Mr. Speaker, I want to address you and my colleagues. It is with great emotion that I announce today that after July 12, I will no longer be the federal member for Willowdale.
While this is a very difficult decision for me, we all know a law was passed that would see an election in the fall of 2009. As my good friend and colleague, the hon. member for Toronto Centre, said yesterday, I feel this is the best option we have for renewal and for the voices of tomorrow to be heard in this august chamber.
For the right hon. Prime Minister, while I respectfully understand the calling of a byelection is his sole prerogative, I can assure him that the people of Willowdale will stand behind him if he chooses to do so.
It was a great privilege and a great honour for me to have served in the national capital under this Prime Minister and to have represented the people of Willowdale.
There have been many highlights. I am proud that in 1982, as parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice, the Right Hon. Jean Chrétien, I was able to help pass Criminal Code changes that created the offence of sexual assault and ensured that a woman's previous relationships could no longer be put on trial.
As chair of the finance committee in 1993, the very first duty assigned to me by the prime minister was to find a way to honour our election commitment to replace the GST. We looked at over 20 alternatives and we found one. The conclusion was that we would harmonize the federal sales tax with the provinces. We would have tax included pricing and, most important, we would change the name to the national value added tax.
I can say that former Prime Minister Chrétien was not very happy but former Prime Minister Mulroney was.
The finance minister at the time, the member for LaSalle—Émard, instituted pre budget consultations by the finance committee which continue to this day and have been adopted by other legislatures in Canada and abroad. Our reports were long and scholarly and, as I was so often assured, they were, perhaps sometimes, read by someone in finance.
Secretary of state for financial institutions was an active stint. It included foreign bank branching, a five year review of the Bank Act which resulted in the longest bill to ever hit Parliament, the deneutralization of our insurance companies, FINTRAC to counter money laundering, major reforms to the office of the ombudsman and four major financial institution mergers without a public furor.
I want to say that our financial institutions in Canada are among our leading corporations and many are global champions. I believe mergers will help our banks remain competitive and that these mergers can be engineered without major job losses or branch closings, as evidenced by the TD Canada Trust merger. We should not fear bank mergers.
As minister of international trade, I received incredible support from the prime minister at the time, the member for LaSalle—Émard, to develop and implement a commercial strategy, not just for the U.S., EU and others, but especially for the Brazils, Russias, Indias and Chinas. We see the strategy being continued today but I believe there is urgency in bringing greater resources and efforts to bear.
I visited China three times and India twice, as well as Russia and Brazil. The prime minister at the time, the member for LaSalle—Émard, was a huge help with these BRICK countries. We visited them and opened doors for Canadians that only a prime minister can open.
India is especially dear to me. Last Saturday night in Toronto, I met with Kamal Nath, India's industry minister. He is a great leader, politician, statesman and friend. Later on in the evening, Heather and I attended the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce dinner where he was a keynote speaker, along with someone else from this House. It was a splendid event.
I remember not only fruitful bilateral dealings with Minister Nath, but our work at the WTO. I especially recall going three days without sleep as we worked in the green room in Geneva at the end of July. It was hot and there was no air conditioning. We opened the windows but there were no screens. Millions of mosquitoes joined us inside but, nevertheless, we achieved a framework agreement for Doha.
Today, success in this realm seems illusive. However, I leave this House believing that a successful outcome of the Doha round is critical. It must be about development and, most important, only the WTO can rein in the obscene agricultural subsidies that we find in the U.S. and in the EU. Bilateral and regional deals will not do it.
Life in the public eye has had some precious moments. A few days after the same sex vote in this House, I was scheduled to attend the laying of a cornerstone at a convent, something I faced with great trepidation. The Mother Superior met me at the gate and said, “Jim, thank you for what you did”. I asked her what she was talking about. She replied, “Your vote for same sex marriage”. I told her that she had to be kidding. She said, “No, Jim, Jesus would want us to be inclusive”.
I am very proud of the parishioners of Newtonbrook United Church who have donated a huge, expensive property at Young and Cummer, raised the money and built 52 affordable housing units. This is a shining example of what more of us might do to help others.
I recall the time I worked long and hard to get a young man with severe disabilities into a proper facility that could cope with his needs. During the next election, I called at the family's door and asked if I could put up a sign. He replied, “No, I am not Liberal”. As members in this House know, one's best efforts are not always met with a reward but that is not the reason that we make those efforts.
There are so many to whom I am grateful. I want to thank the involved, caring and committed people of Willowdale who made my public years possible. To the officers and employees of this House, I thank them for being unfailingly helpful. To the many public servants at finance, trade and elsewhere, I thank them. They are among the hardest working and ablest people I know. To our extended family of outstanding staffers over the years, to whom I owe so much—would it be in order to recognize them in the gallery?