Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister most of all will understand if I divert from my remarks to respond to the glancing reference by the member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast to my glancing period as prime minister. That's it, John. The deal is off.
You will know, Mr. Speaker, that the Prime Minister and I have had our disagreements. You also will know that in our most recent skirmishes, I won some debating points and he won another general election.
The Prime Minister knows that I think power has changed him, and we would disagree about that too. However what is beyond question is that he has proven himself tough enough, shrewd enough and able to win and hold that power, in his party and in his country, in a way that has very few parallels in our history.
Something else that is beyond question is his patriotism. I think the Prime Minister has been wrong on some fundamental questions about our country, and we have fought in the House, historic fights, but never for a moment have I doubted his passionate commitment to Canada.
That commitment is not abstract or intellectual. It comes, as the book says, straight from the heart. It is palpable and powerful and part of what has made him seem so real and so genuine to ordinary people across the country, and, unfortunately, so popular.
One of the reasons I welcome his retirement, just one of the reasons, is that I know his successor, whatever his strengths might prove to be, will never strike that personal chord with the people of this country.
A little more than a decade ago, the Prime Minister came with me to Yellowhead, when I had the privilege of representing that constituency here. For 20 years I had done everything I could to ensure that his party was unpopular there, and it was, but sadly, he was not. I watched the people of Drayton Valley treat this guy as though he was their next door neighbour, and I got him out of town just as soon as I could.
What is remarkable about the Prime Minister, at least before power changed him, is that he could have been the next door neighbour, anywhere in Canada. It is not just that he felt at home. Canadians feel at home with him, and that is a real and personal tribute.
In particular, I want to emphasize his commitment to two major issues that politicians tend to avoid. The first is the status of aboriginals in Canada; the second is Africa and its challenges. First let me say that, in my opinion, the Prime Minister has not always been right with regard to these issues, but we disagree on policies, not intentions.
He could easily not have focused on either issue, like most people; however, he decided to take an interest in these areas. I am among those who hope that he will continue to show leadership in this regard once he retires.
However challenging his public life has been, the Prime Minister was never in it alone. He has been often lucky in life, and most of all, in being married to Aline Chrétien.
Maryon Pearson, who was also married to a prime minister, once said something like, behind every great man there is a truly astonished woman. Maureen quotes that observation to me regularly, although she doesn't say “behind”.
Anyone who knows the Chrétiens can see that they have a strong and very loving marriage. This is the kind of people they are.
Aline Chrétien also leads a public life, and she has always been gracious, strong and courteous. She has done us proud. She did not choose to be in the public eye, unlike the rest of us, but she has embodied the noblest of values. For this, Canada owes her a great debt of gratitude.
The member for Saint-Maurice first came to this Parliament 40 years ago. Virtually nobody knew his name. I have had the same problem. It lasted longer than 20 years.
Even then some of his colleagues sensed his talents: his intuition, his ability to connect with people, his passion about issues that interested him. They gave him opportunities. He seized them. He always did.
This Prime Minister earned his way to high office. Time and again, he did the heavy lifting. Time and again, he took hard decisions which Canadians in the end supported.
Sometimes his opponents made victory easier than we should have, but that takes nothing away from the skill and toughness and determination the Prime Minister has always shown.
The tributes here today are to a man. But in a larger sense this is a Canadian story, a Canadian success story, about a democracy where ambition and ability and accomplishment can prevail.
On behalf of my colleagues, my party, my family, my country, I thank the Prime Minister for his service and wish him great success in years to come.