Mr. Speaker, first I want to thank my colleagues from all sides of the House for giving me this opportunity to speak today. While I do plan to stick around a little while longer, the uncertainties that we are facing as a nation and, indeed, within the House mean that this could be the last chance I have to physically stand in the House to say farewell.
I must also warn members that I plan to be uncharacteristically non-partisan in my remarks today because, quite frankly, it is not about the politics here; it is about the people.
Whenever I am asked what it is like to be an MP, I always reply one thing: It is the most challenging, demanding, frustrating, worthwhile thing that I have ever done. There have been a lot of times over the last 16 years where there were ups and downs. I have lost a lot. I lost my husband, my father, my vision temporarily, my appendix and my dear neurotic cat. However, I also gained more than I ever could have imagined: amazing experiences across Canada that only deepened my love for this great country, friendships that will last a lifetime, an undying respect for this institution and for those who serve in it, and a pair of titanium hips.
For some, becoming an MP is not something they always plan to do. Sometimes, it is the issues of the day that really push someone to serve. While the issues and events in 2004 were definitely the tipping point for me, my desire to help those in my community started many years earlier. When I was about nine years old, my mother sat me down on the eve of an election to tell me what democracy was, how important it is and how very lucky we are to have it. I remember that conversation vividly, and I can say that, from then on, I dreamed of having the opportunity to fight for the people at home.
Therefore, to everyone in Haldimand—Norfolk, I cannot thank them enough for making the dreams of that little nine-year-old girl come true.
I have to say it has been a heck of a ride since 2004. From being named agriculture critic during the BSE crisis, serving in former prime minister Stephen Harper's cabinet for all 10 years, to being named the Conservative caucus party liaison and a member of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, every position has come with its own challenges and memories that I treasure.
Some of those include creating the universal child care benefit, promoting and delivering the tobacco transition support program, imposing measures to protect potential human-trafficking victims here in Canada, stickhandling numerous infrastructure projects for Haldimand and Norfolk counties through the bureaucracy, breaking down barriers faced by persons with disabilities, and finally, retiring and replacing the aging Sea King helicopter fleet with the new Cyclones.
Through it all, I have truly been blessed to have amazing people by my side, people who have challenged me to do my best, who have stuck with me through the high times and the low, and who even laugh at my sometimes warped sense of humour, and on a daily basis. While I may have been labelled the toughest bird in cabinet at one point, I am a firm believer that if a person cannot laugh at themselves, they are just not funny enough.
From the very beginning, my parents were my biggest champions. During many elections, my dad would knock on doors with me, and my mom was always working in the campaign office. Thankfully, I still have my mother today. I know Mom will be watching this; I thank her and I love her.
Of course, I also could not have done any of this without my late husband, Senator Doug Finley.
Many people knew Doug as the man who always had a plan F, who was a staunch defender of free speech, who led the Conservative Party to victory in 2006 and 2008 as the national campaign director, and who played a leading role in the 2011 election that resulted in a strong, stable, national Conservative majority government. He was also one of my biggest supporters, both professionally and personally. As far as we can tell, we were the first married couple to sit in both Houses of the Canadian Parliament at the same time.
I would like to thank those in my life who have made it possible for me to still be here today. In no particular order, I thank Marlene and Tom Stackhouse, Sharlene, George Santos, Howard Goode, Wally and Jan Butts, Jeremy and Chelsie McIntee, Frank Parker, Karly Wittet, The Amazing Ali, and the Johns in my life: Nieuwenhuis, Wehrstein, Bracken and Weissenberger.
To those who made my life easier every day, Denis, Jojo, Ann, Jimmy, Mike Fraser, Michou and the indomitable Lynette, they have my heartfelt thanks.
To my former cabinet colleagues, Gerry, Rob, Lisa, Bev and Carol, and to Senator Plett, Ian and Vida, Karen Kinsley, Aly Q., Koolsie, Spiro and Dustin, I am so grateful we are still in touch.
To my former deputy ministers, Dick, Ian and Janice, I thank them for their patience and wisdom.
To my favourite former prime minister, I thank him for the trust he kept placing in me, and placing and placing and placing.
To my current colleagues, Karen, Raquel and John N., it is a great relief to know that they are taking on my pet projects going forward.
Of course, I would not be here today if it were not for the thousands of volunteers and donors over the years who generously supported me and my efforts. I thank them.
To my Conservative family, it has been an absolute pleasure getting to know all of them and working hard with them to help Canadians. It is the values that have kept me blue through and through, the values of hard work, showing respect for other people, looking after one's family, smaller government and lower taxes. That is why I am so excited for the future of the Conservative Party under our new leader and for what my colleagues will continue to do for Canadians.
Most importantly, to the residents of Haldimand—Norfolk, I thank them from the bottom of my heart. I know I am not at all biased when I say that Haldimand—Norfolk truly is the best place to grow up and live. As part of Ontario’s south coast, yes, Canada’s fourth coast, we have some of the most hard-working, friendly, salt of the earth people, people who know what it means to pull up their socks to get a job done or to help a neighbour. It has been an absolute privilege to be the MP for these amazing people.
It is time for me to turn a new page. It is time to hit the refresh button. It will soon be time for me to indulge my creative side; to travel, hopefully; to take some courses; and to finally get to my “want to do” list. I am looking forward to this new chapter of my life and what it will bring.
To all those young people out there who have a dream like I had, I urge them to go after it, chase it, pursue it, live it. It might not be easy, but I assure them it is worth it.
I would like to close today with a quote from the hero of that little nine-year-old girl I used to be, Winnie-the-Pooh, who said, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”