Mr. Speaker, I was first elected on June 2, 1997. Today, nearly 22 years later, I am informing the House that February 10, 2019, will be my last day as member of Parliament for Kings—Hants.
Welcome to my unplugged tour. For 22 years I have worked hard and fought hard for the people of Kings—Hants, Nova Scotia, and Atlantic Canada, and it has been a wonderful honour.
In December, during our final days in Centre Block, I reflected on what the House of Commons means to me and on the debates and decisions that have shaped the Canada I love.
The House of Commons has not just been a place that has shaped my career; it has shaped my life. When I was first elected in 1997, a family like mine would not have been legally recognized in Canada. I feel privileged not just to have helped contribute in some small way to this progress as a parliamentarian, but also to have benefited from it as a citizen. That is one of the many reasons that today, as I leave public life, my belief in government, in Parliament and indeed in politics as a force for good is stronger than ever.
In this age of cynicism when the doubters tell us the government does not matter, I experience the living proof of government as a force of good every day in the sheer existence of my family. Government matters, politics matters and members of Parliament matter.
I have been elected seven times for two parties, and I have served under nine leaders. I have been a member of caucuses as small as 12 and as large as 184. I have served in a fifth-place party and in minority and majority governments. I am deeply grateful to the Right Hon. Paul Martin and the Right Hon. , the member for Papineau, for giving me the opportunity to serve in their cabinets.
I am proud of what our and what our government have accomplished for and with Canadians. I loved being part of his team.
Yes, I have enjoyed my time on the front benches, but let me tell all members that there is no such thing as a bad seat in the House of Commons. Members of Parliament do not need to serve in a cabinet to make their mark in history or to help build a better Canada. Do not ever take for granted the honour of being trusted by Canadians to forge the future of this country in this place, to improve the lives of people and to make a difference. Never take for granted the honour of serving our constituents. When members and their constituency teams help people, it changes lives.
I would like to read to members from an article from the Enfield Weekly Press, from my riding, dated May 11, 2005. The headline is “Gorman to Get Pension”. The article goes further:
A 90-year-old Gormanville woman couldn't have asked for a better Mother's Day gift.
Almira Gorman, who still lives in her own home in the community, is in line for about $27,000 in back benefits from the Canada Pension Plan.
Gorman didn't realize she was entitled to the payments and did not [initially] apply to receive them.
Government policy dictated she was only entitled to receive back payments for a period of up to 11 months, but that apparently changed....
That is the end of the article, but it is not the full story. My constituency office worked with me, and we fought hard for Mrs. Gorman. It was not easy to get her retroactive payment, but we found a way. My constituency team's work helped this elderly lady of modest income, who had raised a large family in rural Hants County, to get the money she deserved, and that enabled her to build an accessible bathroom in her house so she could continue to live at home. It changed her life.
Here in Parliament, the work we do as parliamentarians in the chamber, in caucus rooms, in committee rooms is very important. Being a member of Parliament is a fantastic platform to take on issues, to study, to learn, to build and defend ideas, to change people's minds and sometimes allow them to change our minds.
I spent 16 years of my career in opposition, and I found those years too, as a private member, to be so fulfilling in so many ways. I wish members opposite many more years to enjoy that.
We can make a positive difference in the lives of Canadians from any seat in the House of Commons. Just ask our friend, the hon. member for , who has served his people, Atlantic Canadians and the people of Canada exceptionally well in a remarkable and accomplished career as a great member of Parliament.
In terms of partisanship, I have a unique perspective. I served in two parties, and I have great respect and affection for members of all parties. There are good people in every party, and while we have ideological differences, we all come here to serve, driven by the same desire to build a better Canada, and while none of us is perfect, every MP in the House must have something going for them. They must have some goodness in them. After all, they were able to earn the trust of their fellow citizens to become elected to this place. When we demonstrate respect for each other in this place, we demonstrate respect for the citizens who chose us as their members of Parliament, and the opposite is true as well.
In the spirit of non-partisanship, I would be remiss not to recognize Canada's first openly gay member of Parliament, Svend Robinson, who is with us today. His courage in 1988 made it easier for me, coming later, to live my life openly and honestly and to become Canada's first openly gay cabinet minister in 2004.
