Mr. Speaker, I was first elected on May 2, 2011, as part of the famous orange wave. It came as a shock, but it was also an honour and a privilege to represent the people of my riding and stand up for my values in this honourable House.
I would like to thank the people of Beauharnois—Salaberry for giving me that first opportunity to dive into politics and have this fabulous, intense, enriching and altogether human life experience. It has been a pleasure to serve them.
My first speech in the House was on a topic that was as dear to my labour activist heart then as it is now. On June 24, 2011, Quebec's national holiday, I spoke out against the Canada Post bill. The NDP stood up to the Conservative government of the day for three days in a row so that unionized postal workers could negotiate their working conditions with the Crown corporation executives. That was my first ever three-day Thursday.
My second speech was just as emotional and powerful. In September 2011 we were debating Bill C-4, a Conservative government bill on boat people. This brought about a two-hour conversation with my mother on how my family came to Canada after fleeing persecution in the wake of the Vietnam War. She recounted their escape, the attacks by pirates, their fight to survive, their life at the refugee camp, their arrival in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield and the welcome they received. This is the Canada I know, a Canada that gives a family of refugees the opportunity to prosper and that allows their daughter to become a two-term member of Parliament.
As one of the few members of Parliament of Vietnamese origin, I had the opportunity to meet with diverse Vietnamese communities in Canada and to work with them to acknowledge how much the Vietnamese have contributed to the diverse Québécois and Canadian culture and to fight for human rights in Vietnam, in particular. During my eight years in the NDP, I was mentored by some formidable and passionate members of Parliament, colleagues with whom I grew up and with whom I learned to be more self-assured. Most of all, I laughed a lot in all of our battles here in Parliament. It takes a healthy dose of humour and self-deprecation to alleviate the stress of this frenzied political life.
My first challenge was to discover my riding. It took time and effort to understand the challenges of the different regions and also to discuss subjects that I knew little or nothing about: the world of agriculture ever present in the riding, the business world, which scared me to death, the Mohawk Nation at Akwesasne.
After the riding boundary was changed, the region of Soulanges was another area to be studied and understood. I travelled around the RCMs by bike, on foot and by car. I thank the 400 community organizations who work hard with limited means. I thank the mayors of the 31 municipalities who are the foundation of our democratic fabric and without whom nothing works, and the entrepreneurs, whom I found so intimidating at the beginning. I thank them all for giving me material for my speeches, for advising me, often at the last minute, when I was drafting my bills, or for turning my attention to the issues they were concerned about.
I thank all the constituents who attended the countless public consultations or sent comments on my work by responding to the monthly mailings. Their contribution was invaluable to democracy and my ability to represent them in House of Commons every day. I hope they will continue to be as active and involved with the next MP. I thank them for placing their trust in me a second time in the 2015 election. To me that second election was an acknowledgement of my ability to stand up for the interests of the riding.
When it comes to agriculture, I fought tooth and nail with my NDP colleagues to protect supply management in its entirety and ensure that dairy farmers received compensation every time they were sacrificed in the signing of free trade agreements. We worked hard with my colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé and others and used pressure tactics against diafiltered milk. Unfortunately, this could come up again because of the treaty negotiation with the United States and Mexico.
One of my personal victories is the agriculture investment announced in the last budget. My team came up with the slogan: at the federal level, we eat locally. For more than six years now, I have been fighting to get a local foods procurement policy. I introduced two bills on this and in the March 2019 budget, we finally see investments to buy local food in schools and to develop and support distribution channels such as public markets. Through the support of many organizations, nearly 3,000 signatures on my petition, and emails of support, we were able to put enough pressure on the government to agree to include these measures in its recent budget.
This is a step in the right direction, but I still dream of seeing a buy local policy take shape someday.
Lastly, an important aspect of my work has been solving problems, whether it is a constituent not getting a service they were entitled to or an issue like the Kathryn Spirit, which was a problem 114 metres long and weighing 12,300 tonnes. My office has handled over 1,500 constituent cases, problems involving the Canada Revenue Agency, old age security or the guaranteed income supplement, and temporary foreign worker files. More and more Canadians are calling their MPs for help when they are unable to get a response through the usual channels. After all the public service cutbacks, that is the unfortunate reality.
