Mr. Speaker, my main purpose in rising at this time is to, first, thank the electors of Calgary Southwest and, second, to thank my colleagues for the very gracious tributes given today. They probably would have helped me if I had received some of them a little bit earlier. I thank my hon. colleagues for the sentiments they have expressed. They mean a great deal to myself personally and to my family.
I would like to make a few comments, looking back but also looking forward. My remarks will be brief because, as many members know, I have a particular interest in economy and budgets. The budget of the House is getting close to $300 million and we spend about a thousand hours a year here, which means that if one takes even 15 minutes of the House's time that is about $75,000. I am feeling fiscally irresponsible already for the time we have taken.
It was almost 15 years ago that a small group of people in western Canada decided that we would try to change the national agenda by using the tools that democracy gives to every citizen: freedom of speech, freedom of association, and the opportunity to try to convince fellow citizens to support a political program.
In our case, as members know, we used those tools to advance on the national agenda such ideas as debt reduction, budget balancing and tax relief, and also to demand a greater clarity and rigour on the part of the federal government with respect to secession and the revitalization of federalism.
Other Canadians and other members of the House may have different concerns and aspirations. We all do. I would hope that the experience of the Reform Party would inspire democrats in every party and in every part of the country to believe more passionately and actively in the tools and ideology of democracy itself.
That ideology and those tools still constitute the best way in my judgment to change the country. I trust that our activities will inspire people.
Like all members I am indebted to many people for anything I have been able to accomplish politically. I acknowledge that debt today. To the thousands of faithful party volunteers, supporters and workers without whom our democratic system would grind to a halt, I offer my deepest thanks and appreciation.
To the voters of Calgary Southwest, who never insisted that I attend any social, community or even political event in the riding as long as I kept working for their interest on the national stage, I offer my deepest thanks. It has been a privilege to be your representative in the Parliament of Canada.
To all the administrative and support staff in our party offices, parliamentary and constituency offices, and to the officers of this House, pages, security and maintenance people I offer my deepest thanks. Most of us politicians can look bad on our own. To look good we need the help of a lot of people and these are the ones who give it to us.
To all my colleagues, past and present, in the Reform, Canadian Alliance and democratic representative caucuses it has been a great honour and a privilege for me to campaign with these parliamentarians in the federal elections of 1988, 1993, 1997 and 2000, and to serve with hon. members in this place.
As Deborah said “I love that word reform”, and just as I was convinced that reform was the right word to describe much of the dynamics of what had to be done in the 1990s, I am equally convinced that the building of strategic alliances and principled coalitions will be the key to getting big things done in the next decade of this century.
How to operationalize that concept in practice is not yet clear. I wish the builders of strategic alliances and principled coalitions every success in the days ahead.
To the Prime Minister, and I had a chance to visit with him yesterday before he left for New York, to the members of the cabinet, to the leaders of all the parties and to all my parliamentary colleagues on both sides of the House, it has been a privilege for me to serve with them in the 35th, 36th and 37th parliament.
My only regret is that I did not get to know and appreciate more hon. members on a personal basis because the longer I observe life in politics the more I appreciate that it is the relationships we form in the course of our activities, more often than the activities themselves, that are the most important and enduring thing.
Actually I was always a little afraid that if I got to know some hon. members better I might get to like them better. If I got to like them better, it might make it more difficult to challenge their positions and policies with the vigour with which they deserved to be challenged.
Most important of all I acknowledge the constant help and support of my wife and family, without whom I would have long ago lost my balance and my desire to persevere in public life. I thank Sandra for her love, her encouragement, her advice and for being my partner in politics and in life.
To my colleagues from Quebec, personally, my limited knowledge of the French language always prevented me from getting to know you better and from having real heart-to-heart talks with you. But, politically, there is a potential connection between western Canadians and Quebecers, a connection that is promising for the future and that I want to point out today.
In Canada, two great regions have always supported political innovation by creating new parties and by calling for systemic changes to our federal state. These two regions are Quebec and western Canada.
In Quebec, there was the Bloc populaire, the Union nationale, the Ralliement des créditistes, the Parti québécois and the Action démocratique. In western Canada, we had Riel, the autonomy movements, the Progressive Party and the parties that were born during the depression, the Social Credit and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, which later became the New Democratic Party.
This trend reappeared in the 1990s with the birth of the Bloc Québécois in Quebec and the Reform Party in the west. Each has a platform that calls for fundamental changes. However, our platforms are so different that we were unable to work together.
I hope the next generation of agents of change in Quebec and in western Canada will have better luck and will be able to form strategic alliances and to implement the reforms that are essential to revitalize the federation for the benefit of all Canadians.
So much for looking backward. My real interest and preoccupation these days is in looking ahead.
Thanks to the good graces of several Canadian think tanks and universities, I am looking forward to exploring and addressing, from a non-partisan standpoint, some of the major public policy concerns of the present and the future.
