Mr. Speaker, these past two months have taught me something about this House and its members. They taught me that one can get homesick for this place.
I return here with feelings of gratitude, with pride and confidence. I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for your constant concern throughout this difficult time. I also wish to mention the courtesy and understanding shown by the Prime Minister. His heart is in the right place. I am deeply grateful to the ministers and to the other party leaders and members of all parties who supported me with their messages of encouragement and, in so doing, perpetuated a tradition of compassion that is a credit to this House. I applaud this ability to rise above the many differences we may have, even in the midst of a debate that is about the future of Canada, no less.
Also, Mr. Speaker, it should come as no surprise to you that during the anxious days that brought me these expressions of sympathy, I felt very close to all of you.
At this point I want to thank from the bottom of my heart my friends and colleagues in the Bloc Quebecois caucus. They behaved like a family that, when one of its members is hurt, summons the courage and dignity to carry on. I want to say how much I appreciate their wonderful solidarity and the tremendous job they have done during my absence.
I am also deeply grateful for the thousands of expressions of encouragement I received from my fellow citizens. I must say I felt strengthened and comforted by their prayers and best wishes.
My illness gave me first-hand knowledge of how our health care system works. I have the greatest admiration for and am deeply grateful to the doctors and other caregivers at the Saint-Luc Hospital in Montreal who saved my life and those at the rehabilitation institute in Montreal who helped me learn to walk again. Their dedication and competence have reinforced my commitment to protecting and improving our social programs.
And so today we answer the call of duty and again take up the mandate that was given to us by the people.
Yes, I have been looking forward to this moment since a certain day in December when technology and destiny combined to give me another chance. If the rallying cry of democracy is stand up and be counted, I respectfully ask to be counted.
I have so much to remember, the sympathy and compassion from this and every other quarter, from Quebec and from the whole of Canada, from friends and strangers alike. In such circumstances who is really a stranger? I remember a yellow rose, a gracious gesture by a gracious lady.
In our moments of anguish my family and I were not alone. This we shall never forget. Our gratitude goes to all of those who offered us their thoughts and their prayers.
We come back to this Chamber with a renewed hunger for life. Time is so precious and there is so much left to do. And so we will concentrate on the more important things and give the best we can. Quebecers and Canadians alike can expect your faithful servant to remain true to his convictions and values, for our convictions may clash, as they do and will, but we share the same values of tolerance and respect for democracy; values that are tragically in short supply in a large part of the world. Where others fight with bullets, we fight with ballots, with arguments, with facts, with emotions and it should always be with respect for those who believe differently from us.
Let us never forget our common humanity. Let us never disallow our common need to reach out to one another so that in our times of suffering, of solitude, even despair, we can take comfort in the knowledge that in spite of our differences we share the same compassion.
There will no doubt be heated exchanges in the weeks and months ahead. At the end of the day we will remember the intensity of our debates and the passion that suffused them. It is my fondest hope that we will also recall that civility prevailed and that outside this Chamber men and women of every persuasion will proudly be able to say they profoundly disagreed but they were, all of them, men and women of peace and honour.
I also mentioned the word pride, and indeed I am proud to be standing here with you in this House, where we were sent by our fellow citizens.