Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address the House beside an empty chair. In it sat a great Canadian, a great leader and a great parliamentarian.
In this chair sat a friend, and I know that many hon. members on both sides of this esteemed House called him the same.
This House of Commons and this country have suffered an incredible loss, and it is with great sadness that we begin this new parliamentary session by paying tribute to the very hon. member for Toronto—Danforth, Jack Layton.
I know that all members join me in offering our sincere condolences to the family of our late colleague: to his wife and soulmate, the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina; to his mother Doris; to his brothers and sisters, Bob, David and Nancy; to his son Michael, his daughter Sarah and his granddaughter Beatrice, a mere mention of whom would bring a sparkle to the eyes of the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth. I want to let each of them know that they will always have our love and endless support.
I believe that the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina, Jack Layton's own member of Parliament, deserves particular recognition by the House today for her courage, grace and composure in these most difficult times. She has my utmost admiration and love.
Last week, Jack Layton's family presented me with two eagle feathers. These were feathers that he kept in his office and that were sacred to him. He often held these feathers when he had to make important decisions. They reminded him to think of the people and nature around him and to think about the impact our decisions will have on future generations.
These feathers were given to me as leader of the New Democratic Party so that Jack Layton's spirit and the wisdom that guided him may also guide our party. When I accepted these feathers, I made a commitment to his family, as I am now making a commitment to all Canadians, to always follow the path that he set out for us.
Rarely, if ever, has the House seen as passionate, tireless and committed an advocate for the less fortunate as Jack Layton. Day after day he fought for the little guy. He strove to give a voice to those without power and wealth and to ensure that as this country moved forward no one was left behind or found himself or herself homeless. In his memory, we will carry on this work.
All who knew him knew the strength of his belief that young people held the key to the gates of a better Canada and a better world. He worked tirelessly to reach out to young people, to engage them in politics and to ensure their perspectives and their best hopes for our country were reflected in our national dialogue. In Jack Layton's memory, we will carry on this work.
He was also just as determined to ensure that all new Canadians receive a warm welcome in our country and to build better relationships with our first nations communities, relationships based on respect. In Jack Layton's memory, we will carry on this work.
The hon. member for Toronto—Danforth was motivated by an unwavering belief that, by respecting the hopes and dreams of the residents of his province of birth and by focusing the debate on what unites the people of this country and what we can accomplish when we all work together, we could build a stronger and more united country with the help of Quebeckers.
His faith in this principle remained unshaken, despite the cynicism that has crept into federal politics over the past 20 years. In Jack's memory, we will carry on this work.
Jack was motivated by the goal of leaving our children and grandchildren a greener world; a world free from climate change; a world with clean land, clean rivers and fresh air; a world where people interact with nature in a sustainable manner. In Jack's memory, we will carry on this work.
Jack Layton believed so much in the power of democracy and of this Parliament. I invite all hon. members of this House to join with me in picking up his torch and making this an institution of which Canadians can be proud.
Jack Layton improved the tone of the debate in Parliament. He firmly believed we could have passionate disagreements without being disrespectful or disgraceful to each other. Let us all honour his memory by conducting the next session of Parliament in this spirit. Let us always put the interests of Canadians before our own partisan interests, as Jack Layton would want us to do.
Never was Jack more proud than when he was able to work with others across the aisle to serve Canadian families. He considered his work with his Liberal colleagues to pass a better balanced budget one of his greatest legislative legacies. He was equally proud of his work with the members opposite in securing help for more than 90,000 out-of-work families in their time of need and in making the apology for residential schools a reality. By his own words, Jack Layton was always more interested in proposition than opposition.
Let this spirit live within each of us as we get down to work for Canadians in these very tough times.
Canadians' response to Jack Layton's death demonstrated the great love they had for him. In Montreal, where he was born, in Toronto, where he lived, here in Ottawa and all across the country, Canadians gathered to celebrate his life.
The stories they shared and the messages they wrote in chalk on the pavement all had a common theme, and that theme was hope. Hope that it is possible to build a better Canada. Hope that, by working together, we can face the challenges before us. Hope that it is possible to build a stronger and more united country. Hope that, although none of us is perfect, together, there is nothing we cannot accomplish.
I hope that this will be Jack Layton's greatest legacy and that we will all commit to making his vision a reality.
There is a code which has been inscribed into the hearts of many Canadians. I would like to have it inscribed into our official records today. Let it be a motto for this country and for this esteemed House now and forevermore.
My friends, love is better than anger, hope is better than fear, optimism is better than despair; so let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic and we will change the world.