As members embark on their lives in this new chamber, I embark on a new chapter in my life. I feel grateful, and I want to thank some people.
For starters, I want to thank my family, including my 95-year-old father, Clifford Brison, who is watching this from home. I understand they put new batteries in his hearing aid. Dad used to pass out campaign flyers at the front door of Sobeys for me.
I want to thank the people of Kings—Hants, who stuck with me through thick and thin, seven elections and 22 years. They were there for me when I came out in December of 2002. They stood by me when I came out again in December 2003, this time as a Liberal. They had my back during some of the big debates, including when I was part of a cabinet that legalized same-sex marriage in 2005. They celebrated with Max and me when we married at our home in Cheverie in 2007. I want to thank the people of Kings—Hants for the love and respect they have afforded not just to me but to my family, Max, Claire and Rose.
I want to thank all the volunteers who have knocked on the doors and put up the signs, and I want to invite all of them to our last big barbeque at home in Cheverie this summer. It will be our 23rd annual Kings—Hants barbeque—I forgot to tell Max—and they will be able to enjoy hearing me belt out Conway Twitty's Hello Darlin' one last time.
I want to thank my constituency staff, who over the years have included the late, great Audrey-Ann Murphy, Pat Taylor, Tanya Moore and more recently Evan Fairn. They have helped improve the lives of thousands of their fellow citizens.
I want to thank my friend of 40 years and long-time staff member and organizer of all my campaigns, Dale Palmeter. Dale has given me very direct advice for 22 years, and I am sure in my next chapter he will continue to do so.
I want to thank Tisha Ashton, who is with me here today. For 17 years she has provided me with flawless, or usually flawless, policy advice. Edward Rawlinson has been with me for 13 years and Adèle Desjardins has worked with me for 22 years. Adèle started her House of Commons career over 50 years ago, in 1968, working for the Right Hon. Robert Stanfield, and she served the Right Hon. Joe Clark for many years. I am the only one she has served who is not a right hon. I tried, but it did not work. Merci beaucoup, Adèle.
I want to thank my minister's office teams, some of whom are here today. These are wonderful, exceptional, loyal people, who are smart and decent, and most recently helped me execute this final chapter of my political life, code-named internally “Brixit”.
I want to thank the hon. member for , who is not only an excellent member of Parliament but has been and is a terrific Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board.
I want to thank our world-class public servants, from the wonderful officials in my departments to House of Commons security to the staff of the parliamentary restaurant, including of course Marguerite, and our parliamentary pages. They have all taken such good care of me and of all of us.
I especially want to thank the House of Commons interpreters. I know that they have had trouble following my French from time to time. I am sure that I was one of the biggest challenges of their careers. In fact, one of the greatest gifts life has given me has been the chance to perfect my French as an MP.
Lighten up, folks. That was a laugh line. This is a tough crowd. For goodness' sake, in my absence, could you bring a sense of humour back into this place? Reverse the full humorectomy that has fallen on the House of Commons.
In closing, there are three reasons I am moving on.
First, after 22 years as an MP, I am proud of what I have helped to accomplish, and I am leaving under my own steam.
Second, I am ready for a change. At 51, I have the runway to take on new challenges in a new career, and the energy to pursue exciting opportunities.
Third, and most important, is my family. For me, there are three miracles in the gallery today: Maxime, Rose and Claire.
Some people become parents easily, some even accidentally. For Max and me, the journey to parenthood was neither easy nor accidental. I have been so blessed in so many ways to have this lovely family. The most important roles or titles I will ever have are being husband to Max and daddy to Rose and Claire.
Long after I have left public life, I will be bringing my children back here to remind them that Parliament matters. This is where brave lawmakers, nation-builders, members of Parliament and senators helped build, and will continue to build, a Canada that is one of the truly rare places in the world where a family like ours is possible.
There is a tradition in rural Nova Scotia churches. I have gone to a lot of funerals over the years. There is a reading that ends with, “Miss me, but let me go.”
Mr. Speaker, thank you, and miss me, but let me go.
