Mr. Speaker, that is pretty cool. I am just wondering, looking in the gallery, if there is an open bar in the gallery for the first time. This is a great treat. I want to commend the House leaders for allowing this to happen, for members to come out and have a final speech. There have been some really cool things said in the chamber.
As many members who have been here for a while and through a few Parliaments would know, not every parliamentarian necessarily gets a final speech. Sometimes it is a concession speech back at headquarters. This is far more civilized. I am really happy that I am able to join in with so many colleagues I have served with over the last number of years.
I rewrote this thing about 12 times. I am a bit nervous, although not as nervous as the first time I almost spoke in this House. I would like to share that story here. Our chief of staff in the whip's office, Charles-Eric, was on the whip's desk at the time. I was a newly minted parliamentarian. My good friend and colleague from Sydney—Victoria and I had come here, and we did not know a lot about parliamentary procedures or anything. We were elected in November. We sat for about a week, just to get some housekeeping done. Then we had the Christmas break and came back in February.
It was about the third week back, and I had not had an opportunity to do my maiden speech yet. I did not know a whole lot about the mechanics of the House. I walked into the government lobby, and Charles-Eric said, “Mr. Cuzner, we have to have you speak. We can't let the debate die. You have to do a speech.” I said, “Chuck, I have never spoken in the House before, I don't know what to do.” He said, “No, no. Here's the speech from Marlene Jennings.”
Some of you would have served with Marlene, a great member of Parliament, strong on women's issues. She always pushed the issue of women of colour and opportunities for women of colour. He said, “She hasn't shown up and the debate is going to collapse. You have to do the speech.” My reading skills are not bad, so I said, “Yeah, I'll do it, give me the speech.”
He gave me the speech. I was sitting where my good friend from Niagara Falls is. We were on the rump over there. I had the speech in hand, and I ran around. Reg Bélair was the Deputy Speaker at the time. I said, “Reg, what do I do?” He said, “I'll give the one-minute warning to the Speaker, and then I'll call your riding, you'll get up and begin to speak.” I thought, okay, I can do that.
I started reading the speech, and I got halfway through the second paragraph when I saw the one finger go up. Next thing I saw was the beads of sweat dropping on the paper. I said to myself that I did not have time to read it, so I had better scan it. I scanned it, and it was five pages of French. Now, going through my mind was, okay, what is the tempo. I was thinking, “Mr. Speaker,” trying to get the tempo down.
He was ready to go. As you do, Mr. Speaker, he did not have the technology of the lowering arm at the time. He was edging out of his seat, and my heart was just pumping and I was sweating. I had a five-page speech for 10 minutes of air time. Marlene Jennings came racing through the doors. She was in the top row over there. She took her place, huffing and puffing. Reg Bélair got up and said, “The hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.” He looked over me and said, “You're off the hook.”
I had the speech and I was in a state. I was trying to get settled down. I was looking at the last paragraph in the speech, “Growing up in Montreal as a young black woman”. I know that I was in such a state that I would have read that into the record that day. I am glad I did not. It is in the record now.
I am going to try not to be partisan or too emotional because my good friend, the Minister of Veterans Affairs said his bladder is too close to his eyes. He said that is something that no speaker should want. I am also not going to be too long.
I just want to thank some people, and obviously the good people of Cape Breton—Canso. Six times, they have put their trust in me and asked me to represent them here in the chamber. They should know that every day I go to work it is with respect to the trust that they have put in me. That is how I go about my business. I would do anything for them except re-offer. However, it was an absolute pleasure to work with them and to see so many good things happen within our riding.
I want to thank the volunteers. I have a big rural riding. I have 54 volunteer fire departments, so it is a big, expansive rural riding. We had a lot of fun with the elections and the volunteers came out. It is just their level of commitment. We have, with all parties, those party stalwarts who come out and believe in the democratic process. They want their team to win and they come out and do everything they can. I continue to be amazed by them and inspired by them. I want to thank them for their work over so many years. We should all thank our volunteers.
I want to thank my staff: Rosemary MacIntyre; Jill Horwath; Geoff MacLellan; Derek Jerrott; Laurel Munroe; Kris Kolanko; Cathy Coffin who has been with me so long; Joel Bowen, with whom we solved a lot of the world's problems late at night; Pete Cullen, who is here tonight, and I hired him twice so it is Pete and re-Pete; and Dalton Wakely and we still do not know what Dalton did but I am sure he did a great job.
I served as the chief opposition whip for two years. I want to thank the whip staff: Nathalie, Mélanie and Patrick. Again, we can all sort of relate to that. I brought Vince MacNeil over from the Senate, and Vince was a great addition to our team here on the Commons side after a career on the Senate side.
As we live here and work on the Hill, everybody appreciates the work that the House officers do. The security guys, the maintenance staff and the whole crew were wonderful at their jobs. I thank so much my caucus colleagues, past and present, and also my old roommate from Sydney—Victoria, 13 years. Our thoughts are with our good friend from Beauséjour, the Minister of Intergovernmental and Northern Affairs. I thank our past leaders.
A.J. MacDougall, former warden of Inverness County, said this right after we got elected and Rodney MacDonald was a minister in the Progressive Conservative government in Nova Scotia. He said that the people in Inverness County will expect us to work together and get along to provide for the people. I have always tried to do that.
I will just share my favourite story and I will wrap up.
There have been a lot of great moments in this House and a lot of concerning moments in this House. In the wake of 9/11 and the United States going into Iraq, I was serving as Prime Minister Chrétien's parliamentary secretary at the time. I came to his office in preparation for QP. There was a phone call earlier in the day and he was speaking with Tony Blair. He was sort of the elder statesman on the scene, so Mr. Chrétien took the call and leaned back in his chair in Mr. Chrétien's style and said, “Hello Tony”. They had a conversation and Mr. Chrétien said that if we did not have the multilateral support of the UN on this, Canada would not be going in.
Anyway, Tony Blair made the decision to go in and we know how that turned out. At the time, Mr. Chrétien said that there was going to be a mess left behind, and how do we clean that up? We were getting pounded hard every day by the Leader of the Opposition. Mr. Harper was hitting him every day. However, he knew that he would stand alone and defend that position, and I think the history books show that decision was a great moment for this country.
I also want to thank the journalists. I think they are a key pillar to this democracy.
I am not sad to go. I am just happy to have had the opportunity to be here. Everybody talks about the poems and asks if I am going to do a poem, but no, there is an entertainment tax with the poems. I took my responsibilities seriously but I never took myself seriously.
I will close by taking the chance to say to you, Mr. Speaker, who has been a good friend for a long time: Rodger, over and out.