Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize and express deep gratitude to someone who is a remarkable leader, member of Parliament, mentor, and friend. The member for Sturgeon River—Parkland has tirelessly led our party and Her Majesty's loyal opposition for the past 18 months.
She did it with dedication, passion, energy, and professionalism.
All the while, she has consistently shown her sharp intelligence, keen sense of humour, and her genuine kindness and nurture.
When the member for Sturgeon River—Parkland took over the role as leader of the Conservative Party, it was as interim leader, but never once did she treat this position as a placeholder or merely a fill in. From the outset, she gave everything to the role, and in doing so has led and unified a caucus and party through what many would acknowledge could have been a very difficult time. Her capable and true servant leadership style has led our party to a place of strength, effectiveness, and unity.
You know you are a great interim leader when people are fighting at policy conventions to change all of the rules so that you can run for permanent leader. I think that says it all.
Under her leadership, the Conservatives have grown strong. Our party is rock-solid, our fundraising is going really well, our caucus is united, and we are an effective opposition. We are a force for the Liberals to reckon with, and that is due in large part to this woman's leadership.
This actually is not the first time our interim leader has shown and excelled in her role. Whatever she has taken on as an MP or a minister, she has given 110% and delivered impressive results, some of which I am going to speak about momentarily.
What few people know is, like many women, the member for Sturgeon River—Parkland, known to most as Rona, never thought she would run for public office. In fact, she never even considered it, which is typical of many women.
After resisting many calls for her to throw her hat in the political ring, she was finally convinced by Stephen Harper to take the political plunge and compete for the nomination to be the Conservative candidate in Edmonton—Spruce Grove, a nomination race which had the unique distinction of having nine candidates, making it one of the largest nomination races in the history of the Conservative Party of Canada.
Against all odds, and in spite of being told that she did not have a chance, she persevered and in 2004 won the nomination against seven men and one woman. She is our example of a strong, competitive “no quotas needed” Conservative woman. Since then, the member for Sturgeon River—Parkland has gone on to win her seat in five straight federal elections.
Prior to being elected interim leader of the Conservative Party, the member served in Stephen Harper's cabinet as minister of the environment, intergovernmental affairs, western economic diversification, labour, public works and government services Canada, status of women, and health. Throughout her career as a cabinet minister, she has left a lasting legacy of public service and results. When she was appointed to cabinet in 2006, she had the unique distinction of becoming the youngest woman in Canadian history to be appointed to cabinet.
As minister of state for the status of women, she was instrumental in leading the charge as our Conservative government, in the face of opposition from many sides, fought to ensure that first nations women who live on reserves have the same property rights during a divorce as women who do not live on reserves.
During 2011 she continued that work for women who need a voice by being the champion at the UN for the adoption of a resolution declaring an annual International Day of the Girl. One hundred and twenty-two member states were persuaded by her, and as a result of her efforts, every October 11, we celebrate this important day internationally.
As minister of health, she played a leading role in the worldwide response to the Ebola crisis. During this very challenging time, she led the charge to ensure that not only Canadians were protected, but that countries most affected by the outbreak were receiving the necessary support to treat Ebola right there on the ground.
In addition to working to make sure that mobile treatment units were made available in various devastated regions, she moved heaven and earth so that the Canadian-made experimental Ebola vaccine could move quickly through clinical trials. The Canadian vaccine has proven to be safe and effective and will undoubtedly save many lives.
Most recently, as a member of the official opposition, the member for Sturgeon River—Parkland has fought tirelessly to advance the rights of victims. Whether it was her diligent commitment to helping Yazidi girls find refuge in Canada or her strong record in advancing legislation to defend the rights of victims, including Wynn's Law, and most recently, successfully passing her private member's bill, more commonly known as the JUST Act, our interim leader has always had a heart to help those who are less fortunate. She is someone who cares deeply about justice and mercy, and her work on so many files in this regard is a testament to her undying dedication to justice being served, but served in a compassionate way, especially for victims, who are too often forgotten.