Mr. Speaker, let me begin by simply saying that the member for is rude. He has frequently criticized my speeches in Parliament and elsewhere as long, very, very long. He calls them, and I quote, “the Regina monologues”. Today, he will just have to sit and listen.
The member for is a centennial baby, born in 1967, so he missed this country's entire first century. However, I think we all might agree that he has rather made up for all of that in the following 51 years.
Finance, the economy and business have always been of great interest to him. He got his education in these fields at Dalhousie University. He was already an entrepreneur during those university years. He rented small refrigerators to his fellow students. To their parents, he distributed brochures showing those little fridges stuffed with vegetables. To the students, he showed the brochures with fridges stuffed with beer. He liked to think of himself in those days as a “fridge magnate”, which maybe was a precursor to his later careers.
After university, he joined an equity firm, invested in a paint company, and moved to New York City. It was there that he was discovered by Jean Charest, who persuaded him to return to Nova Scotia to contest the 1997 federal election in the constituency of Kings—Hants as a Progressive Conservative. He was 30 years old at that time, and the Progressive Conservative Party had two seats in the House of Commons. I remember well because I was there. His political adventure had begun. Obviously, he was an optimist.
Over the intervening two decades, the member for has been a backbencher, a front-bencher, in government, in opposition, a committee chair, a parliamentary secretary, an official critic, and a minister twice. He has been elected, resigned, been re-elected and crossed the floor. That diverse experience shows at least three things.
First of all, he cannot keep a steady job. Second, he has broad experience in, and I think from what we have seen today, the deepest respect for the institutions of parliamentary democracy. Third, to continually win and retain the loyalty of his voters, no matter what partisan hat he might be wearing at any given time over all of those elections, it is obvious that he has never forgotten for a second where he came from and where his roots are.
Indeed, the people of Cheverie and Nova Scotia are probably the most frequently referenced demographic group in caucus and around the cabinet table, because he makes sure they are always mentioned.
He ran for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party, and after reinventing himself he also ran for the leadership of the Liberal Party. He was quite a kingmaker. After dropping out of the PC race, he then backed Jim Prentice, thus cementing a victory for Peter MacKay, and after dropping out of the Liberal race, he backed first Bob Rae and then Michael Ignatieff, cementing a victory for Stéphane Dion.
He did not win the leadership but he has, throughout his career and again today, proved himself to be a smart, funny, principled, decent, devoted trailblazer, with friends on both sides of the House.
The member for embodies and helped drive some of the biggest social changes our country has ever seen, becoming Canada's first openly gay cabinet minister.
That mattered, not just because of the benefits that we know diversity brings to every organization and society that embraces it, but it mattered for a generation of LGBTQ2 people to see themselves in those holding some of the highest offices in the land. Representation matters, democracy matters, and there could have been no better role model.
On many other fronts, he worked human rights protections into free trade negotiations, even though he was not in government at the time but sat in the opposition. In government, he got the estimates process changed to help MPs follow the money in government spending; he championed regulatory reform to augment Canadian competitiveness; he concluded 17 collective bargaining agreements with public servants; and he has led the drive toward digital government in the modern economy in Canada.
The member for has been blessed with excellent staff, as he mentioned a few moments ago, throughout his parliamentary career. Today, for all of us who serve in this place in whatever capacity, I am sure we would want to take this opportunity with him to recognize those devoted people who work with us. Those on many sides of the House have had the opportunity to work with Tisha, Dale, Edward, Adèle and the others he has mentioned. How they endured all of those years, how they put up with all of that aggravation, is hard to believe.
We also want to thank Max, Claire and Rose for sharing a spouse and father with all of Canada. Whether on that side of the House, this side of the House or outside of Parliament, just by watching this man, we could tell the moment that Max and then Claire and Rose came into the life of the member for . Something fundamental changed.
The member for has done more than most in our chamber for diversity and inclusion; for accommodation and respect; for young people and role modelling; for making Canada a more fair, decent and wonderful country where more and more people, whatever their colour or creed, whatever their gender or orientation, whatever their ethnicity or heritage, whatever their abilities or exceptionalities, where more and more people of all kinds can be and are equal, first-class Canadians. All of us together live in a country that is the finest example of pluralism that the world has ever known. This is the cause to which the member for has devoted his parliamentary life, and together we say, “Thank you and Godspeed”.
Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the official opposition, I want to extend my best wishes to the member for as he leaves public life. In truth, I could go on for a while, but I am mindful of the time.
As many know, as was mentioned today, the hon. member is father to two beautiful girls, Claire and Rose, and although I understand they are very good readers right now, when they are old enough to read Hansard, this is what I want them to know about their father. I wish it were funnier.
First, Claire and Rose should know their dad loved his country, his region, his province and his constituency. He represented his constituents so well that for 22 years they trusted him to be their voice. They supported him through two parties, two leadership bids and countless lessons in French immersion, I am sure. However, he could not do it alone. He was loved and supported by his husband Max St-Pierre, who Claire and Rose know as “Papa”, an incredibly supportive person in the member's life.
Second, Claire and Rose should know that their dad was a great parliamentarian. Indeed, their dad was built to serve. It has been reported on good authority that, at 12 years of age in elementary school, he gave a speech to the local 4-H club that quoted, as inspirational talks invariably do, the likes of Mark Twain and Will Rogers. This is what he said, “Iron rusts from disuse. Stagnant water loses its purity. And inaction saps the vigour of the mind.” He was 12, by the way. “To be successful one must be ready for hard work, must have integrity and must have a good attitude. If you have the will to win, you've achieved half your success. If you don't have the will to win, you've achieved half your future.”
Hon. Scott Brison: “Failure.”
Hon. Lisa Raitt: I stand corrected, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate the point of order. We will fix that in the blues.
Indeed, in this place, the member was successful because he was ready for hard work. He had integrity and had a very good attitude, which was well displayed through his frequent interjections in question period and cute little asides in the halls as we passed one another. Saying that he was ready for hard work, integrity and good attitude is great advice for anyone who is entering public life.
Third, Claire and Rose should know that their dad was proud to be a politician. The member for delivered a tribute to our former colleague, another great politician, Jim Flaherty. He quoted a portion of a speech by Theodore Roosevelt and stated:
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
On that morning when we honoured Jim Flaherty, those were words that many of us took to heart and were grateful for.
When asked why he used that quote, the member for said:
It embodies a respect for those who roll up their sleeves and enter public service with the best intentions and public interests. If you’re going to enter public life and give it your all, you’re going to be in the arena described by Roosevelt. You could say “in the arena” doesn’t necessarily apply to every politician. There may be people who get elected and who don’t necessarily push as hard or go as far as they could. Who get comfortable.
I am sure many of us would agree that the member for was not one of those persons.
At the end of the day, when he talked about the role and responsibility of being a politician, he put it very clearly and frankly when he said:
...we spend far too much time in politics debasing that which we do and who we are. It annoys me the degree to which some politicians go to say, “I’m not a politician”.... I am a politician. That’s what I do. And anyone who puts their name on a ballot becomes a politician. And it should be something that we ourselves honour and we encourage others to honour.
Finally, Claire and Rose should know that leaving this place is not easy, and he made the conscious decision to be more present in their lives. He said, “I’ve gone at this 120 per cent for almost 22 years, working evenings and weekends and putting my job first”.
I will miss the wit and humour of the member for , but I respect and admire—and maybe am a little bit envious of—his decision to be with his family, and I wish him very well.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of my party to join the member for and, I am sure, all members of this House of Commons to thank the member for for his 22 years of service: service to his constituents in Kings—Hants, service to the people of Nova Scotia, service to this House and service to Canada.
The member for indeed does have a distinguished record, but for me and many other Canadians it is not least for being an out gay MP and then being elected five times after coming out, a record he shares with Svend Robinson. The member for Kings—Hants was only the fourth gay MP to come out, after two New Democrats and one Bloc member, but he still managed to set two records. He was the first Conservative to come out, albeit a Progressive Conservative, and then a year later he was the first Liberal to come out. Therefore, out of the first four members of Parliament in the parties, he holds two records, and I am sure, in the last two days we can make room for him over here.
