I have to say, Mr. Speaker, that I preferred these parliamentary tributes when they were about someone else but I appreciate deeply the tribute that the House has paid. I thank my fellow Albertan, the Deputy Prime Minister, for her remarks. I want to thank the Leader of the Opposition and, more particularly, his very engaging son, Benjamin.
I would of course, like to also thank the leader of the Bloc Quebecois. He is right, we do not see eye to eye when it comes to certain basic issues relating to Canada, but I think that we both, myself as much as he, appreciate each other's sincerity of commitment to our objectives. He is a little less bilingual than I, but these things happen.
My colleague, my friend and, dare I say, former youth member of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, when there was such a thing, has now, I am pleased to see, confessed his collaboration or the collaboration of his party with the Liberals in bringing down my government in the beginning of our life.
I have to express a particular appreciation to my friend and my colleague in the other part of the Progressive Conservative caucus in the House of Commons, the member for Fundy—Royal. I admire him as a parliamentarian and an individual, and I very much appreciate his words today.
Mr. Speaker, I think this will be one of the least controversial interventions of my career. I want to begin my remarks where I began my career, which is with the men and women who elected me in the four constituencies in two provinces which it has been my privilege to represent here in the House of Commons.
I am immensely grateful to the voters of that spectacular but short-lived riding of Rocky Mountain in Alberta; the riding of Yellowhead, which I had the privilege to serve for so long; and the riding of Kings—Hants, from which the Deputy Prime Minister comes as does her now colleague, the current member for Kings—Hants; and of course my constituency of Calgary Centre.
I want to express my thanks to literally thousands of other individuals in Canada and abroad, in this House and outside, who have helped me in good times or in bad times or in both.
Everyone here knows, and it has been acknowledged, just how much members of Parliament owe to our families. That is always true but I have to say that in no case has it been more true than in the case of Maureen McTeer and of Catherine Clark.
Maureen sought election here herself, in a difficult constituency and time. She would have been a formidable presence in this House of Commons. It may also be appropriate for me to say, and this is perhaps the most controversial thing I will say today, that Maureen, Catherine and I, under fire, have learned something about family values.
The spokesman for the NDP referred to the defeat of my government in 1979. I have had the privilege of several dramatic moments in this House. I will not recite each one of them.
I remember clearly how that defeat came about after a vote on our budget in 1979. On that vote, the Liberal Party wheeled in every member who could draw breath. They literally evacuated the hospitals. Members of Parliament, on whose desks cobwebs had grown, showed up miraculously to vote. The present Prime Minister should have seen it because I learned that night that just because a member of the Liberal Party might be worn out, battered and beaten up, he can still come back to haunt you.
Now, almost everyone who serves here leaves with a larger vision than they brought. The diversity of Canada becomes a personal experience which lifts most of us beyond the natural Canadian boundaries of region and language and local experience.
The real privilege of working here goes beyond service to our constituents or to our country. In an age of invention and uncertainty there is no other profession so consistently subject to change and to surprise. In an era where people are always learning, there is no better school than public life.
I learned the other official language here, learned it in my fashion. That helped me understand that the distinct society is not a dead phrase in a constitution, but the living reality of most of French-speaking Canada, and a defining feature of our history and our future.
Serving in this Parliament became my passport to communities and realities I would otherwise never have known so well: aboriginal Canadians, Canadian Jews and Canadian Arabs confronting ancient tensions, farmers seeing their way of life threatened, the transforming imagination of our artists and scientists.
But this Parliament is more than a school. It is a place to act. It is the principal place where the Canadian community can act together.
This House can reflect our country at its worst or at its best. I have been here for both experiences. At our best this House of Commons defines the public interest of Canada. That happened, I believe, when we argued for and against specific constitutional changes in at least two Parliaments; when we argued for and against a free trade agreement; and when we acted together, as others have mentioned, as a Parliament in a practical campaign against apartheid.
In such debates there are bound to be deep disagreements, because that is in the nature of a diverse country that is continent wide with roots and interests reaching literally everywhere. That very diversity makes it imperative that there be a place where broad public interest can be expressed. There are plenty of voices for private, regional or special interests. At our best in this House of Commons, the whole community can find its Canadian voice.
I have been honoured to serve here. Maureen and I look forward to the next chapters in our lives. I hope my colleagues in the House are able to draw as much satisfaction from their public service as I have from mine.