Mr. Chair, I appreciate the opportunity to make a few remarks this evening.
My political story actually began in 1997. I was in transition, what some might call unemployed, and was invited by what is now Service Canada to participate in a course for downsized executives and managers. They told us we should view our situation as being in a canoe, having left the safety of an island where we had lived for many years and we were paddling, sometimes furiously, but we needed to know which of those islands we wanted to head toward. That is where I was in 1997, paddling furiously, but not really knowing where I was going.
To be honest, I do not think it crossed my mind that I should start paddling to that island called politics. However, coincidentally, one day during our lunch break there was a commotion at the hotel next door and it was a rally for Preston Manning, leader of the Reform Party.
In the riding where I lived, called Dewdney—Alouette then, Grant McNally, the young, first-time Reform candidate, won the June 2nd election. A mutual friend told me Grant was looking for someone to run his constituency office, so I applied and within a week or so, I was scheduled for an interview. I cannot say that I remember too much about the interview, I think it went well, except that when I walked out of the office, the other short-listed candidate was there waiting for his interview. He was young, tall, had hair, but I got the job. That young man is now the member of Parliament for Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam and the Minister of Industry. It is interesting to wonder or muse about how life might have changed for both of us if he had gotten the job instead of me.
Seven years later, when the parties merged to form the Conservative Party of Canada, Grant shared the disappointing news that he was not going to seek the nomination for the new party. Few believe me when I say this, but while working as his executive assistant, I had never thought seriously of succeeding him some day. However, with Grant's announced retirement and others declaring their intentions, I thought I should think about it.
My first inclination was not to run. Being an introvert and more reserved than most politicians, I was not sure it was a good fit for me. I wrestled with the decision for several days and nights, but eventually Ruth lost patience with me, which almost never happens, and said, “Don't be such a coward”, so I jumped in.
Some listening will know that I was not expected to win the nomination. I was criticized by some for not being ambitious enough, or as one friend put it, “I want to vote for someone with fire in his belly”. I admit that my nomination campaign slogan, “I'm willing to win”, was not too inspiring, but Ruth is a formidable woman and ran a strong campaign, and I won.
On June 28, 2004, I won my first election, and for that I want to thank the constituents of Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission who have been increasingly supportive for 11 years.
I have to admit that even for someone as low key as I am, those were heady days.
Just after that first election, Ruth and I were on our regular Friday date night, dining at a food court in a local mall, when a young man approached me. Although he appeared to have a developmental disability, I thought maybe he recognized me from my signs or billboard, the new Member of Parliament. He said, “Mister, your fly is down”. I have managed to keep my feet on the ground and my fly up ever since.
I am well aware that I was not elected that first time, or the second, third or fourth time because of my brilliance or good looks. Politics is a team game and I have always had an outstanding team behind me, from the campaign managers and volunteers, to the EDA presidents and boards that have been unfailingly loyal and helpful.
Special thanks needs to go to my close friend and official agent, Mark Bogdanovich, who has supported me since 1997 when I first found myself in the political arena. In many ways we are kindred spirits and his friendship and encouragement have kept me going during those especially challenging times that come to every MP from time to time.
Let me also express my heartfelt thanks to those who have served me in my constituency and Hill offices. My first team of Rebecca Bartle here in Ottawa, and David Russell-Coutts and Dan Cody in Maple Ridge, led by the current member for Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, became remarkably good at their jobs and, as much as it is possible for me, made the job fun.
It was with that group that I developed our office value statement that is still on our whiteboard today: “We represent our constituents most effectively when we serve them most helpfully”.
They all went on to bigger and better things, and that is as it should be, but other capable individuals came on board, including some very good interns and volunteers, and none more capable than my current team that has served with me for several years. Cutis Schoblocher here in Ottawa and in my constituency office, Janis Butcher, Davis Friesen and my executive assistant, Mike Murray. I thank them. It is a rare blessing when we get to work with friends.
Let me also thank the Prime Minister for allowing me to serve as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans for more than nine years. Although I might have mumbled from time to time that no good deed goes unpunished, I have always considered it a privilege to serve under three humble, down-to-earth ministers: first Loyola Hearn, the member for Fredericton and the member for Egmont twice. All three had the knack of asking me to work on things that interested me and stimulated me, and for that I thank them.
In my parliamentary secretary role, I have worked with intelligent, competent PSAs who, as much as is possible, made me look good, so thanks to Jeff Kennedy, Connor Robinson, Brad Nazar, Blair Kestevan and my current assistant, Paul Beckmann. I look forward to cheering on their future accomplishments that I know will come.
Let me also thank my colleagues from all parties who have treated me with respect, especially in these last few years when I struggled with severe hearing loss. I thank them for their understanding.
I have left until the last those who are first in my life: my family. My parents, in addition to being perhaps a little surprised by my success, have always been very supportive and proud. My mother died about two and a half years ago and I miss her encouragement, but my father at almost 89 is still one of my biggest fans, as I am of him.
I want to thank my children, Mark, Melanie and Adam and their spouses for their love and support throughout this journey. As all my colleagues will know, being in public life affects our families too. When, for example, in a radio interview with CKNW, the host, not realizing her mike was still on, called me a moron. It might have bothered them more than me, but perhaps not, because I think they came to that conclusion on their own during their teen years.
When I was first elected, I had one grandchild, a two-year-old. Now I have 12. Three of them walked with me in a parade on Saturday, so my only regret is leaving this job when they could have become really useful on my campaigns. I have got some grandfathering to catch up on, so that will be one of my highest priorities after October 19.
Then course there's Ruth, my wife of more than 41 years. I first met her in 1971 when we were still in our teens. She was everything I was not: vivacious, energetic, enthusiastic, good-looking and verbal. I was smitten, and still am. She has been, in every sense of the word, my partner during my career in politics. Although it was my name on the ballots and campaign signs and on the office door, those who know us best are well aware of the indispensable role that Ruth has played. I wouldn't be here without her. I look forward to the next 41 years together.
Finally, I want to thank God who has blessed me beyond what I could have imagined, as I have had the privilege of serving the people of Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission and, in that role, in some small way, serving Him too.