Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by expressing my shock and horror at the terrorist act committed in the Quebec City mosque. I want to express my sincere condolences to the families of those who were killed or wounded.
As I stand in this place for the last time, I naturally do so with mixed emotions. Having had a few days to think about it, I also believe that this China assignment is the perfect job for me. I am grateful to the Prime Minister for his confidence.
I am going to Beijing with a great teammate, Nancy, my wife of 36 years. I think she deserves applause, if only because she has had to put up with me for 36 years. Nancy will be a great partner, but she also has her life in Canada. She, like I, will miss our three sons. She will spend part of her time in Canada, but she will be a huge asset as well in China.
I am also pleased to share this opportunity with the member for Saint-Laurent, who has been a colleague of mine for decades. We met as classmates at university in Montreal, and we served together as MPs and ministers. I would be very pleased if we were to remain colleagues as ambassadors. I would enjoy that, but it may not come to pass. It is a mystery. We will find out soon.
Passing right along.
I would also like to thank the citizens of Markham for their support in six elections and over 16 years, as well as the volunteers who have given me their strong support over the years. No politician is better than his assistants, so I would like to extend a big thank-you to my assistants, past and present, for their loyalty and their excellent work.
I know that members from all parties will agree with me that Ali, Bernie, Lisa, Kyle, and Kerry have all done fantastic work on immigration files, and I thank them very much. They have not had to put up with me for 36 years but three of them have for more than 10 years, Hursh, Lisa, and Wendy. I thank them all.
I also know members will be equally well served by my successor. I really want to warmly congratulate the member for York South—Weston now that he has become Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. As members saw in question period today and yesterday, and in his first press conference over the weekend, my successor is a quick study. He is doing a great job. He has a warm heart. Immigration is in good hands.
As I look back over the last 16 years, I can think of some good times in this job and some not so good times, some pretty bad ones, actually. However, I thought what I would do is save my description of those bad times for my next speech in this chamber, which might be in some future life.
In terms of the good things, I only want to mention a couple: the nomination of Nelson Mandela to be an honorary citizen back in 2001 and, in particular, the Syrian refugees.
I am certainly glad that we have more than accomplished the task. In particular, I would like to thank the dedicated officials with the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.
However, what makes me really proud is not that we got the job done, although that is good, but that at a time when so many countries around the world are closing their doors to refugees, ordinary Canadians across this land have come out and have welcomed our newcomers with open hearts. That is what makes me very proud to be a Canadian.
Three days ago, the Prime Minister sent the following tweet:
To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.
I remember, very happily, that when we came up with this refugee initiative, all of the opposition parties supported us. I hope very much that in that same spirit all of the opposition parties would support the sentiments expressed in that tweet, especially about “irrespective of faith”. I believe very strongly that those sentiments reflect not just Liberal values but Canadian values.
I am going to China to work for broader and deeper ties between our two countries, with the ultimate objective of creating jobs and growth for middle-class Canadians. This is partly, but by no means exclusively, about free trade discussions. It being 2017, I know that a successful trading relationship must not only pass some economist test, but it must also be demonstrably job creating and prosperity creating for hard-working Canadians. It is in that spirit that I will be offering my advice on trade with China to the government.
Canada and China have enjoyed a strong friendship that began with Norman Bethune in the 1930s, and continued with John Diefenbaker and the export of wheat, and with Pierre Elliott Trudeau and the diplomatic recognition of China.
[Member spoke in Mandarin.]
As I said in Mandarin, Canadians and Chinese are good friends.
One of my projects is to improve my Mandarin.
However, when China and Canada have disagreed on something, and this sometimes happens, all three prime ministers I have served under have drawn on this friendship to speak respectfully but frankly to their Chinese counterparts. I know this long tradition will continue.
One last thing about China. One of the jobs of any ambassador is to help vulnerable Canadians who have run into some of trouble in a foreign country, in this case, China, a little like the refugees. I commit to you, Mr. Speaker, that I will work as hard as I can to help those vulnerable Canadians in China. That will be a very important part of my job.
In conclusion, and I am not one of those who says “in conclusion” 17 times, not having anyone in mind who says that, I will miss this place and all the people in it, from my closest colleagues to my severest critics, who are usually not so severe, and quite nice most of the time.
My final message to members collectively is to have the capacity to govern our country well and have the wisdom to make Canada even better in years to come.