Mr. Chair, I am thankful for the opportunity to rise tonight and talk for a few minutes to my colleagues. As is so often the case when there is an important occasion before us, the first question is, “I wonder what I should wear”. This afternoon, as I was making the decision between a regular suit, which all of the other members in this place are wearing this evening, or my Speaker attire, I decided that I would at least bend the rules, if not break them, by speaking in the chamber dressed like this.
I have had the privilege to serve here for 11 years. When I started, I said to people that I thought ten years was going to be enough, and I was right. About two years ago, I started thinking about other things that I want to do in my life.
I served my first four years here as a regular member of Parliament. I sat on committees, I was a critic when we were in opposition, and I chaired the aboriginal affairs committee at one time, but I have served as one of the chair occupants for the past seven years. None of my colleagues in this place who arrived either in 2008 or 2011 have ever seen me in any role other than sitting in the chair in the place of the Speaker and playing referee, rather than combatant in the debate that takes place here.
I remember that when I became a chair occupant, one of my colleagues asked me why on earth I would want that job. He said, “it is like fighting to get to the NHL and then agreeing to be one of the referees”. I guess that there is some truth to that, but I also think that sitting in that chair takes a particular temperament and it is an important role that this place would not function without. It has been an honour to serve there, both under the hon. Peter Milliken, who was the former speaker, and the current Speaker, the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle.
As it has been said, we all stand here on the basis of the team that we have. I can remember the day, back in the fall of 2003, driving in my car and listening to the radio when the announcement was made that the current Attorney General and the current Prime Minister, as leaders of the Progressive Conservative Party and the Canadian Alliance, had agreed to a potential merger and that there was going to be a new Conservative Party. I can remember thinking that Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, which is my home, was one of those ridings that had had a split vote for several campaigns. In the last election before 2004, in 2000, those two parties together received 61% of the vote, so there was a sense that with a united Conservative Party there would be an opportunity to elect a member. I was the fifth person to put their name forward to run for the nomination. I absolutely was not the favourite at that time, but I worked hard through that process and was delighted when I was nominated later that fall.
I start there because I want to talk about my staff. I never say the people who worked for me, but they have worked with me for the past several years. I began with Peter Taylor, who is back in Lindsay. Peter helped me in my nomination campaign, the general campaign, and subsequently worked in my office for about eight years. He is still available to us. When someone is sick or if we need an extra body, he can come in and fill in. Peter is a friend and did a great job in helping me to do my job as the member of Parliament for Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock.
Lisa Rodd is another woman who worked in my constituency office. Lisa also started with me back in 2004, and about three years ago, she left to become a consultant. She is still working with some of the same files, but working from home, where she can spend more time with her family.
Connie Pearsall has been running my Ottawa office since 2006. Many members in this place have two staff members in Ottawa. I run with one staff member, so Connie's job description has several bullets, with the bottom being “various duties as assigned”, which essentially means that anything that needs to get done, she does. I appreciate what she has done for and with me for the last nine years.
In my constituency office in Lindsay, Marnie Hoppenrath has been with me for about six or seven years. She previously worked in a provincial office and has a lot of experience. Kate Porter has also been in my Lindsay office for about five years. As we all know, if we have good front-line staff when someone walks through the door of our constituency office, if the people they meet are friendly and competent and, most important, empathetic, that really gets a relationship off on the right foot.
Like most MPs, I go home on the weekend and someone will come up and shake my hand and say, “Oh, thanks very much for that thing you did for me”. I kind of scramble a little bit and say, “Oh you're very welcome, I was pleased that we could be of service”, when sometimes I am not really sure what the person is talking about because it is actually my staff who have resolved the individual's issue.
Brenda Hymus is another woman who has worked in my office for several years. She is semi-retired and she fills in, in many ways. Andrea Coombs is the most recent addition. She has been with me for about a year and deals with communications materials.
What I find interesting is most of my staff members have been with me for more than five years, including my executive assistant, Jamie Schmale, who actually started in my office back in 2004. In fact, he ran against me in the nomination. I had not met him before, but I remember the first time we met as candidates running against each other. On the way out of the hall, my brother said to me, “If you win this thing, you should hire that guy”. I took that advice, and he has been my executive assistant and run my campaigns. In fact he is now the nominated Conservative candidate for our riding in the next election. I wish him success as he begins this journey.
I am lucky that my riding is close enough to Ottawa that I get lots of school groups. I know some other members who are from provinces farther away do not have that opportunity and pleasure to welcome school groups, but my riding is three or four hours' drive away. When school groups come here, one of the points I always try to make with them is that public life is an honourable endeavour and that it matters, and it matters what we do; and that public life is broader than just serving in elected office, that there are many ways for people to serve their community, but it does matter.
Heaven knows that we take our share of lumps around this place, and there is lots of criticism in terms of people who make mistakes. It has been said before that 20,000 planes can land safely and that is not news, but if one crashes that leads the evening news. It is kind of the same around this place. I had been here about five years, and when I was walking in the building one day a security guard stopped me and I showed him my ID and he said, “You must be new here”. I said, “No, I have been here seven or eight years”. He said, “Why don't I recognize you?” I said, “I guess that's because I've never done anything ridiculous”. He laughed and I said, “But I'll bet you if I wanted to I could lead the news tonight and it wouldn't be by making an intelligent, rational speech in the House, but by doing something to draw attention”. It is the nature of this place that the fireworks get attention and that all the quiet good work that so many members do kind of goes so much unnoticed.
I would like to finish, as my colleagues have done, by thanking my family: my wife, Ursula, and my children, George and Molly. Five years after I was elected, they moved to Ottawa, so for the past five years my family has been here. I agree with what the hon. member for Guelph said, which is that I would encourage future Parliaments to investigate more family-friendly rules. All these votes at 6:30 in the evening could, in many cases, so easily be done following question period. I could not be here and I could not do this job without my family.
For me, unlike for my colleague from British Columbia Southern Interior, with whom I sat on the agriculture committee so many years ago, I am not retiring to go home. In fact, we are moving to South Korea where I will be teaching university, teaching politics, which is something I did a long time before I was elected. As well, my wife and I will be working with the North Korean refugee and defector community in terms of trying to make their lives better and trying to have an influence and work toward a positive resolution of that significant challenge in that part of the world.
Thanks to my family, thanks to my staff, thanks to my colleagues, and thanks to the House for this time this evening.