Mr. Speaker, I rise on this bittersweet day to speak for the last time in this storied institution.
On June 28, 2004, the fine people of Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound elected me for the first time. It is an honour and a privilege that I have never taken lightly. They have sent me back here four more times.
I was born and raised on a farm in Amabel Township, the oldest of seven children. I attended a one-room rural school for six years before moving to a huge three-room rural school for grades seven and eight. I then attended Wiarton District High School. In May of 1972, while in grade 11, due to irreconcilable differences, along with a bit of Irish stubbornness, I left school while still only 15. It is not something I am proud of, but sometimes we all make mistakes in life. We have to live with those decisions and learn from them.
The reason I even mention this is that one of the things that makes Canada so great is that, with hard work and determination, we can be anything or do anything we put our minds to.
I had always wanted a farm, so after taking a couple of farm business management courses at Georgian College, and with the help of my parents, I started to piece together my future. Later that summer, I met this cute blonde girl from the other side of the tracks and on August 26, both at age 16, we had our first date. Three years later, on July 26, 1975, we got married. We raised our three sons, Brett, Curt and Cole, on our 330-head cow calf farm just south of Wiarton in Keppel Township.
I never had political aspirations but politics seemed to find me. In November 1991, I ran for township council as a councillor. I also served terms as deputy reeve and reeve in Keppel Township before being elected as the first mayor of the amalgamated Township of Georgian Bluffs in 2000 and then elected warden of Grey County in 2002. After being re-elected as mayor in November of 2003, I decided to seek the CPC nomination on March 2, 2004. I was successful and the rest is history.
Here we are, 15 years later, after five federal elections. I am very proud of having two private member's bills passed in this House unanimously: the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act and the Transboundary Waters Protection Act. I also worked very hard to see the end of the long-gun registry in 2012, something that was very important to my riding.
I have always been a constituency MP. That is what got me elected and that is what has kept me elected.
I will not miss the weekly trips to Ottawa or the political BS that comes with this place, but I can tell members I will sincerely miss the many good people I have met in my time here, like former colleagues Loyola Hearn of Newfoundland; Gail Shea of P.E.I.; Denis Lebel of Quebec; Stella Ambler and Daryl Kramp of Ontario; Leona Aglukkaq of Nunavut; Merv Tweed of Manitoba; Lynne Yelich of Saskatchewan; Rick Casson, James Rajotte and Monte Solberg of Alberta; and John Duncan of B.C. We still stay in touch and we will always remain friends.
The many Hill staff I have worked with, and this is only some of them, are such great people that I want to name some of the ones I have had special relationships with over the years. They are Amy Mills, Kelly Williams, Ann Marie Keeley, Kim Purchase, Regan Watts, Bryan Rogers, Semhar Tekeste, Luwam Ghebre and Sean Murphy, just to name a few. They are the people who do the work behind the scenes and are sometimes not appreciated. However, I have valued working with them.
I have worked across party lines with people like the member for Sydney—Victoria, heck, I have even been to his farm, and the member for Cape Breton—Canso, who could not be here today I understand. However, while I have tried to overlook the fact that he is a Liberal, I just cannot accept the fact that he still cheers for a hockey team that has not won a Stanley Cup in over 52 years instead of cheering for my beloved Boston Bruins. It is just shameful. As well, I have worked with the member for Malpeque, whom I have butted heads with on the agriculture committee many times, but I have always respected him as we both always worked hard to try to make things better for farmers and agriculture across this country.
I also want to thank my staff, both present staff who are here today and former staff. Dianne Ackert has been with me for 12 years. She is unable to be here, as her mom is very ill and in the hospice. Our thoughts are with her mom. Chad Richards has been with me for seven years; Shea Angus, four years; Pam Sparkes, three years; as well as Kim Davis, who is also here, who has joined us in the last year. I thank all of you for your hard work over the years.
I also want to recognize former staff, and some are here today, Anna Marie Young, Genielle Hay, Dianne Byczok, Madi Murariu, Deborah Ingraham, Carol Weir, Kyleigh Benninger and Clarissa Sookram-Whipple, whom I am still thankful to call friends as well. I also want to thank my EDA, my five campaign managers and all the volunteers who worked tirelessly on my behalf in five elections.
To my present colleagues, what a team. It is indeed an honour to have worked with all of you. Please stay in touch. To my leader, I am proud that we were both elected on the same day in 2004, and I look forward to seeing you become Prime Minister in October.
I want to thank my and Darlene's good friends, Lisa and Carm Myles, who drove seven hours last night to be here today. As well, I wish them a happy 36th anniversary today. However, there is something wrong when people drive to Ottawa on their anniversary but we appreciate their being here.
I want to thank my siblings, Linda, Tom, Jerry, Brad, Mary Lou and Paul, my nieces and nephews, and their spouses, for their support over the years, as well as my two biggest fans, my mom and dad, who are no longer with us but I know are watching down on us today.
To Colonel Alex Ruff, who has earned the right to try to replace me in October, thanks for being here today and good luck this fall.
Lastly, to my wife Darlene. Your mom told you to never marry a farmer or a politician. You ended up with both, so being a bit of a black sheep, how did that advice work out for you? You have always supported me in everything I have tackled. I could not have done this without you. Thank you.
In closing, I have been so fortunate to have served in this grand place for 15 years and to have been a part of some great accomplishments, but I also reflect on some sad times. Losing my great friend, Jim Flaherty in April 2014; the shooting on October 22, 2014; and losing my seatmate, Gord Brown, just over a year ago will always stay with me.
However, it is time for me and my family to move on. It is time for me to spend more time with my four beautiful grandkids. Chesney, Shailan, Brookelin and Liam, here I come. It is time for more fishing and hunting, and much, much less politics. After 10 elections, my wife and I are both electioned out. Darlene says that my “give a darn” button is busted. She is right.
It has truly been a slice, Mr. Speaker, but I am out of here.