My thanks especially to the Fraser Institute and the Canada West Foundation for providing me with senior fellowships at their institutions and to the University of Calgary and to the University of Toronto for inviting me to be a distinguished visitor at their institutions. Those hon. members who have sometimes suggested in debate that I should be institutionalized should now be happy.
I should also mention that I will be working with McClelland and Stewart to publish a book this fall describing my adventures in politics and parliament over the last 10 years.
Various hon. members of the House will be mentioned in the book. As in all good westerns, they will either be classified as villains or heroes. Those wishing to influence their characterization may wish to slip a brown envelope under my door.
Looking ahead, there will be a chapter on the next prime minister. Sealed bids will be gratefully received from anyone wishing to ghostwrite that chapter.
Several years ago, I was going back to Calgary on a Saturday morning flight and I sat beside a gentleman who introduced himself as Jerry Potts, Jr. He was a direct descendent of the original Jerry Potts, the great Metis scout who provided indispensable guidance to the early North-West Mounted Police when they brought peace, order and good government to the western frontier.
The more unfamiliar the territory and the more uncertain the future, the more crucial is the function of the scout, the person who will ride out ahead of the main company, study the weather and the signs of the trail, carefully note the dangers and the opportunities that lie ahead and then come back to the main company and try to help it make the right decision as to which path to take.
Once I am clear of my political responsibilities and my constituency responsibilities, I intend to do a little scouting on the frontiers of the 21st century, just as Jerry Potts scouted the last great frontier, the 19th.
Like many members, I sense dangers up ahead, dangers for Canada and Canadians, and want to explore the best paths for avoiding them or diffusing them.
Internationally, of course, we know there is the threat of terrorism and war in the Middle East and in Asia. What is the best path for peacekeepers, under those circumstances and on those frontiers?
Closer to home, there is the declining confidence of the Canadian public in the Canadian dollar. What is the course of action that preserves sovereignty in the face of globalization and perhaps a single North American or even hemispheric currency?
Even closer yet to home, to this House, 15% fewer Canadians voted in election 2000 than voted in the 1988 federal election. By what means do we restore the faith of Canadians in parliamentary democracy itself ? It affects us all; it is beyond a particular party.
Like many members, I also sense great opportunities ahead and want to explore the best paths for capturing them for Canada and Canadians. The frontiers of the knowledge and information economy are as vast and as exciting as those of the frontiers of the old west. What kinds of educational reforms and science policies would enable Canada to advance on that frontier?
There is now a public appetite, at long last, for health care reform. There is action on that front by the provinces. By what path will the new balance between federal and provincial or public and private resources in health care be achieved?
We are conscious of this in our own family, and many members are also, that a new generation of young people have grown up with as deep a commitment to environmental conservation as many of us in our generation had to economic development. What is the course of action that strikes the balance between the two?
These are some of the frontiers that I intend to scout, in the company of others like-minded, in the days ahead. As one scout who is somewhat familiar with the interests and capabilities of this unique company, if I see or hear something that may help members in parliament to deal with those challenges, everyone can be sure that I will let them know.
Finally, one of the signs that a democracy has fully matured is when it is able to wisely handle not only the social or economic or environmental or administrative dimensions of the public interest, but the ethical and spiritual dimensions as well.
In this country for a long time we have tended to avoid moral and ethical issues in the public arena for fear that would divide us rather than unite us or for fear that we would be misunderstood as trying to impose our particular values on others. Likewise, we have virtually banished expressions of religious faith largely now to the private or personal sphere because we simply do not know how to handle expressions of faith in the public arena. Two recent developments should cause us to rethink those positions.
First, this parliament will soon legislate on how to regulate the genetic revolution, one of the most exciting and potentially advantageous developments in the history of mankind. However because that science deals with the beginnings and the intergenerational transfer of human life itself, it cannot help but have moral and ethical dimensions of the most profound kind which parliament must openly and seriously discuss. I for one think this is a good thing, not something to be feared and avoided, but an opportunity to be embraced. I want to wish this parliament openness and honesty and wisdom and success in those deliberations.
Second, in the hours and days after the terrorist attacks on September 11, our Prime Minister and other world leaders rightly declared those actions to be acts of evil and the misguided faith of the terrorists to be a counterfeit faith. Such declarations have the effect of pulling at least certain aspects of defence policy and external affairs policy and justice policy on to moral ground and they oblige us as parliamentarians then to say by what standards we consider this act to be evil or this policy to be good or that expression of faith to be counterfeit and this expression of faith to be genuine.
In days past we would have avoided a debate like that like the plague. While it is a mistake to see moral issues where they do not in fact exist, I suggest it is an even greater mistake to fail to see them when they do actually arise.
Responsible leadership in such circumstances will require parliamentarians to engage in those types of issues honestly, openly, respectfully and cautiously but to engage nonetheless. Again I wish this House the courage and wisdom required to venture forward on that frontier.
In the spirit of the necessity to express ourselves openly on matters of faith and morality, I leave members with my favourite prayer by a 19th century statesman and democrat who wrestled long and hard with these types of issues and which he gave on the occasion of his departure from his political friends:
Trusting in Him who can go with me and remain with you and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.