Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in this tribute to a man who, for over 30 years, spanning four decades, has dedicated his life to serving the public interest.
Canada is a complex country. It has been said that if other countries suffer from having too much history, Canada has too much geography. All that geography makes our great country a place in which diverse and sometimes divergent views and interests coexist and in fact flourish.
Throughout his political career, the right hon. member for Calgary Centre strove to understand that diversity and bridge those divides.
The son of a newspaper man from High River, Alberta, it would have been easier for him to be a man of his roots. Instead, he became a man of the world, always reaching out to the other, whoever the other happened to be.
The right hon. member learned to speak both of Canada's official languages. He named the first woman to serve as foreign affairs minister and the first black cabinet minister. He has always been an ardent supporter of human rights. He fought Canada's fight against South African apartheid. He was instrumental in Canada securing an acid rain treaty with the United States, and he welcomed the Vietnamese boat people.
The constitutional accord he negotiated would have, for the first time, recognized aboriginal peoples in our basic law. In each case there was a political risk and a political price to pay.
Not all of these initiatives were in fact successful but together they speak to his unwavering commitment to make this country a place anyone can call home, no matter their history, no matter their background.
He spoke of Canada as a community of communities long before the concept was fashionable. Indeed, our recent history has shown how truly prescient his vision was.
When I was young, I observed the right hon. member, who served our country as party leader, prime minister and then secretary of state for foreign affairs. He played a role, in a number of ways, in my decision to enter politics. His commitment to Canada and his protection of the public interest are an inspiration to us all.
Too often political pundits, media commentators describe what we do in this chamber in terms of winners and losers. That is, of course, important to our system. At its core, our system is in fact adversarial. It starts, after all, after an election, but that, dear friends and colleagues, does not tell the whole story.
At its best, politics is about making the big play in the interest of Canada. In an age of careful political leadership and government by opinion poll, the right hon. member for Calgary Centre stands out as a man who in every circumstance tried to make the big play.
Far removed from the back rooms, focus groups and polling questionnaires, he had a vision and he made his case to Canadians in public places, but more often than not in this House of Commons. He is a fierce opponent in question period and a formidable debater. On occasion, Mr. Speaker, you may have recognized that he is capable of being a tad partisan as well, but his motives were never in question. At all times and in all things he was motivated by the desire to make Canada a better place.
I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to acknowledge his wife and partner in this long political journey, Maureen McTeer, and my friend, Catherine. Political life, as we know it, is hard on families: long hours, time away, stress and hectic schedules, but their approach has always been a team approach. His achievements are their achievements as well.
This House of Commons and indeed this country will always be in the right hon. member's debt, both for the things he did and for the things for which he stood. He has taught me a great deal about the country that we serve and I think we all collectively are better parliamentarians for having known him.
Thank you, Joe.