Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today in this House to pay tribute to a fellow Albertan, and an outstanding parliamentarian and public servant, the right hon. member for Calgary Centre, the man from High River.
Although we have spent years on opposite sides of the House, no one can but have enormous respect for the member's commitment to this place and his profound belief in the importance of the democratic discourse that takes place here. Because of that commitment, the right hon. member displayed on a daily basis his love of language and his understanding of its power; its power to inform, to elevate and to inspire, and at times, dare I say, its power to irritate, to exasperate and to move to anger.
Some have said that the hon. member was able to say more in 35 seconds than others could say in 35 minutes. It is perhaps not surprising that the right hon. member understands the power of language.
He is the son and grandson of newspaper owners and his mother was a French teacher. I am told that as a young man he considered a career in journalism. Indeed, he was the editor of the student newspaper, the Gateway at the University of Alberta.
As a student he quickly became involved in his lasting passion, politics. I understand that at the university he debated vigorously the issues of the day with fellow students, such as Jim Coutts, Preston Manning and Senator Joyce Fairbairn. By the late 1960s, the right hon. member had decided to make politics his career. He worked for some time as a speech writer for the late hon. Robert Stanfield.
The right hon. member was first elected to Parliament in 1972, becoming leader of the Progressive Conservative Party in 1976 and Prime Minister in 1979. He left elected politics in 1993 but returned as leader of the Progressive Conservatives in 1998. His commitment to progressive conservatism has never wavered.
As minister of external affairs, the right hon. member represented our country with distinction around the world. I want to particularly note the important role he played, and our country played, in bringing an end to apartheid in South Africa.
While he served as the minister responsible for constitutional affairs between 1991 and 1993, the right hon. member's commitment was obvious throughout the country, as he worked tirelessly to bring about constitutional reform through the Charlottetown accord.
While the Charlottetown accord was not finally accepted by Canadians, no one could ever doubt this right hon. member's commitment to a strong and united Canada where policies like official bilingualism are at the heart of who we are and what we aspire to be.
As we all know, the right hon. member has never stopped working on behalf of Canadians, both in and outside the House, either in an official party or not. For example, yesterday he asked a key question about the government's commitment to the fight against HIV-AIDS in this country.
It will be 25 years ago this week that the right hon. member became Prime Minister of Canada.
On behalf of the Prime Minister, the Government of Canada and all Canadians, I wish to thank the right hon. member, his wife, Maureen McTeer, and his daughter, Catherine, for their selfless, courageous and inspiring commitment to this country and its people.
Mr. Speaker, the member had the honour to lead the political party that was there at the founding of our country.