Mr. Speaker, today I rise for the last time in this chamber.
It has been the honour of a lifetime for me to serve Durham in Parliament, my hometowns of Bowmanville and Port Perry, Oshawa and dozens of small towns and hamlets. However, these are just names on signposts. The real honour has been working with and learning from Durham's people—the volunteers, the young people, the civic leaders, the business leaders, indigenous leaders and first responders. It has been a joy to work with them.
I want to start my remarks by thanking my incredibly supportive and patient wife Rebecca. You are my true partner in all things, my rock and my biggest supporter. We dedicated our family to public service, and I think we made a real difference. Thank you; I love you.
I am also incredibly proud of our two children and will retain special memories of my time with them, like running in Stanley Park with Mollie and fishing for crabs on Vancouver Island with Jack. Thank you for serving Canada, and I love you too.
They are here today with my parents and one of my siblings. I want to thank all of my family for your love and support.
I want to thank my political family, my friends and family here in the Conservative caucus, my best friends from the military, from law and from the corporate world. You were with me throughout this journey. How many first-time candidates can say they had Wayne Gretzky show up at their first fundraiser? How many candidates have little platoons of veterans knocking on doors with them in every election? My success is due to you; you know who you are. Thank you very much.
I give a special thanks to my incredibly dedicated staff. The compassion from the number of people who have worked with me over the years in Durham has helped hundreds of families in our community. The incredibly bright women and men who came to work with me in Ottawa in my office as Minister of Veterans Affairs and as the leader of the official opposition often left good jobs in the private sector or elsewhere to take a chance and face immense challenge. You did this because you believed in me and in this country. Thank you. I will never forget your efforts.
I am also incredibly proud of the accomplishments we made together, both in government and in opposition. The last full sitting day of 2012 was when I first entered this chamber. Actually, it was not this chamber, but the real one up the way. I had the pleasure and honour of being escorted in as a by-election winner by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the late Jim Flaherty. Jim Flaherty was a political mentor to me and a colleague of my father's from Queen's Park, and to have my family in the audience that day as I was taking my seat for the first time is a memory I will never forget.
A few months later I had the honour to then work with my friend the hon. member for Abbotsford as his parliamentary secretary for trade, at a time when Canada had its most ambitious trade agenda in history, helping to finalize our free trade agreement with the European Union, travelling to Seoul, South Korea, to help drive home a final deal for our first free trade agreement with Asia, and while in Seoul taking the time to lay a wreath for the hundreds of Canadians who died helping that great country earn its freedom, as well as working with our friends, the United States of America and other countries in the Americas. What an exciting time for a brand new MP.
I will never forget the day I was sworn into cabinet. The memory of Mollie explaining to her three-year-old brother Jack that we were going to Rideau Hall, that it was kind of like the home of the Queen's friend in Canada, and then an hour later seeing Jack, knowing it was the Queen's friend, standing on the couch in his shoes is a memory Rebecca and I will always keep.
What an honour for a Canadian Armed Forces veteran to be able to expand mental health treatments for our veterans, to reduce wait times, to start to win trust back from a generation of Afghanistan war veterans who were already feeling forgotten.
I travelled to more Legions than anyone in Canada at that time, and I can tell the House that I was yelled at in more Legions than anyone in Canada at that time, but sometimes listening, tough talk and humility are ways to start to earn back trust.
From restoring the memory of World War I soldier and MP Sam Sharpe to expanding benefits for veterans and their families to forging friendships with the Equitas veterans who had been suing our government, I gave it my best in the time we had, and I truly believe that we made a real difference.
Getting the chance to serve as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, the party of Confederation, the party of the bill of rights, of leading the global fight against apartheid, of calling out, at an early time, the aggression of Vladimir Putin—this was the zenith of my time in politics. Given the pandemic, polarization and uncertain prospects at the time, I took that responsibility very seriously, and I do believe that we made a real difference.
I am proud of my team and the work we did for the country on the economy and on innovation, mental health and reconciliation, and I am proud of our values and our interests on the international scene. We have proposed intelligent policies for our future.
It was an honour for me, an anglophone member from Ontario, to honour the Quebec nation and participate in debates on its culture, language and identity. These debates are important to Quebec.
When I was leader, I often said that we must preserve the only francophone nation in North America. There are seven million francophones in Quebec and across the country living in an ocean of nearly 400 million people in North America. We must recognize that that is very special, and we must protect it. It is a patriotic project. It is a truly Canadian project.
