Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak this evening. More than anything, I appreciate the opportunity I have had to serve in the House. I wanted to tell my story of how I got here and at the same time, thank all of the people who have contributed so immensely over the years.
I would like to begin by thanking my wife and my kids for allowing me to leave, and forgiving me for leaving, every single week to come to this place and do what we know is a passion for each of us. That passion is serving our country.
I would like to thank my mom and dad, my mom who is an activist and my father who knocked on doors. I cannot tell members how badly the man, who is 40-some years older than me, shamed me by being a better door knocker than me and going more quickly than me over the years, in election after election.
I thank the friends who gave so much time and effort to help me achieve my dreams; the president, John Thornton; Bruce MacGregor; Lynn Kelman, who served in the new riding of Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte since its inception in 2013; and the board of directors who guided us.
Finally, I thank the staff who served in the offices in Barrie and here in Ottawa over the years: Amanda, Matt, Dion, Emrys, Stephen, Filip, Tiana, Laura, Kathryn and Naomi. I can tell members that their service was not just to me as the member of Parliament, but to the people of Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte and the people of Canada. That can never be forgotten or erased. I want to thank them for all of the hard work they put in.
My story with politics started when I was 15 years old. I was more likely to be smoking pot in the forest beside the high school than I was to be in the high school where I was supposed to be. Mike Harris changed the education curriculum in the first year of the double cohort and created civics and careers. I took that civics class and I fell in love because I realized that something could be done to improve the lives of those people around me and my situation and my family.
The next part of the class was careers. At the end was a project, “What are you going to do when you grow up?” It was not an entry-level job like it is now, but naturally I chose Prime Minister of Canada. I also chose member of Parliament, and I have been able to work toward that since then.
When I was 18 years old, I ran for city council. I ran against my principal after dropping out of high school to run for council and I lost. Surprise, surprise. I went to speak at a Christian businessmen's association lunch and there was a guy named Arch Brown who created Canadian Tire money, that stuff they used to have and just brought back. He asked me if I was going to run again. I said, “I don't know. Who wants an 18-year-old running a council of a city of 100,000 people?” He said, “Alex, 17- and 18-year-olds signed up, went to Europe, fought for their country and died for their country so you could have the freedom to run here today.” He is no longer with us, but thank God he said those words to me that day, because they have never left. In fact, someone reminded me of them just a few days ago.
After that, at 21 years of age, I ran against my grade 4 teacher and my boss in Patrick Brown's office, but this time I beat the authority and I won as a city councillor. I was re-elected at age 25 to Barrie city council. Eventually, at the age of 30, I had my opportunity to run for member of Parliament, the goal that I set when I was 15 years of age. This time I ran against the president of the college that I attended, another authority figure in my life.
I had no idea when we started that election there would be literally $400,000 or $500,000 spent on the election and it would come down to 86 votes, that 51,000 people would vote in this riding and 86 people would be the determinant as to what would happen in terms of success, whether it be Liberal or Conservative.
When I came here, I was nothing but an idealistic Conservative, through and though. I certainly still hold those beliefs to this day.
When I walked into this chamber, I believed that Conservatives were good and others were bad. Quite frankly, it was a very divisive attitude. I was young, and still am, and I certainly did not understand the people around me, the perspectives they had and why they believed what they believed.
I can say today that I have grown as a human being. I have learned lessons. I will never forget to respect people on the other side of the aisle, to respect those beside me and to understand them.
What is incredible is that what saved me as a 15-year-old kid is the same thing I am seeing fall apart. I see the destructive behaviours of divisiveness and of calling each other either fascists or communists. The politics are the same now as they were then, and we must stop the destructive behaviours.
I am seeing it in our young people, as I travel from university to university serving in the shadow cabinet, serving an incredible leader. Our young people are becoming as polarized as the debates we are having both inside and outside the House.
I would like to take this opportunity to mention a couple of members from other parties whom I have grown to respect. My colleagues know how much I respect them, because we get to talk about it all the time.
When I first came here, I was on the industry committee. The member for Pierrefonds—Dollard and I were on opposite sides, and we had arguments for the first three or four weeks. It was not long before we realized that we wanted to achieve the exact same things, so we worked together. Since then, I have seen him work with members on all sides, certainly those in his caucus and mine, to fight for what he believes in terms of democracy, opportunity and hope for Canadians. I have seen that in every member in this place in one way or another.
While I am not running in this election, I hope the one lasting impression I leave on members of the House who are running is this. When they are out campaigning and speaking to the Canadian people, with the Canadian people, for the Canadian people, members should bridge the gap. They should not make it any larger than it is, because by doing so, in the end, nobody wins. The only people all of us want to see win are the Canadian people.
I am thankful for this opportunity. God bless Canada.