Mr. Speaker, it is very difficult to believe that this is my last official speech in the House of Commons. Since 2011, I have generally participated in the debates in this august House only as the Chair occupant.
What a journey these last 15 years have been. My interest in politics started about a year or so after I graduated and joined the family business. As a young man I attended this huge nomination meeting for local federal Conservatives. There were more than 2,000 members in attendance, seven or eight candidates, speeches, placards and a political buzz that I had never seen or experienced before. After that, I was hooked.
That nomination event replaced the retiring member of Parliament, Philip Rynard, who had been the MP for my riding for eight consecutive terms. The candidate they chose to carry on after him was the Hon. Doug Lewis, who would go on to serve in former Prime Minister Mulroney’s cabinet until 1993. Doug remains a valued supporter and confidant, and I thank him for blazing the trail and being a great mentor to me.
Oddly enough, only one MP separated Doug and me. That was the Hon. Paul DeVillers, who served here from 1993 until just prior to my election. I quickly learned that the high standards of service they all provided set the tone for what kind of work would be expected of me.
I say all this because I am only the fourth member of Parliament for Simcoe North in my lifetime. The next MP for this amazing riding would be well advised to heed the lessons that Rynard, Lewis, DeVillers and I learned from the great people of Simcoe North.
May I take this moment to thank them all profoundly for the honour of being their voice in Parliament these 15-plus years.
I would now like to make some other acknowledgements. One of the things that I am very grateful for is having the opportunity to learn French. Since 2006, I have taken courses from the language training service, here, in the House of Commons. I have spent two hours per week to keep up my comprehension and vocabulary as well as to improve my language skills over time.
Thanks to Roseline Lemire, my teacher for 15 years, I can speak and understand this beautiful language. I thank her and the entire language training team very much.
I also want to thank Lorraine Bergeron, who was my part-time teacher in my riding.
They opened my heart to the richness of the francophone culture in my riding and across the country. I will always be proud of this particular life achievement.
I want to properly thank the people of my riding who helped me win these five consecutive elections. All of us, as MPs, can look back to the volunteers who helped fundraise, put up signs, knocked on doors, phoned and got the vote out.
I salute the hundreds of them who helped me win. I want to give special mention to several who led those efforts with extraordinary commitment: Wayne Edgett, Rod Williams, Phil DeBruyne, Steve McFadden, Claire and Dave Dusome, Charlene Anderson, Avery Bassett, Diane Bell, Kirk Farquhar, Alison Stoneman, Frank Takacs and Jim Hutchinson.
After serving these many years, I have inevitably had exceptional volunteer leaders in my campaigns who are no longer with us. I think, in particular, of George German, Edna Parker, Scott Macpherson, Andy Durnford and my eminent adviser and counsel, Dave Anderson. There is a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln that says, “I'm a success today because I had a friend who believed in me and I didn't have the heart to let him down.”
As I reflect on these amazing women and men who gave their valuable time and energy to my success in politics, I am moved beyond words by their unfailing support.
When it came to the essential work of being a member of Parliament, I do not have to look any farther than the talented people in my riding and my parliamentary offices. For my constituents, these were the first people they would see: They were the first smiling faces, the first voices that would greet them and the first impression they would take of the courtesy and services of our office.
They earned the praise, the kind notes and the small gifts of chocolate and candies that constituents would leave for them, whether after solving a tough case or even for their simple courtesies. They are the best, and I am going to miss working with them.
I have to name some of them. Here in Ottawa right now is Connie Kennedy-Pearsall. Prior to Connie were Ashley Peyrard, Sarah Pendlebury and Linda Rudd. All of them helped me here on the Hill immensely. In the riding, Kurtis Schlueter, Christine Elsdon, Judy Fulsom, Kelly Banks, David Dalrymple and Diane Bell have been doing yeoman's work these past years and building upon the outstanding work of former staff members James Nicol, Judy Forma, Brooke Leishman and the volunteers and interns who helped along the way.
Mr. Speaker, you will realize that working as a presiding officer in this chamber teams you up with an impeccable group of professionals always on the administrative aspects of the House. I thank you, Mr. Speaker, and our fellow Chair occupants, the hon. members for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing and Brossard—Saint-Lambert, for their advice and friendship. What a pleasure it has been to work with you all.
Since 2011, we have had the honour to work with these remarkable clerks and table officers of the House. Their learned counsel, their deference to parliamentary traditions and practices and their untiring devotion to their work provides a constant source of confidence and integrity to the operations of the House. It is unbelievable each and every day what they do.
To the pages and page supervisors, you are an irreplaceable support to the work of presiding officers. I thank you for your kind and capable service, not just to us but to all members of the House.
To sergeants-at-arms, interpreters, TVOs and journals staff, who are not here but down below, I thank you for your quiet and meticulous attention literally to each and every second of our proceedings. While I am at it, may I finally salute all those in the operations of the parliamentary precinct, food services, maintenance, security and administration, who make this a safe and proficient workplace, even when the unusual or the perilous threatens to disrupt our work.
However, I could not have done this work without the support of family, especially my wife and best friend in the world, Heather. When we started, she was just finishing her teaching degree at York University. We did not know really what we were getting into, but we managed as best we could. Thank you, honey, for your love and devotion and for assuming the role of, by the way, a superb public servant by association these last 15 years, and for the support of your parents, Ian and Joan MacDougall.
Our kids have been incredibly patient and kind of proud of their old man in some ways. They helped us on campaigns, accepted weekly absences and busy weekends and were always completely supportive of the work that often put some distance between us.
Valerie and Lauren were age 10 and 7 when we started here, and now they are off on their own careers. Our older children, Stephanie and her husband John, and Jason and his wife Amanda, have families of their own, and we can hardly wait to spend a bit more time with them. To Carter, Sienna and Vivian, and to Lyla, Jack and Leo, nana and granddad are going to be around a little more in the years ahead, and what a blessing that will be.
My brother, Doug, and sisters Sandra and Dianne may be watching this. I want them to know how much I have appreciated their constant encouragement. They will know that our dad, Ron, was the inspiration for my entry into politics. Dad passed away in 2014, and I know he was immensely proud of my work and service. They know that his legacy lives on in us, and my mom has continued that interest and affection for public service that he taught us so well.
Now, as the late Jim Flaherty would say, I have probably gone on about as long as it seems, so let me finish by simply saying what an incredible privilege it has been to serve here since 2006, to work alongside and learn from the energy and dedication of members of Parliament from across our country, to be in our parliamentary caucus with Prime Minister Harper and party leaders since, Rona Ambrose and the honourable members for Regina—Qu'Appelle and Durham, and my fellow members of caucus who leave no task wanting when it comes to keeping our rather intricate Conservative coalition united and ready to serve as Canadians call upon us to do.
I will be taking my leave when the next election comes, whenever that may be, but I will always remember the friends that we made along the way and the special honour it has been to be a humble servant of this House and the member for Simcoe North.