I now end my time in this chamber as it began: as the member of Parliament for Durham, as a husband, as a father, as someone who believes deeply in Canada. This is why, in my final moments, in my last time in the chamber, I want to share my thoughts with my fellow parliamentarians
Over a century ago, as war raged in Europe, Prime Minister Borden said this about a Canada coming together to meet the challenges of its age: “In the awful conditions which confront the world today, why should the political future of any individual or the political fortunes of any party stand for one moment across the path of a great national purpose?”
War is again touching Europe and democracy is being strained in many parts of the world. With this in mind, all of us in this chamber must ask ourselves this question: What is our great national purpose at this critical moment in history?
There will be an important counteroffensive from Ukraine in the war this spring, and Canadian soldiers have helped train our friends in the Ukrainian army, but just last week we learned that Canadian soldiers in Latvia were forced to buy their own helmets.
This news came mere weeks after learning that the Prime Minister had told other world leaders that Canada had no intention of paying its fair share in NATO. The country that in Borden’s time secured victory at Vimy Ridge now has its soldiers buying their own kit. The country that helped draft the NATO charter is now saying it is not willing to pay and support it.
This chamber should always ensure that the men and women have the equipment they need to do the job we ask them to do and that our country never wavers from its commitment to peace, security and living up to our word. That should be our national purpose.
There are indigenous youth in Canada who voted for the first time for people here in this chamber, yet some of these Canadians have never been able to drink the water in their communities. It is our job to ensure that every child has access to clean drinking water and a fair chance to succeed in life. That should be part of our national purpose.
It takes a decade to get a pipeline built to tidewater in this country, and two decades to get a mine into operation. Canada has been slowing down at a time when the world is asking us to speed up. Getting Canadian resources to global markets, both for our economy and for our environment, should be our shared national purpose.
There are many challenges facing Canada at this time, but there are also incredible opportunities waiting to be seized. However, that is not happening today. Instead of leading, instead of debating our national purpose in this chamber, too many of us are often chasing algorithms down a sinkhole of diversion and division. We are becoming elected officials who judge our self-worth by how many likes we get on social media, but not how many lives we change in the real world. Performance politics is fuelling polarization, virtue signalling is replacing discussion, and far too often we are just using this chamber to generate clips, not to start national debates.
Social media did not build this great country, but it is starting to tear its democracy down. If we are not careful, there will soon be a generation of young voters who have never even heard a point of view different from their own. I fear that ignorance of the views of others will slowly transform into a dislike of others, and we can see that starting to happen.
Canada is a frontier country. We were built on the strength of the fur trade, a country where going hunting with our grandfather or an elder is as quintessentially Canadian as the backyard hockey rink, but today hunters are often demonized as a threat to society by politicians who know that this is not true. Whole rural swaths of our country are being held up as the problem, just to secure a few political points in the suburbs.
We are a country that sent our citizens far from our shores several times to fight for liberty alongside other countries in multilateral efforts. Canadian diplomats, including a future prime minister, helped draft the agreements built on that sacrifice to give us decades of peace and security, creating NATO, the United Nations and the Commonwealth, but today, too often, we are allowing conspiracy theories about the UN or the World Economic Forum to go unchallenged, or we attribute sinister motives to these organizations or people in a way that is simply not true or not fair. If we do this more, we are allowing others to define the debate for us and we risk allowing others to set the course for this country, because too many members on all sides of this chamber—and from time to time I have been guilty of it myself—are becoming followers of our followers when we should be leaders.
One member from the other side of the House told me that they no longer speak to their brother because of the divisive nature of the vaccine debates in the last election. Canadian families are, in some cases, finding it difficult to talk to each other about important issues. If we ever want to change this and begin to have respectful and serious discussions again, that change needs to start right here in Canada's House of Commons.
Why should the political future of any single member of the chamber or the electoral success of any one party stand in the way of our unity and of the prosperity we want to give to our children? Preserving these things and rising to meet the unique challenges facing Canada and the world today needs to be our national purpose.
As members of Parliament, we must always put the country first. We must lead and not just follow. We must strive to inspire and be careful not to incite. We must debate with insightful reason and not just tweet out of frustration. If we do not, decades in the future, Canadians will point to the current Parliament as the time when our national decline first began. However, I say to my colleagues that I do not think that will happen. I am an optimist, and I hope all members reflect on some of these things over the summer, because I believe that Canada’s best days are actually ahead of us. I believe in this great country and its people, and I believe in each of my friends. It has been an honour to serve with them.