Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by recognizing my leader of the New Democratic Party, the Prime Minister, the former House leader and spokesperson for the Conservative Party and the chef du Bloc Québécois, and say thank you very much for the kind and generous words.
I must be candid here today and say the words were generous, they were kind and some of them were even accurate. If it could have been the case, my father would love to have been here to listen to those words. If my mother could have been here, she would have actually believed them.
As has already been said, normally the only occasion when we hear such words is when someone is starting here or leaving. I left once before, and I have not quite decided what will happen after hearing all these kind comments. I should threaten, I suppose that is the appropriate word, the leaders and spokespersons for the other parties. I was making careful notes about what they had to say about me. I have written them down and one of my caucus colleagues, who knows how to use these electronic gadgets, has sent them off to a printer. I am assured they could be on a leaflet in no time. I am the only member of the House of Commons who can canvass on the way home from this place. I understand it is even technically possible for me to have these leaflets available at 5 o'clock. So be warned.
I do not expect to come back. I do appreciate what has been said. To pick up on what the Prime Minister said, it has been an immense pleasure for me to have shared the life experience that goes on in this institution. As he pointed out, not as Prime Minister or as party leader but as an ordinary member of this institution, the lifeblood of a democracy is the elected body.
I have been here for the great debates of my time; on the Constitution; on the national energy program; on the War Measures Act; on the recognition of Japanese Canadians, their place in history and our unpleasant, to put it euphemistically, treatment of them historically. Many debates went to the root of what this country is all about.
I have had the great honour of being in this place first, because of the men and women in the city of Oshawa, my hometown, who elected me to be here to take part in those debates. More recent, the men and women of Ottawa Centre have honoured me with the same kind of decision.
It is a great pleasure to take part in such debates. At their best, they are vigorous because it is not just theory. For those who know me, theory is very important to me. Debates are theory translated into action. They are our values and some of them differ but they are always in the context of democracy. They get laid out on the table about the kind of society we want. The debates have been vigorous and enjoyable, and I have been honoured to be a participant in them.
If members will excuse me, I want to say in this context that I was asked not long ago if during my absence Parliament had changed somewhat, with all the lapses that come with increasing age about accurate memory and the inevitable propensity to romanticize the past.
When I was elected here Pierre Elliott Trudeau was Prime Minister of Canada and Bob Stanfield was the leader of the Conservative Party. I am not going to try to sort out the reasons for today, but it is my impression, having been here since the last election, that the tone and substance of debates have in fact changed, as has question period.
I will not attempt any kind of causal analysis of this, but the structure of our Parliament, depending upon our seating, tempts us into thinking all virtue, wisdom and truth lies on the side one happens to be on and all its opposite qualities happen to be on the other. This does contribute in some way to this kind of institutionalized conflict and causes us to forget many times.
I said in the past that, historically, Quebec is the heart of Canada. I am convinced that Bloc Québécois members, my dear colleagues from la belle province, agree with me that, for 75% of the issues, we are on the same side.
We share as members of the House; for 75% of the issues, we are on the same side or we would not be living in a liberal democracy. So often, because of the structure of this institution and particularly question period, we forget that. We tend to think that the 25% of issues that divide us, and seriously and appropriately divide us, are only what matters. What is more important in many ways as a civilized, democratic, decent country is the 75% of things we have in common.
It is a terrible thing to be both a politician and an academic, two terrible professions for wanting to give advice to others. I conclude with this thought. Those who will remain after the next election, whenever it may be, should give some serious thought to the decline in civility in the debate that has occurred in the House of Commons and which occurs daily in question period. If I were a teacher, I would not want to bring high school students into question period any longer.
There is a difference between personal remarks based on animosity and vigorous debate reflecting big differences of judgment. They should see what can be done in the future to restore to our politics in this nation a civilized tone of debate. A tone of debate, in the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, acknowledges the human decency and dignity of all other members of the House who recognize this. However we may differ, we are all human and we all have the right to have our inner dignity respected, especially in debate in the House.