feel extremely honoured and privileged to have the opportunity to say a few words about the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam who is a good friend. I have known her for many decades and I had the opportunity and honour to work with her when I was the Premier of British Columbia.

    She is a great member of Parliament, a great British Columbian and a great Canadian. We have talked many times during those flights back home and, at other times, we talked about our grandchildren.

    I want to tell her, Peter and everyone else in her family that they will have her back. She will have at least 12 hours on her hands, which she used to spend on flights, to spend with her grandchildren. I have three grandchildren but she has many more. I do not know whether I will ever catch up.

    I want to tell the member that it has been an absolute delight to know her as a human being and as a friend. In a sense, she has been a friend and a guide because she was here before I was here. She has lived her principles. She has shown the breadth and depth of her commitment with the issues that she has tackled and with the vigour and determination with which she has tackled those issues.

    I know she probably thinks it will be bit of a relief to go back to British Columbia but in British Columbia politics is known as a blood sport. I do not know how much more or less civil it will be but politics in British Columbia is as exciting as ever. I know that when she goes back to British Columbia she will make a great contribution to my province and her province and will continue to make a great contribution to this country.

    I thank the member for serving us in Canada and in British Columbia.

Mr. Claude Bachand (Saint-Jean, BQ): Mr. Speaker, I would like to add my voice to those of my colleagues in thanking the hon. member for New Westminster—Coquitlam for her services to the House.

     I have been sitting for eight years now on the Standing Committee on National Defence, and my colleague has always impressed me with her bearing and the way she presents her arguments. She is a highly intelligent woman with her own particular way of presenting the issues, but she is also a woman with a big heart and great humanity, something that is extremely important in the work we do.

     This is a woman who brings all the data together and gives it a human dimension, which is indeed a character trait of many women. This is why it is important for the political world to open up to the idea of more and more women coming in to change politics, no matter the parliament in question.

     So I want to say to my colleague on the Standing Committee on National Defence that we have greatly appreciated her presence. Furthermore, politically speaking, the Bloc Québécois and I were often on the same side of the fence as she, and were often looking across at the same people on the other side of the fence. But she was always very civilized about it, with the emphasis on dialogue.

     Mention must also be made of the charisma of this woman. Although one must be careful when provoking her, because under her sweetness and charisma there lurks a veritable lioness. She is capable of baring her claws and biting. I have seen her do it. Fortunately I have not been a victim, but I have seen her do it. She is perfectly capable of defending herself, and whatever parliament she works in, I am sure she will make a great member.

     I would like to add something which I think will please her. I believe that her family, which is in attendance here, was a major factor in her decision to go back home. This too must be respected. Often members will say that they have had a very active life in politics, but have only one regret, that of not being there enough for their family. I want to thank this family for having loaned us a woman of such calibre. This must have been a great sacrifice, for they were deprived of her presence for many years.

     This return to the bosom of her family is important, and I think it must be emphasized. Politicians often need the support of their family. When we are a long way away, we find it difficult because our family is not close by. Of course we then turn to friends, but that is not the same as turning to one’s own family.

     Therefore I want to thank her husband, her children and her grandchildren for allowing us to discover this great lady of politics.

     The Bloc Québécois wishes this hon. member good luck with her career. We are eager to go and meet with her in her new parliament in British Columbia.

Hon. Jack Layton (Toronto—Danforth, NDP): Mr. Speaker, on behalf of our entire caucus and our former leaders Ed Broadbent, Audrey McLaughlin and Alexa McDonough, I offer our thanks for her extraordinary work and service to our country. Dawn Black is a courageous woman and a woman of integrity, who has worked unfailingly for her constituents of New Westminster—Coquitlam. Our thanks are heartfelt.

    I also very much appreciated the fact that the members remained in the House while we thanked my colleague. This shows the respect that all MPs have for the efforts of this extraordinary member.

   I can say that the member of Parliament, as a member of a caucus, is an extraordinary contributor. I think all of us in this chamber have participated in caucus meetings and, from the way in which the member conducts herself here, I think members can imagine that in a caucus meeting she is a very important influence for us all. She has a sense a humour, which she utilizes strategically. However, I must say that there are very few others in the caucus who command the kind of respect that the member commands when she speaks to us about important issues.

    I do not mind saying that when I asked the member if she would take on the challenge of being our spokesperson on issues of defence, she was a bit surprised. However, none of her colleagues were surprised at the recommendation, because when a country is involved in war those discussions are so important. I want to underline something that the member spoke about in her speech just a few minutes ago because she underlines it all the time with us. She says that as we discuss the issues of war and what we have asked our brave soldiers to do and all of those who work in our military, we must always remember that they are courageous, that they are our children, that they are young people in our country who are trying to make a difference and that they are motivated by the very best of what it is to be a Canadian and, therefore, no matter what debates might happen about what we ask those in the military to do, we must always stand firm in the recognition, as we do on all sides of this House, of that service. I believe that, perhaps in part, it is because she has family members who serve on the front lines and I know how proud she is of the service of her sons, for example, who she speaks about quite often.

   I can only imagine what a challenge it was, because of the emotions of the time, when the École Polytechnique massacre took place. The member worked with her colleagues in the House at that terrible time to ask what we could do to make a difference for the future, how we could take on the challenge of violence against women that the terrible attack represented. The lasting contribution that will probably stand out for so many years was her initiative that secured the support of the entire House, which is hard to do, for the declaration of a day of remembrance and action on December 6 of each and every year.

    In recognition of the work of this wonderful member of Parliament, I think we could rededicate ourselves to that issue and try to infuse into that day even more meaning. There is no question that the issue of violence against women continues to be a very serious problem, not just here in Canada but around the world.

    I should say that the member, while she was out of politics, stayed involved internationally through the Socialist International, which brings together countries from all around the world and political parties from those countries, including many governments, to take action on major issues. She focused on the issues affecting women through her work there.

    I believe the emphasis she has placed here today and has continued to place on the important role of women in politics and the need to have more women in the House of Commons and at all levels of government is so important. I want to thank her for reminding us of that today. She has given us a challenge, because we do seem to be stuck at about 20% in the House of Commons. I think we should all work towards the day when we have full representation for women in the House of Commons, and that would be 50% plus one.

    She has also participated in so many things. She is a member of the Greater Van Gogos. I am not sure that everybody knew that. The Gogos are the Canadian grandmothers who came together with the grandmothers of Africa who are now raising their grandchildren because their daughters have passed away due to the AIDS crisis in Africa. I know the Stephen Lewis Foundation played a considerable role in acting as a catalyst there. The work of these grandmothers is quite extraordinary. I know that is a cause that our member will no doubt be continuing on with.

    Because so many wonderful words have been said here today, I simply want to close with a reference to the family and staff. The staff have worked very hard. The member has had an extraordinary team working with her. Of course, her family’s support has always been there and been so solid. I can say that she is very proud of her family and we are as well.

    On behalf of New Democrats across the country, we want to wish the member of Parliament for New Westminster—Coquitlam well in her next venture. We do hope that she will be successful in it. We do hope that we will be working with her in a new capacity. We will miss her here, but her contributions are by no means reaching a conclusion. In some ways, they are just beginning.

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