Mr. Speaker, I want to thank you, the House leaders and the whips for organizing this event this evening, to give me and the others who are not running again an opportunity to speak to Parliament and to make what has been called a farewell speech. However, a few things about that seem a little funny or odd to me. We may of course all be here again in September if there is no election, so it is a bit of an “in case” speech. Also, it is a farewell speech made from 1,500 miles away through Zoom and it is also for some of the people who I have not really come to know since 2019, when I was once again elected. It is a little unfortunate in that way because of the pandemic.
We have been hard at work despite the lack of personal contact, doing a lot of great things. We are continuing to do that even today when I had the honour of concluding the last speech on a private member's motion on dental care for Canadians. We have just completed a report that will be presented to the House on racism and policing in Canada, which I had the honour of initiating with others last July. We are very busy. We were very much enjoying our work in these last few days that we voted to stay open until midnight. One wonders who would want to leave all of this. It is so much fun and so dedicated, and we seem to be enjoying our work.
One might ask why would we want to leave. For me, part of the answer is that I came to the House in the 33rd Parliament, having been elected in a by-election when Ed Broadbent was in his prime as leader of the NDP and Brian Mulroney was the prime minister. At that time, I learned very early as a parliamentarian, and I think the member for Malpeque made note of this, that I could play a role even in a majority Parliament and be effective in amending legislation or contributing to the debate and influencing the course of events under debate in the House.
We had a very strong group of members of Parliament under Ed's leadership. I do not think anyone from the 33rd Parliament remains here. I know Wayne has 28 years of service, but he started in 1993. I am sorry to hear from the member for Malpeque that Mike O'Neill has passed away. He was my legislative assistant in 1987-88. The member for Malpeque had a great man to work with him. He understood Newfoundland and Labrador pretty well too. I am glad he served him for so long. I saw him many times over the years.
I was then defeated in the 1988 general election and I was not to return to the House as a member for 20 more years.
I will tell one little story. When I first ran in 1987, the seat I ran for was St. John's East. No New Democrat since Confederation in 1948 and hardly any Liberals had been elected to that seat. Maybe once or twice back in the sixties a Liberal was elected. I had offered myself to the nomination.
I was practising law at the time. When I went to see a judge to sign some papers, the judge, who had served provincially, said to me, “Well, Mr. Harris, I hear you're going into politics, if it could be said that running for the NDP was going into politics.” I was supposed to laugh because it was supposed to be a joke. Then he spent the next 45 minutes telling me what a great honour it was to be a politician. A “noble calling” he called it, to play a role in making the laws that govern our people. He talked about his experiences with Joey Smallwood, etc.
He was not right about the question of whether I was going into politics, although I never believed I would have the kind of career I did, with 10 years in the federal Parliament and 16 years provincially, but I never have forgotten the phrase “noble calling”, that we are here to serve our people, that we have a role to play, that it is an important one and it is a big honour to do that.
When I was defeated in 1988, I did not really think of a pause in the parliamentary sense. I took what I learned in Parliament and I brought it to the House of Assembly in Newfoundland and Labrador in 1990. I was elected five times, serving for nearly 16 years, most of which as leader of the New Democratic Party in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
I came back in 2008 at the behest of Jack Layton. I was here until 2015, serving mostly as the defence critic, with stints as public safety critic and justice critic. I really enjoyed the inspirational leadership of Jack Layton who brought us to official opposition status. He then very sadly and tragically died and was replaced by Thomas Mulcair, who, as we know, is considered one of the most effective opposition leaders in modern times.
I was, unfortunately, defeated again in 2015 and had a four-year hiatus as a former member of Parliament, but I did enjoy some time with the Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians. I highly recommend that to anyone who is leaving the House. It is a great group of people and it is a good way to keep in touch with former colleagues as well as some people who we did not serve with but got to know. Whether we leave voluntarily or otherwise after the next election, it is a good idea to keep in touch with those with whom we have served.
I came back in 2019, which is why I am here today. I did not really want to belabour this story except to provide some background to my unique parliamentary experience with bookends that span a total of 34 years. The member for Malpeque served 28 years, but they were consecutive. He did not have the variety I had. He is a seasoned member of Parliament, having served all his time here. He had more significant experience to draw on in the House.
I have enjoyed all my years as a member of Parliament. It has been a great experience and, as everyone else who is to speak I am sure will say, it is an honourable profession. It is also a big honour and privilege to serve constituents in the House of Commons. We cannot do that without their support, and I thank very sincerely all the voters of St. John's East. Whether they voted for me or not, they were my constituents. I thank them for their support over the years, for the privilege of serving them in the House of Commons and being their voice, and doing my best to do that.
I also represent the people of Newfoundland and Labrador as the only New Democrat from our province, and, right now, I am the only opposition member from the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The voters and the constituents are the heartbeat of politics. We communicate with them, work with them and help them when we can. I have always loved and enjoyed very much the people part of politics.
Ten minutes is not much time to say a lot other than to thank people, thank to the volunteers, campaigners and donors who made this possible. We also have to thank our families. Without the kind of support we get from them, we would not be able to do our jobs.
My wife Ann and our three children, Amelia, Sarah and John, have been a great support for me. They have encouraged me and have enjoyed my work. I thank my staff who helped me do my job. I could not do it without them. I thank my constituency staff and Ottawa staff who have helped my constituents as best they can. It is amazing what we can do for constituents in the system we have.
We also have great staff on the Hill. The Library of Parliament's resources have been fabulous for me and have helped with our committees, and we all know that.
I want to reiterate what the member for Malpeque said about our Parliament. It is not perfect. A lot of work needs to be done to make our world perfect and our Parliament perfect. However, it is a great system for the voices of the people to be heard, to work together with other parliamentarians to try to make things better. As I said, it is a noble calling.
I want to encourage young people who are thinking about a career in politics to take the torch, to carry the torch and to do the job. It is a noble calling. It is worth doing and it is a worthy way to work to make our country better and to try to make the world better and safer. There are plenty of things to do and not enough people to do them, so please take up the cause.