Mr. Chair, I thank all of my colleagues in the House for giving me this opportunity to share my experience and explain my motivations.
I do not want to talk too much about the friendships I have built and the admiration I have developed for my colleagues, because I am a little too emotional and I have a hard time with that. I have discovered that I have a second family in my caucus. I found myself admiring people who are young enough to be my children. I realized that they were surpassing me, in terms of capabilities. I will now return to my prepared text, which is a little more pragmatic.
First of all, I want to thank the people of Laurentides—Labelle for giving me this honour and choosing me to represent them for the past four years. I also thank my staff, who helped me accomplish this work and who were dedicated to me and the people of our riding. I want to thank my wife, my family and my friends, whose support allowed me to carry out my duties.
I also want to take this opportunity to express my admiration for the Parliament Hill staff, and particularly for our security staff, who make us feel safe and secure when we come to work.
The day after the 2011 election, everyone wondered what had happened. We need to go back a bit for the answer to that. For several decades, Quebec and Canada were at a constitutional and political dead end. Throughout that dark period of history, much of the political class exploited that divide, some to stay in power and others simply to prove that Canada was dysfunctional and that they were right. In the meantime, we longed for better days and the situation continued to get worse for everyone. Like most Quebeckers, I was fed up with that impasse. Listening to Jack Layton, we believed it was possible to unite the progressive forces across the country and make Canada a more just country where no one is left behind.
Locally, I tried to perform my duties with as much dignity and professionalism as possible to show people the usefulness and value of my role. My colleagues were faced with the same challenge: replace incumbents who, with the help of the old parties, wanted to prove that the institution they were part of was dysfunctional. We succeeded in proving our relevance, and people showed us a great deal of respect and offered us a great deal of encouragement
I really enjoyed my parliamentary experience. For all those who are passionate about politics, it is a privilege and an achievement to represent the people of a riding and others across the country with similar interests. No matter where they live in Canada, workers, retirees and families have more in common than the differences that separate them. To build a better world, that is what we should focus on.
The negative aspect of the experience—we cannot ignore it if we want to move forward as a nation—is the extreme partisanship. Partisanship leads us to make assumptions about our adversaries' opinions. It makes debate sterile, and the value of the individual is lost. We end up by looking at one another through the lens of prejudice. One side sees people wearing cowboy hats who enjoy shooting at coyotes on the prairies; the other side sees the granola crowd sitting on a patio in a big city, criticizing the oil industry.
My knowledge of Canada prevents me from seeing the world like that. I like the member for Prince Albert. I actually think that if we were sitting in a boat on Baker Lake with our fishing rods, we could even have an intelligent conversation.
The biggest challenge for Canada is to overcome its prejudices. I am very proud of my Algonquin ancestors who hunted on the other side of the river, not far from here. Having lived on a reserve for a few years, I am all too familiar with the meaning of the word “prejudice”. The aboriginal values of solidarity, sharing and the constant desire to come to a consensus before making a decision are part of who I am. If we do not manage to overcome these prejudices, we will never be able to correct past injustices, and that does not bode well for how we will handle mistakes that we may make in the future.
We all share a passion for history. We are here to try to humbly change the course of that history. The thing we need to remember is that we cannot change the past, only the future.
Thank you all for this unique experience.