Mr. Chair, as always, when I get up here, there is a standing ovation.
This has been quite a journey, which started during the summer of 2003 while my wife Ann and I were driving across the Prairies. I remember it clearly. It was at dinner in Medicine Hat when I mentioned to Ann that I was thinking of seeking the NDP nomination in the 2004 election. I remember her response, “I think you are crazy, but I support you”. I believe she regrets those words to this day.
My next step was to check with my friends, Ed and Katrine Conroy. Ed was a former MLA and Katrine is currently our MLA. They said, “Go for it”.
My final blessing came from the president of our local riding association, Lily Popoff, who said, “Would you please run?” Although I lost in 2004, I was successful in 2006.
The privilege of serving as an MP has undoubtedly been the most enriching and rewarding experience of my life. I am extremely fortunate to have known our former leader, Jack Layton, and remember many interesting conversations we had over the years. We even went jogging together during one of my campaigns when he was in Castlegar with Olivia.
I would like to pay tribute to all of my NDP caucus colleagues, both past and present. A number of us remember the days when caucus meetings would take place around a table. I have never worked with such a dedicated and committed group of people. Many have been committed to social justice for decades. I wish all of those who are retiring this year the best of health and happiness as they adjust to what we call a normal life.
I must also admit that it has been and continues to be an honour for me to work with them. As members know, 2011 was a time of great change for our party.
I would like to thank all of my new colleagues, particularly my younger colleagues, for their passion and their commitment to building a better Canada.
My friends from Quebec, I really enjoyed the conversations we had at the parliamentary restaurant after the votes. I will truly miss you.
I would especially like to mention our leader. I really appreciate his leadership and especially the fact that he was always available to listen to me and to read the many articles I sent him over these past few years. I am very happy that he is here.
I also want to thank my MP colleagues from all parties who have treated me with respect over the years. I have had the pleasure of getting to know some of them a little more, for example, during trips with the agriculture committee and during my two trips abroad. We do not do enough of that, getting together and socializing with our colleagues.
I would also like to recognize the government front bench. There have been numerous occasions when I have approached ministers directly here in the House as a last resort on behalf of my constituents when all else had failed. They have been very gracious and respectful of my concerns and have taken the time to follow up with their officials. I thank them for this.
I have enjoyed working here in Parliament. There is a very high degree of professionalism everywhere we look. I would first like to thank our interpreters who are always here for us, not only in the House but at each committee and caucus meeting. They are very good at what they do. As a former interpreter, I understand the difficulty and complexity of their work and hope that all members assist them by giving them copies of their speeches well ahead of time.
I would like to wish all of the pages the best in their future endeavours. These dynamic and fluently bilingual university students are a pleasure to be with. I thank them for their service.
If I may use military terminology, I often liken our position as MPs to being on the front line. However, without our support staff, life here would be impossible. I thank all of the staff here in the House and all who make Parliament function smoothly, the clerks, researchers, recorders, postal workers, library staff, and all other support staff.
As you know, Mr. Chair, the work that you do here in the House is not easy, particularly when the debates get a bit heated. I would therefore like to sincerely thank you, your colleagues and the other speakers for your patience.
As a former schoolteacher, I know what life can be like when we are in front of an unruly class of energized students.
You are very understanding.
Also, in spite of the tragic incident last October, I have always felt safe working here on the Hill. The members of our security staff are very professional and truly amazing in how they are able to recognize each and every one of us by name. I thank them as well as the dedicated RCMP officers for their service.
I have a special place in my heart for all the staff upstairs in our parliamentary restaurant. I will truly miss not being able to go up to the sixth floor after votes and be greeted by what I call true professionals as I partake in the daily evening buffet with my Quebec colleagues. It has been a pleasure spending time in the restaurant with my server friends. I only wish they could be assured of full-time employment even when the House is not in session. It is not a very comfortable position to be in when they lose their job when the House rises. Would it be possible, for example, to keep this great restaurant open to staff and tourists in the summer? It could be a win-win situation. I ask the next government to take a serious look at this possibility.
I would also like to recognize the work of the staff in our whip's office and in our leader's office. They are extremely knowledgeable and professional. I really enjoyed working with them during my time here in Parliament. I hope that they will continue their work after the election, but that this time they will be working for the government.
I also want to thank all those who work in our cafeterias, particularly in the Confederation Building. It was very nice to see them every week.
I want to thank all of the support staff, those who keep our workplace clean and in good repair.
Finally, all of us are here because of the support we have received in our ridings. My sincere thanks go out to all members and supporters who have made it possible for me to have this honour. It is truly amazing to observe the behind-the-scenes work that goes on during election campaigns. It is quite a humbling experience to see the efforts that go on to elect us to office. Democracy is alive and well.
It has truly been an honour to serve all constituents of British Columbia Southern Interior, regardless of their political affiliation. In fact, after the election, I made it a point to forget who belongs to which party. I would like to single out my provincial and local government colleagues for all their co-operation as we have worked together for the benefit of our constituents. I have always attempted to consult them prior to advancing federal issues on their behalf, or sometimes even wading in on provincial and municipal issues. I wish them all the best as they continue to work on behalf of those they represent.
I would like to take this time to pay tribute to the former mayor of Osoyoos and MLA, John Slater. It was always a pleasure to work with him. He will be missed. May his soul rest in peace.
Sometimes people ask me how I put up with all the nonsense in the House. First, I say that just as in teaching high school, a good night's sleep and a sense of humour certainly help. However, most important of all it is all those committed people who are fighting for social justice right across the country. When I meet with them, it is as if I recharge my batteries. It has truly been an honour to represent their views in Parliament. I have met with citizens concerned about world peace, Canada's involvement in war, protection of the environment, food sovereignty, poverty, Canada Post, smart metres, women's rights, international development and many other issues. It is amazing to see how many people, both in my riding and across the country, are consistently engaged in working to improve the lives of others.
When I was the Agriculture critic for our party, I was in regular contact with many organizations representing farmers as well as those concerned about GMOs, horse slaughter, international trade and food sovereignty. It was always a pleasure to meet with their representatives and to listen to their concerns.
Finally, I would like to recognize my staff, those dynamic women who point me in the right direction and tell me what to say: Jennifer Ratz in Ottawa; Lilly Zekanovic in Oliver; and Margaret Tessman, Gina Petrakos, and Gail Hunnisett in Castlegar. Thanks to their dedication and persistent efforts, my office has been able to assist many constituents over the course of the past nine years. It will be sad not to be able to spend time with these dedicated individuals when I retire.
I would also like to thank others who have worked in my office since I was first elected in 2006. I wish them all the very best in their future endeavours.
A number of people have asked me what I plan to do when I retire. My answer is, nothing. It is my plan to spend time at home with my wife Ann, our two cats and hopefully a new dog. There is wood to chop, flowers to plant and music to play. I guess that is what retirement is all about.
I wish everyone here in Ottawa all the best.
I thank the people of British Columbia Southern Interior for having given me the honour to serve my country as their representative for the past nine years.