Madam Speaker, I want to speak today to indicate my support for Bills C-48 and C-43. Before I go on, I want to talk a bit about what was just said. In other words, just like at the beginning of this Parliament, the political parties passed a motion to amend the motion to adopt the throne speech. Why? Because it was the best way for all parties to reach a consensus to ensure the smooth operation of this Parliament. We are currently debating Bill C-48, improving support for the House of Commons, but which makes this Parliament operate in accordance with the demands of Canadians.
I want to talk about the months ahead. Nearly 39 years ago, on October 25, 1966, I came to Parliament Hill. My arrival was far from glorious. I was not a minister's chief of staff or an officer of the table here. I was assigned to a table, but it was as a busboy in the parliamentary restaurant. After many promotions, I learned what parliamentarians did, work I continue to respect. I admired the dedication of those who sat in this House back then and represented their constituents. I told both my amused co-workers—I was laughed at on occasion—and myself that, one day, I too would be a member of this House.
Thanks to the people of Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, my political career began in 1976, when I was elected to the municipal council. I had run but been defeated in 1974. Thanks to them again, I was re-elected in 1978 and 1980. Again, thanks to my constituents, I was elected as an Ontario MPP and served at Queen's Park in Toronto, starting in 1981. Finally, I was elected to the House of Commons in 1984 and re-elected in 1988, 1993, 1997, 2000 and 2004, thanks yet again to my constituents.
Former prime minister Jean Chrétien appointed me to his cabinet in 1996. Thanks to him I remained in cabinet until 2003. For this I thank him from the bottom of my heart, but it is thanks to the voters of Glengarry—Prescott—Russell that I am an MP and therefore eligible to be a minister because, of course, defeated candidates are seldom appointed to cabinet or to anything else.
The good book Ecclesiastes tells us:
To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted.
Today I announce to this House, as I did to my constituents, that I will not be a candidate in the next general election, whenever it is called. I hope that the present Parliament lasts for a long time yet because I am convinced that the people of Canada, to whom we are accountable, do not want an election at this time. They want us to work together in this Parliament, as the hon. member who spoke immediately before me said, to defend their interests and to make Canada an even better place in which to live.
Whenever the election is held, it is important for me as a partisan parliamentarian and as a representative of my people to ensure that we choose the best Liberal candidate worthy of the support of the electors of Glengarry—Prescott—Russell.
I thought I would announce that ahead of any possible election call in order to ensure that we could have a good nomination convention to choose the right person who eventually, although I hope it is not immediately, will be called upon to go to the people and hopefully to be elected.
Last week, my wife Mary Ann was here and came on two occasions in hopes of hearing this speech. I thank her for all she has done, and I also thank my two children, Daniel and Julie, both public servants now and previously ministerial staff. I greet their respective partners, Paule and Richard, and express my gratitude for all their help and support throughout this long career in politics. I thank them for supporting my decision, although I am sure it will take a while to really sink in for them, and even for me. Although they are not yet aware of their contribution, I thank all four of my grandchildren whose presence in my life has helped me remember what is really important.
Democracy exists because of the contribution in time, energy and personal funds by the volunteers who help people get elected to various democratic institutions, this House of Commons in particular. They must be encouraged, celebrated and recognized by all political parties, particularly in these turbulent times, when some of the volunteers who have supported us— and I do not mean this as a partisan remark—are sometimes faulted for having given of their time and energy to causes in which they believe strongly.
We must encourage our young people in particular to get involved, to volunteer for a political party, to study the history of this wonderful and vast country, to do their civic duty, and to run as candidates. By definition, our young people will be around a lot longer than you and I will. I have had an extraordinary opportunity and recommend it highly to others. I know there are those who leave this institution with some bitterness, but not I. This is as great a day for me as my first day in this place. Like Edith Piaf, I must say, “Non, je ne regrette rien”, I have no regrets.
To the executive of the Glengarry—Prescott—Russell federal Liberal Association, under the able direction of René Berthiaume and Arlette Castonguay, I owe a debt of gratitude and I would ask them to continue to serve the process of democracy through a smooth transition. I would encourage them to make a careful choice of a good Liberal candidate who will represent us ably and, I hope, win the election.
