Mr. Speaker, it is always a privilege to rise in the House, but it is a special honour to do so to pay tribute to Her late Majesty and extend my condolences to the royal family.
For so many Canadians, myself included, Her late Majesty was the only queen we have ever known, but she was more than a widely loved and respected sovereign. She represented stability in a country that grows increasingly chaotic and in a world that grows increasingly chaotic. She espoused a profound sense of humility in an era of self-aggrandizing, and she was a stalwart defender of democracy and the rule of law in an age of rising autocracy.
Speaking to friends and family, I noted that so many were surprised at the sense of personal loss we felt. The impact has been profound, because I think it is like losing a grandparent. It was deeply personal, and when it comes to losing a grandparent, it is something we know will happen one day but hope will be a long time from now. We never really expect it.
There is not much I can say that has not already be shared, but I can tell members from personal experience that there could be hundreds of people in the room, but she would make us feel like the only one there. She was incredibly attentive and as funny as she was kind, compassionate and gracious beyond words.
I am especially grateful that I had the opportunity to meet her during her reign, in 2017, when at Her late Majesty's command, I marked Canada's sesquicentennial by joining young leaders from across the Commonwealth in the U.K. It was at a special ceremony at Buckingham Palace, where we were appointed medallists of Her late Majesty. I had the distinct honour of being named Her Majesty the Queen's Young Leader for Canada.
I still recall being there in Buckingham Palace, with all of the pomp and circumstance, wracked with fear about whether or not I would mess up all of the protocol we were required to remember when we met the Queen, things like ensuring we do not turn our backs to her, that we wait for her to extend her hand first and that she speaks first.
I imagine that some people listening are thinking that, of course, they could do those basic and easy things. I would agree with them, until they are about to meet the Queen. Then it all goes out the window. It did not help that during our briefings, leaders would recount all the times they froze up or were speechless. Suffice it to say, I was nervous.
I was wearing my high-collar navy whites and had practised marching in, left turning and then saluting. Then I was told that, actually, we were to throw all that out the window when meeting the Queen and just do a quick head bow. So here was this kid in his mid-20s out of the suburbs of Toronto scared out of his mind trying to remember all of these basic, straightforward protocol requirements, all while my brain was screaming, “Oh my God. There's the Queen. Holy smokes.” Well, I used another word, but I am not allowed to repeat it in this place. Obviously, I was nervous.
To try to settle my nerves, I looked away at the crowd. “Do a quick scan of the room”, I thought. There were hundreds of people in the room, so that did not exactly help. However, as I was doing it, I spotted Prince Harry, who was at my two o'clock sitting in the front row. I guess His Royal Highness could sense my nervousness, so he gave me a supportive head nod and a wink as if to say “Hey, you've got this.” He was right.
I approached Her Majesty, I bowed, she extended her hand first, of course, and I did so in response. She said, “Congratulations” and handed me my medal. Now, I figured that was probably the end of it, but she asked me to tell her what I do. To put it in context, we were being recognized for the work we did in our communities back home and I was nominated for my work. I had the privilege of working with amazing at-risk youth and indigenous communities in northwestern and southwestern Ontario, including the incredible community of the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation.
I mentioned that I work with youth in different communities. She said, “Huh” and I thought, “She's interested”, so I told her about it. She said it was all very fascinating and asked me to tell her more, so I did. We ended up speaking for about a minute or two, which I am told, in Queen terms, is actually a really long time. As I said earlier, she had an extraordinary ability to make me feel like I was the only person in the room.
At the end of the conversation, she extended her hand. The handshake is meant to bookend the conversation, but I imagine there are some people who are so enamoured with meeting the Queen that they might not get the message. When she comes out to shake someone's hand, we cannot tell when watching in person, because I was there watching her do it to others, or on TV that she actually pushes the person away. It is kind of like, “Okay, Kevin, it was nice talking to you. Off you go now, little one.” I have to say that for a then 91-year-old woman, that was a strong push, and today I have the distinct pleasure of being able to tell people that I met the Queen, she gave me a medal and then she pushed me away. All joking aside, I am forever grateful that I had this opportunity. It is a memory that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
To conclude, twice I have sworn an oath of allegiance to Her late Majesty, first in 2015 when I joined Her Majesty's Royal Canadian Navy and again last year as a member of Parliament. In that oath, we commit to faithfully serving her and her heirs and successors. With the ascension to the throne of His Majesty King Charles III, I, like all members of this House, will continue my service, both in and out of uniform, to our sovereign.
Long live the King.