Mr. Chair, for almost 16 years, I have had the honour of speaking in the House of Commons chamber to represent the interests of Canadians. As the adage goes, all good things must come to an end. On the day of the next election, I bid you and my colleagues adieu and express my appreciation for the many individuals who have made it possible for me to serve as a member of Parliament and to serve my country.
First and foremost, my thanks go to my amazing and beautiful bride of almost 40 years, Almut Sweet. She has had to tolerate too many absences, interruptions and stress that, unfortunately, our partners must endure for us to be present in Ottawa. In Almut's case, she also endured two cancer surgeries and the tragic loss of our daughter, Lara. My sweetheart not only has my undying love, but also gratitude and deep respect for her willingness to sacrifice for my service and for our country.
My next thanks go to all my children, who, along with my wife, suffered many absences due to my being here in Ottawa. All of them have been so gracious. They always referred to my absences as a mission they approved of and were thankful for my work representing our country. I am so looking forward to spending more time with them, more time with Theresa, Christopher, Lucian, Reuben, D.C., and grandchildren, far too many names to name.
Next are the constituents of Flamborough—Glanbrook, but also those of Waterdown, Westdale, West Hamilton, Dundas, and Ancaster, whom I served for quite some time as well. I ask them to accept my heartfelt thanks for placing their trust and confidence in me to represent them here in this House of Commons. Their vote gave me a privilege very few Canadians have been able to experience throughout the history of our great nation, and for that they have my sincere, undying gratitude.
I hope my colleagues forgive me, because one of the missions we had in my office was to launch young people into successful careers in politics. My staff over the years, and the list is long, deserve to be named: Doug, Carolyn, Diane, Steph, Laurie, Erin, Justin, Kesha, Michael, Katherine, Rebecca, Justin, Jacob, James, Nathan, Rachel, Monica, Alicia, Sandra, Lewan, Chris, Jacob, Colin, Tracey and presently Patricia, Liz, James, Simon, Denise, Alex and Dan.
All members should readily admit that without hard-working, dedicated, patient staff, they would accomplish very little. I thank team Sweet for all they did to make me look good, and more importantly for all they do for Canadians. They are a gift to our nation.
As I just said, all of my staff are amazing, but there are very special staff who believed in me and were with me from the very beginning, and they deserve special mention. Doug and Carolyn Brown took on the task of shepherding me through the process of establishing a constituency office, and by so doing they set the standard remarkably high for all future staff. Their professional, mature approach to constituent service meant that we had a stellar reputation throughout the entire greater city of Hamilton and consequently were able to successfully sort out the problems of thousands of people, everywhere from rescuing Canadians from despot dictatorships around the world to those dreaded CRA files. I am in Doug and Carolyn's debt for the rest of my days for their service and friendship. Canada is a better nation for them.
Stef Rose was my first legislative assistant, who had such a drive to excel that he interviewed many senior staff on the Hill to make sure he was able to serve in his capacity with excellence, and he sure did. Stef, three times, rewrote legislation for me that became one of the few private members' bills to pass with all-party support, the Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act. He managed committee work and so much more, but ultimately always stood out because he was ready to go the extra mile. I am so happy that my friend Stef is where he always wanted to be, and Canada is a better and safer place due to his efforts.
Somehow I convinced a fine man named Dan Muise that I was the candidate who needed to be elected to serve Canadians alongside Stephen Harper. Dan started his career as a special assistant to Jean Charest, when he was elected as a member of this House.
The riding was known as Ancaster–Dundas–Flamborough–Westdale in those days, and, beginning in 2004, Dan helped me with virtually every aspect of my parliamentary career, including when I was able to dump my frustrations on him after particularly rough days.
Dan has served this country in ways that many will never know, and he will never be adequately rewarded for it, yet Dan is not the kind of person who does what he does for reward. His dedication to Canada is his love for the same. I thank Dan for his service, hard work and dedication, and for our deep friendship.
Then there are our best friends who help us keep our feet on the ground and bring us a better perspective to life than what we get within this thing we call the Ottawa bubble. They are the ones who helped us early in life, and who know who we are and who we are becoming. Bob Baxter and Reid Meyers have both departed this world for eternity, but they mentored a young man who had a fleet of tow trucks back in 1982 and encouraged him to grow in character, intellect and spirituality.
My best friends, Larry and Leslie Brune, have assisted me and my family in every imaginable way. Their generosity, hospitality, dedication and kindness are, in no small way, one of the substantial reasons I am here today. These two individuals I speak of have quietly helped hundreds of people, and they have done it so humbly and quietly that few know the amazing impact they have had on large groups of Americans and Canadians. Their selfless efforts to serve others is so great, the human language falters at trying to explain their love for others.
I extend a special thanks to my friend Franc, a reserve officer in the Israel Defense Forces, who always welcomed me to Israel. He is such a good friend and brother, who I get to see so seldom. I wish peace and protection to Franc and his family.
My thanks go to so many supporters and donors who gave of their time, their talents and their money to make sure I could continue to wage successive successful campaigns. Their assistance is so important in our democracy, and it often goes unnoticed, but they really are the engine behind every candidate and determine their ultimate success. I thank them.