The member is always quite modest about the importance of his being an out gay MP. He made reference today to what is most important, and that is inspiring members of the LGBTQ2 community always to aim higher and to know that everything is possible in Canada.
He has also helped remove barriers for all of those who will follow him. I once had a moment when I dreamt of being in cabinet and I am now starting to dream that dream again, but no matter where we are in Canadian life—whether a woman, a member of the LGBTQ community, a visible minority, disabled—whenever we see someone from our community succeed, it does let us know that it is also possible for us to achieve our dreams. I thank the member for for that.
In 2004, the member for set another record by being the first out gay cabinet minister, but at the time there was more comment on the fact that he was the youngest cabinet minister. I think that is why it seems this is an early retirement, even though he has been elected seven times.
For all that he is modest about his achievements, he has been part of a government that has made significant strides in improving the lives of LGBTQ Canadians, so for all that progress that has been made—I know he has been in there pushing the gay agenda—I want to give him credit. For all that remains to be done, I blame his colleagues and we will hold them responsible for that at the next election. I know it is being at the table that is so important, and I thank the member for for playing that role.
I am not going to go on nearly as long as he did, and I am not nearly as funny as he is. However, all who worked with him know that the member for represents all that is best of collegiality in this House. All who have watched him here in this House will have often seen that glint of humour, even in the most serious statements, but they have never seen a shadow of malice from this member, and I thank him for that.
While we in this House are sorry and sad to see the member for go, I know that his husband—let me say that again because I love to say that in the House of Commons—his husband and his daughters will be glad to have him back full time. We all wish him well in whatever career he chooses to adopt, providing it is outside of politics. Once again, I thank the member for Kings—Hants for all he has done here. I thank him for being a friend in this House. We are very sad to see him go.
Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour for me to rise here this afternoon to pay tribute to my friend and colleague, the member for . We are long-time friends.
In fact, I remember, as executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, going to meet with the Tory caucus to talk about Kyoto. The wonderful right hon. Joe Clark, John Herron, the environment critic of the day, and our friend from , never suggested for one moment that there was any question about the science of climate change. We had a respectful hearing and a good conversation, as was always the case, so I was perhaps not surprised that he left the Progressive Conservative caucus. I had hoped that he would become leader of the Green Party so I would not have to, but unfortunately, as it turned out, he went to the Liberals, and as we know, it is a storied history of 22 years.
We have already heard wonderful speeches from the ; our friend from , and I am sure the member for is thinking that yes, it would take two girls from Cape Breton to give a proper sign-off to a member from the valley; our friend from , also a great champion of LGBTQ rights; and the hon. member for .
We are gathered here because the member for Kings—Hants is an honourable man who is respected and liked by all members on all sides of the House.
We are sorry to see him go. We have talked of his great contributions in terms of public policy. I used to sit rather close to the member for in the 41st Parliament. My seat has not moved. I take his point that there are no bad seats in the House of Commons, and I should know.
I do remember his repartee. I have disapproved strongly of heckling, but there was a style, a grace and a panache to the approach of the member for that I would never regret.
Here, from memory, is something of a K-Tel greatest hits of the member for . As far as I can remember, he was the first member to begin something that is now routine. When newer ministers get a softball question from their own backbenches, the questions are generally in the order of “The minister is certainly magnificent today. Can the minister tell us how much more magnificent he might be tomorrow?” As those questions were lobbed, the member for Kings—Hants would invariably say, “Watch out, it's a trick question”, then he would follow up with the inevitable, “Don't forget to thank the member for all his or her hard work back in the riding.”
My favourite, and usually in repartee with our friend, the member for , when he was a minister and the member for Kings—Hants was in opposition. The member for Carleton would say, “Our child care policies here on the Conservative benches draw on the expertise of mom and dad”, to which the member for Kings—Hants would say, “What about dad and dad?”
We are going to miss him around here, not least for the fact that there is nobody who can stand on his or her feet and make it sound like a comedy routine by saying, “Yes, Mr. Speaker, the bill is in its proper form.” How the heck that is funny I will never know.
To the member for , please come to my wedding, and tell me when the picnic is going to be in Cheverie.