While the member for Sturgeon River—Parkland's achievements in political life are numerous and known to many, there are certain things that many people do not know about her. A little known fact is that her chief of staff, Garry Keller, and I actually ran against her in an election. Let me explain. In 2004, Garry ran against her in that nomination race, the one where she beat seven men. Garry was one of those men she beat. I tried to run against her for interim leader. Needless to say, Garry and I both lost.
The reason I raise this is not just to highlight the fact that the member for Sturgeon River—Parkland is a tremendous campaigner and an inspirational leader. Those are well-known facts. I raise this to bear witness to the tremendous character of this amazing woman. Her willingness to trust even one-time adversaries to then become some of her closest advisers is a testament to her uncanny ability to see the best in people and her capacity to rise above and beyond the cut and thrust of politics to do what is right and what is for the greater good in each and every situation.
Here, though, are some fun facts about our interim leader. She speaks fluent Portuguese. She loves to hike in the mountains and does so quite often with her good friend Laureen Harper, and just last year, she almost threw up on U2's Bono, but that is a story for another day.
Our interim leader's dedication and love for politics are nothing compared to her love for her family. I think if we were to ask her why she is able to be so successful in life, she would tell us that it is due to the constant love, support, and influence of those who matter most to her.
As a child growing up, around the kitchen table her family loved to talk about current events and happenings all over the world. It was through these conversations that she developed a love and appreciation for important issues, and a passion to solve problems and to do the right thing.
Ironically enough, the member for Sturgeon River—Parkland quite dislikes partisan fights. In fact, I have to say that there have been a couple of occasions, just before she was going to rise in question period to hammer the Prime Minister with a hard-hitting question, that he probably will not answer, when she will look over to one of us and say, “Quick, say something to make me mad so I'll look a little more angry.” I think all of us in this House have seen that she really is not especially partisan and that she would rather try to help and solve problems in a collegial way.
The love of her life and soon-to-be husband, J.P., will attest to the member's incredible devotion to her family. At this time, and on behalf of our entire caucus and party, I want to thank J.P. for his incredible support of her through this amazing, but I am sure somewhat exhausting, adventure. I know that J.P. has been Rona's rock: constant, encouraging, and so present through good times and challenging times. I know we all want to thank him for his sacrifice and willingness to share her with our Conservative family.
I also know that she is very much looking forward to having a bit more time to spend with J.P. and her stepchildren, whom she loves so much and is always bragging about: Makena, Garrison, and Shanese.
To her dear parents, Jim and Colleen Chapchuk, thank you for having raised such a remarkable woman. You have so much to be proud of.
To her brothers, James and Morley, I hear that you do not always agree on politics, so your sister got good practice in defending her position, and I am sure winning arguments, with common-sense conservative policies. Thanks for giving her the chance to practice being a strong woman in a political world often dominated by men. I am sure the Prime Minister is not so grateful after what she has put him through in the last 18 months, but on this side, we all are.
Finally, to Rona, my dear friend, thank you so much for your trust and confidence in asking me to be your House leader. Working with you has been one of the best experiences in my time here in Ottawa. Thank you for your example to me of being this amazing blend of both intellect and knowledge coupled with heart, soul, and compassion. Your confidence and strong leadership has been a true inspiration not only to me but to a whole generation of young women striving to make their mark in the world.
On behalf of our Conservative caucus and all members of the Conservative Party of Canada, thank you. You have not only helped our party remain united during a very long leadership race, but you have made sure that our party is stronger than ever.
As you prepare to pass on the baton to our new leader, who will be elected in less than two weeks, my friend, you can be immensely proud of what you have done.
The hon. member for Sturgeon River—Parkland, our interim leader, will be greatly missed as the leader of Her Majesty's loyal opposition. However, you will always remain close to our hearts, no matter what road you take.
We love you, Rona.