I would now like to give a message to my colleagues. All of us in this chamber should reflect often on the magnitude of responsibility we have and the fact that we live in a nation that still, for the most part, elects individuals on their merit and not on their social status or their wealth, as we see in some other nations. We are blessed to live in a country where voters determine the outcome of an election and not individual political parties with the right to establish lists for voters or a regime of evil elites who tell voters how they should vote. This is a rich gift that has been carefully protected by past generations. It has been fought for with Canadian blood in past conflicts.
No matter which party members are from in this chamber, their individual responsibility as a member is to guard this cherished institution. That is exactly why we are obliged to swear an oath to Her Majesty the Queen of Canada. We do not protect this institution because we are privileged. We guard and protect this institution because this chamber is where critical issues that concern individual Canadians are debated and resolved.
I thought I had a good handle on what I was just talking about until the evening we were to vote on whether we would sustain our troops in Afghanistan. I knew the issues, and I knew the good work our troops had accomplished. I knew about the young girls and women who had never experienced freedom until our troops arrived.
However, when the bells began to ring, the weight of what we were about to vote on reached a much higher level of severity than it had in my entire life. I realized that my vote would not only allow a continued effort by our troops to accomplish their good work, but it also meant that our young men and women were going to continue to be placed in harm's way, and it meant Canadians would die.
There were many poignant times in my career that were transformative and gave me a deeper clarity regarding the magnitude of our responsibilities, but sustaining our troops in one of the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan, areas other countries had abandoned, was the most sobering. I encourage all of my colleagues to think for themselves, bearing in mind the oath we have taken, and their concerns for their constituents and all Canadians.
Political parties are great institutions in and of themselves, and I am very grateful for my party, the Conservative Party of Canada, and my band of brothers and sisters, my colleagues. Consequently, I want to encourage all members from all parties to, yes, be a team player but also be ready to think through all issues and steward their own integrity. Members want that confidence when they look in the mirror every day, that they are their own person.
Some of my colleagues have become good friends, and I will keep them long past politics.
The member for Niagara West is such a good friend. He phoned me up after I was elected and said, “Come on up here. I'm going to show you the ropes so you can hit the ground running and you're not going to have to figure everything out for yourself”. He has been profoundly generous, and I want to give Dino my gratitude.
The member for Brantford—Brant is a great gentleman, and I have appreciated his character and candour. When we have colleagues we can disagree with, debate and still be friends, it is priceless.
Dave Van Kesteren retired before the last election, but for all the time he served with me and was my seatmate, we became great friends and sorted out a lot of important issues, and we had a lot of fun.
The member for Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame made our trip to London and Scotland a special treat as did the member for Gatineau in joining me for the most scenic jog in my life down the River Thames in London.
For almost 15 years, I served with the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston on the Subcommittee on International Human Rights and with two fine Liberal members, Mario Silva and Irwin Cotler. We worked together to stand up for people who were being jailed, persecuted, tortured and killed. We were able to save many lives working together. I am so grateful for their co-operation and work with me.
Finally, some have asked me why I am leaving Parliament. Well, the truth is, I am not fully well. I want to take this opportunity to encourage others who are not well to get help.
I thought a lot since January, when I made the decision not to run in the next election, about what caused my mental health jaundice. I do not know if it was the four years of incarceration in a juvenile institution when I was 12. It may have been when I was attacked by a knife-wielding assailant in Lockport, New York; or the betrayal of business partners when I was a young businessman; or losing two children, one who died in my hands while I was trying to deliver her and another who took her own life. Maybe the terrorist attack here on Parliament Hill played a role and the too many funerals I planned, because I was always looked to as the guy who could handle it. The fifteen years of hearing the worst stories of human suffering in the human rights committee, I know, played a role. Likely, the entire lot played a role as did the current draconian lockdowns.
We should all respect that everyone has a limit, and that it is different for everyone. Thankfully, there are many who have greater limits than us, like many who are in the Canadian Forces, and for those individuals, we are so grateful.
All of us need to be conscious of what our limit is and ensure that we get relief and help when needed well before it becomes crippling. This is what I am doing, and I encourage all those who can hear my voice and need help to seek it and be relentless to get what they need. They need not feel any shame. We all need help sometimes.
I also plead with those who do not currently need help to be patient and help others. Just this past weekend, my friend, Nicholas Lauwers, a psychotherapist himself, was there for me and helped me to get back on track just by being willing to listen. I thank Nick for that.
My final but most important thanks goes to the Lord Jesus Christ. The reconstruction of my life that happened after I made a commitment to Christ is what animates every aspect of my life. Of all I am grateful for, my gratitude to God is far beyond all the other thanksgivings I can give.
On the Centre Block arches are three scriptures, “Where there is no vision, the people perish; “Give the king thy judgments, O God, and thy righteousness unto the king’s son”; and on the other, “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea”.
These are words that guided principled people as imperfect as they were to build a nation that people from the four corners of the world want to get to, to call their home. People are not staying up all night thinking they have to plot and scheme on how to get to Iran. They are not saying if they could just get to Russia, everything would be okay.
All around the world, people are plotting, scheming and thinking if they could just get to Canada.
May God continue to bless Canada and make it glorious and free.