Mr. Speaker, being a Canadian is a privilege almost without equal in the world. To be selected by our fellow Canadians as a representative in the House of Commons is as high an honour as there is. Thanks to the incredible people of Simcoe—Grey, who put their faith in me, I have been a member of Parliament for eight years. First and foremost, I want to thank them.
I grew up in a family where my parents, Lynne and Kit Leitch, lived certain values. My mom emphasized hard work every day. She was the most generous person I have ever known. None of my friends could leave our house without a toque on their head or a hug if they needed it. Sadly, after a strong fight, she lost her battle with breast cancer in 1989.
My dad continually challenges us to have free thoughts and develop new ideas every day. Even now, he challenges me to work harder and be better. Like so many who live and were born on the prairies, he believes that everyone is equal and should be treated respectfully. He is the epitome of tolerance.
In many ways, my parents are the embodiment of Canadian values, and these values matter. They are the reason Canada is a beacon of hope around the world for those fleeing persecution or seeking a better life. The values that Canadians share, that my parents taught us, are what make this country, Canada, the greatest country in the world, one that it has been an honour to represent.
The one question I get asked all the time as a member of Parliament is why a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon would run for office. There are three reasons.
First, my mom was insistent that public service is good for us.
Second, as a doctor, I would be helping dozens of kids every day. I loved my job, but in 2006, I was asked to chair the expert panel on the children's fitness tax credit. This opportunity allowed me to see first-hand how good public policy can have a positive impact on the health of thousands of Canadian kids, not just one child at a time, as I did as a doctor.
Third, I was asked. It was that simple. Jim Flaherty called me at the clinic one day on a Friday morning and said, “I hear you're running for office.” I said, “No.” We can see how well that worked out. On May 2, 2011, my name was on the ballot in Simcoe—Grey as the Conservative candidate the day the Conservative majority government was won.
I was appointed as a parliamentary secretary immediately after the election. As a PS, I was assigned the task to develop a new EI rate mechanism reform in the May budget. I also contributed to the creation of the Canada job grant.
As an Albertan, I heard every day from family and friends—especially my sister, who is a no-nonsense, super-smart engineer in Calgary—about the need for skilled labour. I led the consultations across the country related to this program, which revolutionized on-the-job training by providing incentives for employers to train people.
On my dad's birthday in July 2013, I was invited to meet with the Prime Minister. The PM appointed me Canada's first minister of status of women as well as minister of labour. I remember accepting and then immediately formulating in my head how to eliminate the department. I thought, as a professional woman, how ridiculous it was that the department even existed. My sister completely agreed. When I returned home that night and told my father, to my surprise he was ecstatic. He thought this was the best role ever. I thought he was crazy.
In retrospect, I will say that being the minister of status of women was one of the more meaningful and most fulfilling roles I have ever had. I learned so much, and realized that the department is in fact necessary and important. I have a strong belief that women are most successful in all aspects of their lives if they can be independent, when they can stand on their own two feet and make choices for themselves and families unencumbered by others and government. Our great team at Status of Women focused all its efforts on helping women of all backgrounds achieve this independence.
I am particularly proud of our focus on championing women entrepreneurs. Early in my term, I realized that for women to be successful, they needed three things: mentors, money and markets. As a young medical student, I benefited from mentors. Therefore, it was no surprise to me when I met with women across the country and heard they needed mentors and found it challenging to succeed without one.
The expert panel on championing and mentorship for women entrepreneurs was launched in 2013. Its work created “It Starts with One – Be Her Champion”, an initiative to provide mentors for women in all fields. As I leave public life, I look forward to continuing to support and build this program so that young women across our country can reach their greatest potential.
I have always championed children. I am told that my face lights up when a child walks into the room, so it was not challenging for me to embrace the idea of the International Day of the Girl Child at the UN and become one of the driving forces of its creation in 2013. This experience is the reason that today I am passionate about organizations that help eliminate the practice of early, child, and forced marriages around the world, such as Girls Not Brides.
Growing up in Fort McMurray, Alberta, my father ran a construction company. My talented brother Michael now runs that firm, and it has never had unionized workers, nor was there ever a desire for our labourers to unionize, so being Minister of Labour in Canada was a new place for me.
I was determined to have Canada ratify the UN ILO Convention No. 138 on minimum age for admission to employment. As a pediatric surgeon, I was somewhat dumbfounded that Canada had not ratified this basic convention, which we finally did in 2014. Our team at labour also spearheaded changes to the Canada Labour Code to ensure that interns were covered by health and safety protections and that these young Canadians received the pay they were due when they worked hard.
I believe that we as Canadians need to lead internationally by example as well as practise what we preach. The changes to these policies did both.
Politics is a rough sport. I realized that during the challenging 2015 campaign, and during my leadership campaign I learned that in spades. During the leadership campaign, I learned many things. I now have a better wardrobe and I wear makeup, and sadly, I also learned how much these material items matter. How we look is often as important as, if not more important than, our ideas or intellect, especially as women.
I also learned that not all Canadians are tolerant.
In Canada, as children we are encouraged to have new ideas, talk about those ideas and encourage debate. That is not at all what I experienced. What most Canadians saw during the campaign was people slandering me and my reputation. They saw me bullied continuously. I was subjected to the worst type of threats online. My home was broken into. My constituency office was compromised with hate banners illegally hung. My staff was intimidated. My Parliament Hill office even received long letters in which people outlined in graphic detail their plans to sadistically rape me.
This was all fuelled by people who claimed they were champions of freedom of speech, champions of women and champions of a tolerant society. I can tell members that these people are anything but that. I acutely learned that when individuals are unwilling—or, more often, unable—to debate an issue in a tolerant and respectful way, they turn to bullying, intimidation or worse. I would not wish this treatment on anyone, even on those who subjected me to it.
My campaign sparked debate on issues that Canadians wanted to talk about. I am proud to say that unlike some, I am not afraid to tackle the elephant in the room. For me, health care will be one of those topics as we go forward. We need an open and healthy debate in this country about our health care system. Today, politicians get to say when and where we get our care, but they are not accountable to deliver that care in a timely manner. Canadians are ready for a thoughtful discussion about the future of health care. As elected leaders, we need to be ready too.
Canadians have always been the most successful in all fields when we embrace our responsibilities as well-educated and tolerant people who put forward bold ideas on important subjects. Canadians elected us in the House of Commons to be leaders. We are expected to speak about issues that matter. We are not supposed to be afraid of tackling the tougher issues, and we should be able to discuss issues like health care, climate change, abortion and immigration without name-calling, without bullying, without resorting to insults or character assassinations. If we are not prepared to tackle the tough issues in a respectful manner in this place, then who is?
Leadership is about courage and about having the courage to act. As one politician once accurately outlined, most politicians, with the exception of a few with great courage, wait to see how political events are breaking before they risk their own political capital. I can say that I now understand that. Even with my challenging experience during and following the leadership campaign, I will continue to talk about issues that matter to Canadians, like the ones they talk about every day at the dinner table and at Tim Hortons. This country and the responsibility we have as Canadians to help others both here and abroad is too important to me not to.
I challenge members in the House to not shy away from bold and controversial issues. Do not be afraid of the critics and the media, the trolls and the angry people. Have courage and move forward.
It is an honour to serve in this House. I have many friends in this place and I have had many conversations, some more animated than others. No matter what our beliefs or political backgrounds, we share a common dedication to this country and to making it better. For that I thank my colleagues.
I encourage the leaders in this place to remember to take courage and bring forward bold ideas. Canadians are expecting us to do so.