Mr. Speaker, I was born in Chatham, Ontario, in 1955 and have lived there all my life. I attended school in Chatham, was married in Chatham, raised a family in Chatham and started my business in Chatham. Chatham has always been my home. I have always been proud to live in the city that was once the site of the battle that claimed the life of the great Chief Tecumseh in 1813 in the War of 1812, that was the end of the Underground Railroad, and the city where John Brown came to recruit combatants before his fateful attack at Harper's Ferry. It is also the hometown of the great Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, Fergie Jenkins.
I had no formal training for the job, but I always had a unique fascination for politics. Therefore, finally at the age of 49 after narrowly losing my first election in 2004, I found myself elected to represent the people of Chatham-Kent—Essex on the eve of January 23, 2006. I am so privileged tonight to rise to give my final remarks in the House of Commons after serving here for over 13 years.
Let me first thank the constituents of Chatham-Kent—Leamington, as it is now known, for giving me this opportunity to serve them. It is an honour to have been chosen to represent them. Of course, this would not have been possible without the help of hundreds of volunteers manning phones, pounding signs, door-knocking and donating both their time and money during the past five writ periods.
After I was elected, I would never have been able to serve without the excellent staff who worked alongside of me. Let me speak about them.
Jill Watts-Declare joined me shortly after I arrived here in Ottawa in 2006. As a new member of Parliament, I had a lot to learn. She provided the office with stable and knowledgeable expertise on how to navigate my way around Parliament Hill. She has faithfully served in her role as an experienced office manager and has mentored several other staff members throughout her years here. She is greatly appreciated for all her service. I thank Jill for all her hard work.
Peter Roos was my first campaign manager, but also a loyal friend and confidante from the beginning. Peter joined the office team in 2010, and finally decided to hang them up just before his 80th birthday last year. That has not stopped him from continuing to run passport clinics and he still comes in to help when we are short-staffed. I thank Peter.
Another one of my friends and confidantes is George Paiciovich. I know George is listening. He is one of those political hacks we find around our circles, having been around Parliament since the 1970s. He served under several MPs and was the chief of staff to Garth Turner in the days of the debt clock; that was his brainchild. Early after my election, he offered me advice and guidance and then joined the team responsible for training our younger members and serving the riding with business, municipal needs and special projects. I thank George for his friendship and his tutoring throughout these years.
I could not forget Nate Velkamp and Adam Roffel, who served as my special assistants. I thank them for their dedication and great work. They have each moved on to greater challenges and continue to serve in the community. Presently, this position is being carried out by Will Pennell, who is now in George's boot camp.
My Chatham office was served from day one by Julian Belanger, who also ran against me for the Conservative nomination. We all remember his professionalism and his political savvy, which were so important to me in those early days. Sadly, Julian was taken from us in 2014. We all miss him terribly.
Wayne Hasson has filled this vacancy, and also served as my campaign manager in the 2015 election. He is doing a tremendous job in the Chatham office, managing the constituency casework, and I thank Wayne.
Peter Bondy and Lisa Mitchell were also important leaders who served in the constituency and who helped me shape the office in those early years. I say thanks to Peter and Lisa.
Of course there is my EDA: Dale, Eldon, Bernice, Mike, Gary and so many more. They were all there right from the very beginning and are still there today. I thank them for their loyalty and their hard work.
Now let me talk about my family.
My wife Faye and I are blessed with eight children and their spouses—Jeremy and Jolene, Rachael and Justin, Mike and Angela, David and Katie, Joel and Shawna, Andrea and John, Adam and Mel, and Eric and Katie—and 39 grandchildren.
I only have 10 minutes, so I will not name them.
They were all there, helping and supporting me at every election, pounding signs, going door to door, making calls. With this devoted army, it is no wonder I have had success these past four elections. Thank you, and we do love you.
To Jeremy and Jolene, who under their leadership, and with David and Joel, grew a mom-and-pop dealership and faithfully built it into one of the finest Hyundai dealerships in the country, thank you for your sacrifice.
My wife Faye has travelled beside me these 44 years on some crazy paths, and yet has continued to support me, encourage me, advise me and keep me grounded throughout the trip. She is the one who has kept the home fires burning, tending to our children and grandchildren over all the years I was away. She is the unsung hero who helped make all of this possible. Many times I have advised those seeking political office that unless they have the full support of their spouse, they had better not consider this job. Faye, I love you and I thank you for your support.
I thank the office staff here in Ottawa who delivered the services that help make this great country work. I thank the many volunteers who make the passport clinics and other such events such a success. I thank my friends and family and supporters who have helped me through these years.
Lastly, I thank my God for giving me this opportunity to serve Him as a member of Parliament for my country. I thank God for holding me and keeping me these years. I thank God for sustaining my health when working the long hours and for protecting me on the road each week as I drove back and forth.
I know I must have forgotten to thank someone, but they should be sure to know that they are greatly appreciated. I am truly a blessed and fortunate man, and I owe it all to the goodness of others.
Now let me spend a little time on some of my experiences here in Ottawa.
This job has allowed me to travel to all parts of the world to meet with leaders and experts in many countries. I have witnessed the vibrant economy of Asia, honoured our soldiers in Europe, witnessed democracy at work in South America, encouraged peace in the Middle East, and saw extreme poverty but also hope in Africa.
I have served on many parliamentary committees—ethics, fisheries, industry, finance, foreign affairs, international trade, status of women, and health, and currently I serve as vice-chair on the Library of Parliament committee. Last but not least, I remember all the years as chair of the Ontario regional caucus.
I have shared these experiences with some extraordinary men and women. I want to talk about Steven Fletcher. Steven is a quadriplegic who overcame tremendous obstacles after an accident. He told me that he even had to relearn how to breathe. Although he does not experience sleep, he still arrived each day to serve as a member of Parliament and even achieved cabinet in the Conservative government.
I have met so many special people here, and many have become my closest friends. I will not begin to name them, as that would be unfair. Their friendship will always remain as we return to our private lives.
In closing, let me say that this has been a tremendous honour, but it is time to go back home, back to my family, back to Faye, back to the folks of Chatham-Kent—Leamington, and maybe some here will join me there soon so that Faye and I can give them some southwestern Ontario hospitality.
I thank you. May God bless you, and may God bless Canada.