Mr. Chair, I would first like to thank all those who thought to give members who will not be seeking re-election the opportunity to talk about their experiences. Many of those members have been here for a long time, but I have not been here very long. Like about 60 of the other members here, my election came as a complete surprise.
Although I had been volunteering in the political sphere for some time, I never thought that it would bring me to the House of Commons. That is often the attitude that women have with regard to a career in politics. As some of my female colleagues have said, strong arguments are sometimes needed to convince a woman to run for election.
In the party for which I was working, I was the president of the women's commission, and along with two other colleagues, I wrote the bylaws for the Quebec section of the party. I was active and involved, and I never thought about becoming a member of Parliament. However, in the end, parliamentary life turned out to be a rich experience for me in several respects.
It is really something to be able to participate in making decisions for a country, even as a member of the opposition. In my opinion, this was a great privilege. What will I remember about the four years I spent working in the House and in my riding?
In the House of Commons, members develop the ability to analyze the political fact differently from ordinary Canadians. Because of the tools at their disposal, they have more information available on which to base their decisions. Government bills move the country in the direction the government wants it to go, but such decisions cannot be said to be made lightly, even if the differences in the parties' approaches sometimes lead to outcomes that not everyone approves of.
Members also have the right to introduce bills and motions. The order of precedence for doing so is determined by a draw. Unfortunately, Parliament would have to stay in session for a few more months for me to have my turn.
Last week, I attended the debate in the House on a motion that proposed that all members should be allowed to vote freely on all matters of conscience or moral judgment. Even without having defined what was meant by a matter of conscience, something that must be done before we vote on the motion, we talked about whether we should be voting based on what our constituents want, the party line or our personal conscience. That is not an easy problem to solve.
That is the kind of dilemma we sometimes come up against—one where beliefs and ideologies stand in stark contrast and call for research, testimony and thorough analysis to ensure that, in the end, the vote is just and appropriate.
Fridays in the House are special. Most of the members have returned home to their ridings, and the House is getting ready to shut down for the weekend after one final hour of debate on a motion or a private member's bill. That is one of the rare instances when there is time for a more personal debate.
That is what happened last week when we were debating Bill C-643, which called for a national spinal cord injury awareness day. The bill, sponsored by our two MPs in wheelchairs, gave us a rare opportunity to step away from partisan rhetoric and learn more about their lives.
It was on that rare occasion that members set partisanship aside and shared the same human emotions. Such a rare situation, so different from what we see during question period, should be more common.
I would like to add that, in terms of life in the House during the 41st Parliament, debate was often restricted on the pretext that everything had been said.
However, it is often following the analyses of experts in a given field, analyses that are undeniably very important, that a more secondary analysis will bring out certain aspects that were overlooked the first time.
If I could make one wish in that regard, it would be that no debate ever be limited. Freedom of speech is vital to democracy. The diversity of analyses undertaken from various perspectives can only enrich the debate and allow for more enlightened decisions.
The second aspect of the life of an MP is the work we do in our ridings. The first thing my political staffer and I did was hire someone for the constituency office who knew our new work environment really well. Through her, we got to know the riding, with its 23 municipalities, its 37,000 km 2, its diverse landscapes, the social and economic diversity of its towns and cities, its difficulties and its unemployment issues. I thank her for that. We built relationships with all the mayors, community groups, organizations, small businesses and MLAs that we met at the various events we attended. We discovered all the physical beauty and human potential that exist in this riding. I learned to love it and defend it wholeheartedly.
Today, I know everything about the riding: the beauty of its scenery in every season, the lives of the Atikamekw people, the dirt roads leading to their villages, the importance of the train in remote regions, the difficulties that forestry workers are having, the factories that are closing, and the communities that are trying to attract tourists as a way of breathing new live into municipalities that have lost their lustre.
We travelled from one end of the riding to the other many times. We supported the festival in St-Tite and the tomcod fishing festival. We also supported the arts, including the wonderful Notre-Dame-de-la-Présentation church, which is home to the works of Ozias Leduc.
It is always a pleasure to meet with my constituents in a variety of different circumstances. I noticed that, whether we live in the city or the country, we are all human beings with feelings who are ultimately trying to make our dreams a reality.
I would be remiss if, before closing, I did not thank all of my staff from the bottom of my heart.
Anne Cleary is an experienced member of my staff in Ottawa who has been working on the Hill for 20 years. She is very organized and always available to help.
Every day, my researcher, Jacqueline Froidefond, gave me a press review of everything that was happening in the riding.
Nicole Duchesne and Mance Vallée had to be independent, since they worked in remote offices and were required to make arrangements on their own and often attend events I was not able to attend.
Jocelyne Rivest and Christine Boisvert shared time at the main office in Grand-Mère. I have heard so many good things about how welcoming they were to constituents.
Lastly, Roger Le Blanc, my political assistant, took on all kinds of duties, namely managing employees, drafting, analyzing bills, and always travelling with me in the riding. I do not know what I would have done without his political insight, his analyses and his good judgment. Thank you for everything, Roger. I will leave here having learned a lot.