Mr. Speaker, I must begin by saying that today is an exception to my usual practice. I have to tell you I accept the premise of each and every word spoken in the House today.
I want to thank the House most sincerely for this unique honour bestowed upon me today in allowing me to be in the House of Commons when it is in session, inside the bar of the House, and to be able to speak even though I am no longer a member.
I must say that I am delighted that none of the people who have spoken have ever had to join me outside the bar of the House for words spoken or not spoken but, as I said, I appreciate their remarks very much and I appreciate very much the honour bestowed upon me.
I have to thank the constituents of Windsor West, the people who elected me 13 times in a row, the people who saw something in me beyond the fact that I was the standard bearer for a party and a leader. I have to thank the hundreds and hundreds of people who came forward to work with me to help me get elected and re-elected, people young and old, new people who were not around when I first ran only yesterday.
I must also say that I owe so much to my family for their love and support, particularly my wife and children, because what they have done has made this record of achievement possible.
I have to say that my family life was not interrupted or turned aside by my political life. It actually grew out of my political life. It was inspired by my political life.
I have to mention just one evidence of this, and that was only yesterday in 1964. I met the lady who was to become my wife at a young Liberal Party reception in room 209 of the West Block.
I want to propose here today, and perhaps I can make a formal motion since I am already inside the bar of the House, that the commissioners of internal economy agree to put a plaque on the wall of room 209 of the West Block to mark and recognize that historic occasion because, as my wife always said, things started happening for me only after we got married.
I want to go on to thank the people I worked with in the Liberal caucus and the Liberal Party. They have not only been colleagues but friends. I also want to recognize the friendship of people on the opposition side of the House. I want to thank them particularly for giving me such wonderful raw material to use in my answers and my speeches.
They were a great help to me in my efforts to support the government. The Bloc Quebecois, for example, supported Canadian institutions most actively, and I must thank them before I leave.
I cannot give examples of what I am talking about in terms of raw material, but actually it is only a rumour that I did not answer the questions. I answered them but the opposition parties were not willing to listen.
I want to thank the Liberal prime ministers who enabled me to work on behalf of my constituents and on behalf of all Canadians as a member of their cabinets. I want to pay special tribute to the Prime Minister, the member from Shawinigan, for asking me to become the first full time deputy prime minister and allowing me to give meaning and substance to something that before was only a title added on to another responsibility.
I am very proud of the fact that because of the support from the Prime Minister in my giving meaning and substance to the position when my successor was announced it was considered and is a great promotion.
I am also proud of the fact that I occupied a premier parliamentary post as leader of the opposition. I thank my colleagues of that day, for example the current Liberal caucus chairman and the Right Hon. John Turner, for that. I also have to thank the Governor General for the rare distinction of being named the right honourable. Being named the right honourable in our system is quite marvellous.
I want to say that in serving as leader of the opposition, in serving as the first full time deputy prime minister, I did so as someone who is the first generation of his immediate family to be born in Canada. My parents came to this country from Eastern Europe, from Belarus, as Jewish immigrants in search of freedoms and opportunities not available to them in the land of their birth. They found those opportunities here. Like so many other families who form part of our great Canadian family, they made a wonderful contribution and enabled me to serve my community and my country in the House of Commons and in the Government of Canada in so many wonderful ways.
I mention this not in any vain sense but only because it indicates something of the story of Canada. My story is also the story of millions of other people who make up the story of Canada. The history of my family is part of the history of those who make up the great Canadian family building together what so far is the only truly successful multicultural and pluralistic country in the world. We have done this together. We have been building what Sir Wilfrid Laurier said 100 years ago was to be a Canada united in its diversity.
Each of us brings our respective heritage to add and form part of the great Canadian heritage. My Jewish heritage has inspired me in my work as a member of parliament and as a minister. I have always been inspired by the words of the Hebrew prophets when they called out for us to do judgment and justice, when they called out for us to do judgment for the afflicted and the needy.
These are part of what has kept me so interested and involved and committed in parliamentary and public life for all these years. In working in the House of Commons with all of you and others who are not here, I want to say that this has meant that we together are building the framework for the kind of country we want, a country where individual initiative counts but is partnered with the organized community through government bringing forward values of concern and compassion.
One thousand years ago a great Jewish sage said in the book of the Talmud, Pirke Aboth: Sayings of the Fathers, “Pray for the welfare of the government because without it, men would swallow each other alive”. These wise words are relevant today. These words are also relevant in terms of our parliamentary institutions and how they form part of government today.
There are people who say that the House of Commons is no longer relevant and meaningful. I do not agree with them. One example for me to make my point is to go back to when we first took office in 1993 and we set up the present prebudget process giving a new meaning to consultation in the key part of the work of the House of Commons and parliament.
There are those who would say that things are not getting done, that things take too long. Pierre Elliott Trudeau said:
A country, after all, is not something you build as the pharaohs built the pyramids, and leave standing there to defy eternity. A country is something that is built every day out of certain basic shared values.
Pierre Elliott Trudeau also said:
--if the Canadian nation must survive, it will only survive in mutual respect and in love for one another.Each of you, each of us, must work toward that goal with our every fibre in the reality of our daily lives.
Mr. Speaker, if our parliamentary institutions, in particular this House of Commons, is to be relevant and to have meaning, then I call upon you to do your work in the spirit of the words of Sir Wilfrid Laurier when in a parliamentary debate he said “So long as I have a position in this House, so long as I occupy the position I do now, whenever it shall become my duty to take a stand on any question whatsoever, that stand I will take upon grounds that can appeal to the consciences of all, upon grounds which can be occupied by all who love justice, freedom and toleration”.