One major case was the Kathryn Spirit, my region's biggest headache. This huge wreck had been towed into Lake Saint-Louis in 2011 without proper authorization by the company Groupe St-Pierre. This was blatant proof that corporate self-regulation does not work. The wreck was resold to a Mexican company and then abandoned. This case also highlighted the limits of the federal government, which declined to get involved every time, up until the very last second. At the end of the day, the polluter won. The company that had brought in the vessel ended up with at least $11 million of public money in its pockets. As they said on Infoman, this is like someone dumping trash in the neighbour's yard and then getting paid to take care of the mess they made. All in all, this incompetence and mismanagement of public funds cost taxpayers $24 million. Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of Canadians, elected officials and local journalists, this problem is now behind us.
Now, let's talk about struggles and victories in Ottawa. As a young woman who has served in the House since 2011, I know what a challenge it was to get people to take women and young people seriously.
In 2014, four NDP female colleagues and I had to fight to have the right to bring our children inside Parliament and breastfeed them until the age of 18 months. We won that fight.
The next fight was to get a family room in Parliament. We won that one too. I would like to thank my colleagues, including Nycole Turmel, the former whip, for fighting alongside us and not only making this room a reality, but also creating better conditions for mothers who want to go into politics.
I am also proud to have launched the women in the lead event, which, since 2016, has welcomed 80 to 150 women every year to share what they have experienced in decision-making positions and talk about female leadership. There is still a lot of work to do to attract more women to politics, especially in terms of work-life balance. It is hard when we must vote or sit until midnight, like we do at the end of each session. There has been some progress, but we need to keep going.
It is also important to highlight my efforts to promote the French language. I am proud to have debated in French in committee and in the House of Commons over the past eight years. I am also proud of having created the Réseau des jeunes parlementaires de la Francophonie.
I would be remiss if I did not talk about youth and their passionate commitment to a number of issues. It is often said that young people are the segment of the population that is the most active and involved in the community right now. That is true, and we need to listen to them, because they challenge our ways of thinking and doing things. However, our decision-making structures are still lacking in young voices. That is why I introduced a bill in the House of Commons to create a commissioner for young persons.
I also want the government's youth policy to include an action plan, instead of just paying lip service. I want the Prime Minister's Youth Council to let young people say what is going well and what is not without having to go through the Prime Minister's communications office.
Lastly, I want to talk about the environment, an issue that is of vital importance to young people. This issue has no colour. It is not green, red, blue or orange. It really is everyone's responsibility. I think the work that the NDP did by unveiling its green platform last week is very ambitious and worth exploring.
I am very proud to have started the first forum on clean energy and industry in 2014 with my colleagues from New Westminster—Burnaby, Drummond and Edmonton Strathcona.
In closing, I am honoured to have served as the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry and Salaberry—Suroît for eight years. I am going to get very emotional when I leave this place in a few weeks. I could never have done this work without the invaluable help of the dedicated assistants I have had the pleasure and privilege of working with over the past eight years.
I want to thank my current staff, Edith Gariépy, Glen Cyr, Amélie Leduc, Jean-Marc Fagelson and Katherine Massam.
I also want to thank everyone who has worked for me over the past eight years, including the assistants, volunteers and interns who made my work look good every day, in good times and bad. I also want to thank the teams in the House leader's office and the whip's office, who work behind the scenes and look after us so well every day. I will miss them, but I will see them again.
I will close by thanking my friends, my family and my in-laws for supporting me throughout this wonderful adventure. I will be eternally grateful to my love, my beloved, my sidekick, my poet, my confidant, Mathieu, who agreed to be a stay-at-home dad for the past five years so I could thrive as a woman, an MP and a mother. I want to thank my daughter, Mila, who often had to share me and did not always understand why, if I was my own boss, I was not staying at home to play with her instead of going to work. Mila, I will be home soon.