I wish to express my loyalty to the Prime Minister of Canada and solicit his support in helping us chose the best candidate for our region.
I have a few words now for my successor, whoever he or she may be. I ask them to continue to support agriculture, specifically supply management, to continue to work to improve our recreational trails for the pleasure of the people of my riding, to continue working on the eastern Ontario economic renewal program to keep our region prosperous, to protect the Alfred bog, a heritage site of ecological significance worldwide. In addition, I would ask my successor to celebrate the linguistic duality and the plurality that make us strong. Our region is what Canada should be: strong, united, diversified, bilingual, tolerant. We must be proud of this heritage and optimistic about the future.
To my campaign directors over the years, Roy Murray, André Tessier, Sergine-Rachel Bouchard and Bill Woods and their team, I offer my thanks for these successes. An election campaign is not an end in itself. It is the start of the job of representing the public, at the risk of saying what former MP Alexandre Cyr once told me: you always have to ask yourself what will happen if you win, because being elected means getting a job done and carrying out responsibilities.
I want to thank everyone who has worked for me over the past three decades and who has enabled me to help my electors and the people of Canada in general.
I want to thank the people working for me now, including Louise Guertin, the dean of my employees for 24 years, Helen Horvath, Luce Payer, Julie Chartrand, Mathieu Dupont, JoAnn Blondeau and Dobrija Milicevic.
Countless interns and volunteers have worked in my office over the years, including Jonathan Manes and Greg Lancop who assist me now. Without them I would not have served my electors nor my country nearly as well.
It has been a long and sometimes winding road altogether but overall a wonderful experience. My constituents and I cried at the closure of the CIP mill in my riding. We laughed and rejoiced at the openings of the Highland Games. We smiled at the opening of new bridges. We mourned in the aftermath of the fire in which we lost the Angus Grey Hall in Maxville. We travelled on buses to Montreal to keep Canada together in 1995. We shivered through the ice storm in 1998. We applauded the visits of prime ministers and led efforts of generosity such as Hay West to help our fellow citizens in western Canada.
I have had five party leaders in my long career: Stuart Smith and David Peterson in Ontario and the Right Hon. John Turner, the Right Hon. Jean Chrétien and the current Prime Minister. I thank all of them.
I want to tell my colleagues in both houses of Parliament what a privilege it has been to know them all. I ask them to be very tough in holding governments accountable while respecting each other in this great institution. Love this great institution as I have loved it and always will.
Parliament here, and in the United Kingdom where it is 900 years old, is greater than any one of us. I only hope that I can work in the House and its committees and particularly its parliamentary associations for a while yet.
To the members of the media, with whom elected officials have a stormy relationship, I say thank you for putting up with me, especially when I lost patience with them and when parliamentary procedure was involved. I would ask them respectfully to learn the rules of Parliament, so vital in a democracy. They will find it is not a bad thing to learn procedure.
On November 9, 1984 I gave my first speech in the House, in which I said:
I have the utmost respect for this institution, Sir, and as I said, I worked here previously [as an employee]. I was a member of the Legislative Assembly of our great Province of Ontario, and I was a member on three different occasions of a municipal council. I believe, as my Leader very correctly said only a few days ago, that no greater honour can be paid to a Canadian than to be elected to the forum of this nation. I believe it was our Prime Minister (Mr. Mulroney) who said it is a great country when a truck driver can aspire to be Prime Minister. I would like to think that this is not a bad place where a busboy in the Parliamentary Restaurant can some day return [to this place] as a Member of Parliament.
I hope to say something more about this in the future in my book, which maybe to no one's surprise, will be entitled Busboy: From Kitchen to Cabinet .
Former prime minister John Diefenbaker once said that there was no greater honour and no greater privilege for a Canadian than to serve in the highest court in the land, the Parliament of Canada. I have been lucky enough to serve in this high court for 21 years, making me now the dean of Liberal MPs in the House of Commons. I am proud for the honour given to me by the voters of Glengarry—Prescott—Russell to whom I will be grateful forever.