Mr. Speaker, thank you and I thank my colleagues for giving me the opportunity to address you one last time before leaving this place for good this summer. What an honour it has been to serve here, the cradle of our democracy, and to represent the people of Outremont who honoured me by electing me four times.
Those who know me will not be surprised to hear me say that my first words are for my wife Catherine, who is here today with our son Matthew, his wife Jasmyne, and our grandchildren Juliette and Raphaël. Our son Greg and his wife Catherine are with their new baby, Leonard, the new light in our lives.
Catherine and I made a pact when we decided together that I would accept the invitation to go into politics. We promised that our relationship and our family would always come first, and we kept that promise.
Catherine advised and helped me and was by my side throughout my career in public service. Her strong values of generosity, respect for others, and kindness in the face of adversity have always inspired and guided me, even though I did not always manage to live by those values as well as she does.
Catherine has her own very demanding career as a psychologist in palliative and long-term care. She also works as a clinician in the private sector. Like many spouses of politicians, she did my work in addition to her own.
I want to share a real example of a long weekend we spent together. On the Friday, we left Montreal, picked up staff in Ottawa, went to the Festival du Voyageur in Winnipeg, went on to Chinese New Year in Vancouver, switched out staff because they were tired, visited Yellowknife, gave a speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, then I returned to Ottawa and Catherine returned to Montreal, and it was just Monday.
The Prime Minister and the leader of the official opposition are familiar with this kind of schedule, but there are not many people, aside from our loved ones, who understand the sacrifices our noble profession demands.
Still, what memories. Our granddaughter Juliette hand-made buttons for my leadership race, our three-year-old grandson Raphaël discovered that Stornoway was a great place for building forts, Greg built and maintained the best leadership campaign website, and Matt and Jasmyne would regularly summarize the news for me because I did not have enough time to read it all.
I owe so much to my family, including my sisters and brothers, Colleen, Peter, Jeannie, Daniel, Deborah, Sheylagh, Maureen, Kelly, and Sean, not to mention my unconditional supporter, my mother, Jeanne Honorine.
We are truly blessed to live in Canada, and we in this place are truly fortunate to be given the chance to try to make it an even better place for all. I have been so lucky to live so many unforgettable experiences in this role.
I remember being on board former AFN national chief Shawn Atleo's boat near his home in Ahousaht when we spotted a pod of whales. Catherine and I were overwhelmed as we saw Shawn go to the side and begin to intone a beautiful song. We quietly asked what he was doing, and he said he was calling the whales with a song of his people. We watched in silent awe as the whale swam right to him. We do have a lot to learn from those who were here first, in particular our obligation to leave things better for generations to come.
My career in government began exactly 40 years ago. It was in Quebec City in the legislation branch of the justice department. It was there that I first learned the inspiring lesson my political mentor Claude Ryan would drive home time and again. Politics is an amazing way to help make people's lives better, and we should never allow anything to supercede that priority.
Here in this place there are so many wonderful people who dedicate themselves to making our lives easier. I want to thank all of the staff. The superb professionals at the table, the delightful pages, the brilliant library personnel, the support staff, and our incredible interpreters who somehow make sense of it all even when we are talking a mile a minute.
I have a special word of thanks for two people.
I want to thank Marguerite, from our restaurant, who always managed to find us a place, even whether there were none left, and she did it with a smile.
Samearn Son of our Parliamentary Protective Service, who courageously stood between a deranged man's bullet and us, represented the best of the best of a service that deserves all of our respect.
Politics is a contact sport, but our incredible colleagues and employees are always there to support and to advise, and to soften the blows. I had the good fortune to serve under two extraordinary leaders prior to the arrival of our new chief, the exceptional Jagmeet Singh.
Jack Layton was in a class apart. He contacted me in early 2006, a full year before I was to become his Quebec lieutenant. I had just left cabinet on a question of principle, having refused to sign an order in council transferring land in Mont-Orford Provincial Park to private developers. Jack was amazing, sans pareil, when it came to connecting with people and he proposed a supper with his wife, the extraordinary Olivia Chow, and Catherine and me at a restaurant in his old hometown of Hudson, Quebec.
As a Quebecker, he knew the progressive side of politics there. He also knew how tough it was for the NDP, but he was so sure that working together we could break through in our home province. Catherine was convinced, so was I, and an unlikely, hopeful, slightly mad political adventure began.
Many will recall the orange wave of May 2011, but fewer people will remember that it was preceded by five years of organized and relentless hard work from Lac-Saint-Jean to Trois-Rivières, from Rimouski to Gatineau, and from Sept-Îles to Montreal. Recruiting party supporters was not easy, but together, Layton and Mulcair, as we were often called, worked as a team that did not so much recruit candidates as it hunted them down. We were good. We recruited people like the extraordinary Nycole Turmel, who so brilliantly replaced Jack at a moment's notice upon his departure.
Jack knew that a breakthrough in Quebec was key to the NDP being considered a national party worthy of the name, and Jack would be so proud to know that we currently have such a strong and experienced team of 16 NDP members from Quebec here in the House. It is true that our goal of forming a progressive NDP government eluded us in 2015, but let us never forget that the 44 seats won by the outstanding members during the previous election was our second-best result in 18 federal elections since the NDP was created in 1961.
As I prepare to leave this place this summer, I look back with pride and try to keep only the happier memories in addition to our miraculous breakthrough in Quebec, such as zip lining with Rick Mercer or tailgate parties with the Rider Nation in Regina.
I remember the beers I had with Jack and Rebecca Blaikie on a beautiful patio in Trois-Rivières, with the nicest people ever. I remember a long journey by dogsled in Whitehorse, Yukon, where my great-grandparents Mercier were married.
There was also the annual regatta in St. John's and the evening on George Street that always followed, and knocking on then Supreme Court Chief Justice, and neighbour, Beverley McLachlin's door with my grandchildren on Halloween wearing my Angry Bird costume.
Mark Critch, bless his soul, called me right after the 2015 election, telling me he decided he was going to cheer me up. He brought me into a studio, dressed me up as Canadian music star Drake, and had me dance to Hotline Bling. Yes, that really was me lip-synching “You used to call me on my cell phone”. How appropriate.
I also had the good fortune to travel abroad with colleagues of all parties and to learn their stories. We have a lot more in common than anything that divides us.
The world around us has changed a great deal since I entered this place. While we can and should celebrate and cherish our democracy, our liberties, our rights, and our institutions, we are all keenly aware that no one can take anything for granted in today's world. Democracy needs champions, and Canada should be one of those champions.
Here, within these halls, we have the privilege and the duty to enact positive change. I will continue to try making a positive contribution after I leave this place. I will be teaching sustainable development in the most important research university in Quebec, the University of Montreal.
Since civil society also makes a remarkable contribution to progress, I will once again be very active in charitable organizations. I recently agreed to become the chair of the board of directors of Earth Day. There are so many different ways to contribute to the well-being of Canada, but the goal remains the same: to work together not only for the promise of a better society, but also to make it a reality for all.