Madam Speaker, “Grant thy servant an understanding heart that I may discern between good and evil.” As I took my seat for the very first time in the House, these words of Solomon came to mind, seeking wisdom to lead. Here I was in this place, a place I had dreamt many times that maybe one day I would have opportunity to sit in and represent my fellow citizens. Especially today, as I speak in the House about the chaos, division and anger, not just in front of this place but all across Canada, I hope for wisdom for myself and all my fellow members.
Leaders lead by inspiring those around them to greatness. They inspire a hope that tomorrow will be brighter than today. They lift everyone up, not just those who agree with them. They seek to bring people together, to give the voiceless a voice and a seat at the table. Leaders stand up for every citizen: every Canadian, urban, rural, rich or poor, white collar, blue collar, right and left, regardless of their faith or creed and regardless of their place of origin. A leader gives every ounce of his being to ensure a legacy of prosperity and success for his fellow citizens. However, what we saw out front the last three weeks was a failure of leadership. It was a failure of those entrusted by Canadians with that most solemn of tasks, which is to ensure that our kids will inherit a better future than we received, to ensure that the maple leaf is an undying symbol here and around the world of freedom, pluralism, justice and democracy.
We are here today to talk about the Emergencies Act. I, like many of my colleagues in the House and millions of Canadians, believe that the use of this act at this time is a dramatic overreach. We have heard from many members here about the consequences if the bar is lowered even just a little in the future use of this act, and I echo those concerns.
The fact is, the protests had to end. Every Canadian has a right to peaceful protest, but we do not have the right to park a truck in the middle of a city street for three weeks. In the same way, we have a right to disagree with those who have chosen not to get vaccinated, but we do not have a right to call them racists or misogynists.
I believed my doctor when he told me that vaccination is the best tool, not the only tool, but the best tool to protect my health and my neighbours' health against COVID-19. I also believed my doctor when he told me that we had reached 85% to 90% vaccination rates and should be able to start getting our lives back. We see that starting to happen now. The fact is, Canada is among the most vaccinated countries on earth, and yet some of our fellow citizens simply will not get vaccinated. We need to be okay with that.
While I understand some of the reasons I have heard for vaccine hesitancy, I do not understand all of them, and I do not need to. I do not need to understand my fellow citizens' medical choices to defend their fundamental right to make those choices. That is the beauty of this country. We get to make our own health choices. We do not impose draconian measures on the people we disagree with, and it is also why I echo the words of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, when he said, “For if individuals and minorities do not feel protected against the possibility of the tyranny of the majority...it is useless to ask them to open their hearts and minds to their fellow Canadians.”
This debate should never have had to happen. Truckers should never have had to park their trucks in front of Parliament. The divisive rhetoric and demonizing of a minority of Canadians by their own government, whatever the intention, was, quite simply, disgusting.
This is clearly not the first time the political class has used our differences of opinion to divide us for political gain, and it likely will not be the last. We have stopped talking to each other. We are all guilty of it. We listen to our party war rooms on how the polls show us we can slice and dice the electorate to our advantage. We say we have a desire to listen to each other, and then we go on the partisan attack. The actions we take right here in the House directly translate to how we treat each other as Canadians.
I do not know if those of us who sit in the privilege of this place in our fancy suits, surrounded by deferential security guards calling us “sir” and “ma’am”, truly understand the anger and frustrations as so many Canadians feel their hopes and dreams slipping further and further away. They yearn for politicians to simply talk about their issues, to genuinely represent them.
The contractor in Swift Current, the single dad in Delta, the fisherman in St. Margaret’s Bay, the police officer in Yellowknife and the student in Brandon do not care how good our partisan shot was in question period. They do not care how many retweets our clip got. They certainly do not care how much we have out-fundraised our opponents. They just want to know their politicians are working for them. They want to know that their leaders care about their livelihoods, that we care as much about their industry as they do. They want to know we are fighting as hard as we can for them to not have to choose between putting the kids in hockey or putting food on the table. They want to know they will be able to own a home and raise a family in a community their kids can come back to, where they can retire in dignity.
They want to know their government is well managed and ethical and delivers excellent services. It would be nice if their government were just boring. They want to celebrate our great country and the everyday heroes who make this the most magnificent nation on earth. They want us and need us to be here every day, seeking and striving to build our fellow citizens up and bring people together. We need to stop being politicians and start being leaders.
We were elected to represent our communities, tell the hard truths and work hard on behalf of our people. We were not sent here to listen to what the focus groups say or what the polls might say. We were not sent here to represent only those people who put up lawn signs. We were not sent here to appeal to the lowest common dominator; we were sent here to raise it. Canadians do not think of their community as a target seat. It is their hometown, where everyone is a neighbour, where everyone deserves strong representation in this House.
There are lots of folks in downtown Toronto and Montreal who want lower taxes, and there are a lot of people in rural Alberta who are proud of and really want a strong, publicly funded health care system. There are a lot of people in Vancouver who are fed up with vaccine mandates and a lot of people in Regina who are eager to welcome another new Canadian to their community. There are plenty of Quebeckers who want to use Canadian energy, and there are thousands of folks in Manitoba who are proud of their union membership.
Outside of this Ottawa bubble, Canadians are one people, one nation, all working to build a country we can be even more proud of tomorrow than we were yesterday. We are a nation, 38 million strong, all yearning and striving for a country where everyone has a place and everyone has a shot at success. Ours is a country where we might not always agree on every issue, but we always agree that we live in the greatest country in the world and that we deserve a government that is not all things to all people but enables us all to come together, leaving no one behind.
This is a country where a person can be anything they want to be and do anything they want to do. We can give a job to those without one; we can ensure that our next generation can afford a home; we can eradicate poverty; we can come together again; we can break down the walls that divide us and help heal this broken nation, all with an understanding heart. It starts with all of us in the House. Canadians are counting on our leadership.
My message to the Prime Minister and to every one of us in the House is simple. Listen to those with whom there is disagreement and be willing to compromise. Let us work together to build on the common cause of bringing Canadians together, to celebrate all that unites us. To everyone else, let us tone down the heat. Let us be open to hearing opinions other than our own, and let us try to see ourselves on the other side. This is Canada. We can disagree without hating each other.
There is nothing wrong with Canada that cannot be fixed with everything that is right about Canada. Let us cut down the partisan personal attacks and ideological entrenchment; let us start listening to each other and to our communities rather than the political operatives who use the differences between us to stoke fear and anger in the name of winning a few more votes. Let us hold each other to the same standards that Canadians hold their neighbours to, which is to say that we should expect compassion, respect, courage and character from one other. If we can do that, then we will start to bring this country back together again, because that is what leaders do, and Canada needs leaders right now.
This is a critical time. We need only to look south of the border to see the polarizing effects of a divisive political culture and culture war. Let us demand excellence from ourselves. Let us choose what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature”. Let us go forward together, building each other up and bringing Canadians from all walks of life together in our mutual cause of Canada, our beloved true north, strong and free.