Mr. Speaker, I was first elected on June 2, 1997. Today, nearly 22 years later, I am informing the House that February 10, 2019, will be my last day as member of Parliament for Kings—Hants.
Welcome to my unplugged tour. For 22 years I have worked hard and fought hard for the people of Kings—Hants, Nova Scotia, and Atlantic Canada, and it has been a wonderful honour.
In December, during our final days in Centre Block, I reflected on what the House of Commons means to me and on the debates and decisions that have shaped the Canada I love.
The House of Commons has not just been a place that has shaped my career; it has shaped my life. When I was first elected in 1997, a family like mine would not have been legally recognized in Canada. I feel privileged not just to have helped contribute in some small way to this progress as a parliamentarian, but also to have benefited from it as a citizen. That is one of the many reasons that today, as I leave public life, my belief in government, in Parliament and indeed in politics as a force for good is stronger than ever.
In this age of cynicism when the doubters tell us the government does not matter, I experience the living proof of government as a force of good every day in the sheer existence of my family. Government matters, politics matters and members of Parliament matter.
I have been elected seven times for two parties, and I have served under nine leaders. I have been a member of caucuses as small as 12 and as large as 184. I have served in a fifth-place party and in minority and majority governments. I am deeply grateful to the Right Hon. Paul Martin and the Right Hon. Prime Minister, the member for Papineau, for giving me the opportunity to serve in their cabinets.
I am proud of what our Prime Minister and what our government have accomplished for and with Canadians. I loved being part of his team.
Yes, I have enjoyed my time on the front benches, but let me tell all members that there is no such thing as a bad seat in the House of Commons. Members of Parliament do not need to serve in a cabinet to make their mark in history or to help build a better Canada. Do not ever take for granted the honour of being trusted by Canadians to forge the future of this country in this place, to improve the lives of people and to make a difference. Never take for granted the honour of serving our constituents. When members and their constituency teams help people, it changes lives.
I would like to read to members from an article from the Enfield Weekly Press, from my riding, dated May 11, 2005. The headline is “Gorman to Get Pension”. The article goes further:
A 90-year-old Gormanville woman couldn't have asked for a better Mother's Day gift.
Almira Gorman, who still lives in her own home in the community, is in line for about $27,000 in back benefits from the Canada Pension Plan.
Gorman didn't realize she was entitled to the payments and did not [initially] apply to receive them.
Government policy dictated she was only entitled to receive back payments for a period of up to 11 months, but that apparently changed....
That is the end of the article, but it is not the full story. My constituency office worked with me, and we fought hard for Mrs. Gorman. It was not easy to get her retroactive payment, but we found a way. My constituency team's work helped this elderly lady of modest income, who had raised a large family in rural Hants County, to get the money she deserved, and that enabled her to build an accessible bathroom in her house so she could continue to live at home. It changed her life.
Here in Parliament, the work we do as parliamentarians in the chamber, in caucus rooms, in committee rooms is very important. Being a member of Parliament is a fantastic platform to take on issues, to study, to learn, to build and defend ideas, to change people's minds and sometimes allow them to change our minds.
I spent 16 years of my career in opposition, and I found those years too, as a private member, to be so fulfilling in so many ways. I wish members opposite many more years to enjoy that.
We can make a positive difference in the lives of Canadians from any seat in the House of Commons. Just ask our friend, the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester, who has served his people, Atlantic Canadians and the people of Canada exceptionally well in a remarkable and accomplished career as a great member of Parliament.
In terms of partisanship, I have a unique perspective. I served in two parties, and I have great respect and affection for members of all parties. There are good people in every party, and while we have ideological differences, we all come here to serve, driven by the same desire to build a better Canada, and while none of us is perfect, every MP in the House must have something going for them. They must have some goodness in them. After all, they were able to earn the trust of their fellow citizens to become elected to this place. When we demonstrate respect for each other in this place, we demonstrate respect for the citizens who chose us as their members of Parliament, and the opposite is true as well.
In the spirit of non-partisanship, I would be remiss not to recognize Canada's first openly gay member of Parliament, Svend Robinson, who is with us today. His courage in 1988 made it easier for me, coming later, to live my life openly and honestly and to become Canada's first openly gay cabinet minister in 2004.
As members embark on their lives in this new chamber, I embark on a new chapter in my life. I feel grateful, and I want to thank some people.
For starters, I want to thank my family, including my 95-year-old father, Clifford Brison, who is watching this from home. I understand they put new batteries in his hearing aid. Dad used to pass out campaign flyers at the front door of Sobeys for me.
I want to thank the people of Kings—Hants, who stuck with me through thick and thin, seven elections and 22 years. They were there for me when I came out in December of 2002. They stood by me when I came out again in December 2003, this time as a Liberal. They had my back during some of the big debates, including when I was part of a cabinet that legalized same-sex marriage in 2005. They celebrated with Max and me when we married at our home in Cheverie in 2007. I want to thank the people of Kings—Hants for the love and respect they have afforded not just to me but to my family, Max, Claire and Rose.
I want to thank all the volunteers who have knocked on the doors and put up the signs, and I want to invite all of them to our last big barbeque at home in Cheverie this summer. It will be our 23rd annual Kings—Hants barbeque—I forgot to tell Max—and they will be able to enjoy hearing me belt out Conway Twitty's Hello Darlin' one last time.
I want to thank my constituency staff, who over the years have included the late, great Audrey-Ann Murphy, Pat Taylor, Tanya Moore and more recently Evan Fairn. They have helped improve the lives of thousands of their fellow citizens.
I want to thank my friend of 40 years and long-time staff member and organizer of all my campaigns, Dale Palmeter. Dale has given me very direct advice for 22 years, and I am sure in my next chapter he will continue to do so.
I want to thank Tisha Ashton, who is with me here today. For 17 years she has provided me with flawless, or usually flawless, policy advice. Edward Rawlinson has been with me for 13 years and Adèle Desjardins has worked with me for 22 years. Adèle started her House of Commons career over 50 years ago, in 1968, working for the Right Hon. Robert Stanfield, and she served the Right Hon. Joe Clark for many years. I am the only one she has served who is not a right hon. I tried, but it did not work. Merci beaucoup, Adèle.
I want to thank my minister's office teams, some of whom are here today. These are wonderful, exceptional, loyal people, who are smart and decent, and most recently helped me execute this final chapter of my political life, code-named internally “Brixit”.
I want to thank the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra, who is not only an excellent member of Parliament but has been and is a terrific Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board.
I want to thank our world-class public servants, from the wonderful officials in my departments to House of Commons security to the staff of the parliamentary restaurant, including of course Marguerite, and our parliamentary pages. They have all taken such good care of me and of all of us.
I especially want to thank the House of Commons interpreters. I know that they have had trouble following my French from time to time. I am sure that I was one of the biggest challenges of their careers. In fact, one of the greatest gifts life has given me has been the chance to perfect my French as an MP.
Lighten up, folks. That was a laugh line. This is a tough crowd. For goodness' sake, in my absence, could you bring a sense of humour back into this place? Reverse the full humorectomy that has fallen on the House of Commons.
In closing, there are three reasons I am moving on.
First, after 22 years as an MP, I am proud of what I have helped to accomplish, and I am leaving under my own steam.
Second, I am ready for a change. At 51, I have the runway to take on new challenges in a new career, and the energy to pursue exciting opportunities.
Third, and most important, is my family. For me, there are three miracles in the gallery today: Maxime, Rose and Claire.
Some people become parents easily, some even accidentally. For Max and me, the journey to parenthood was neither easy nor accidental. I have been so blessed in so many ways to have this lovely family. The most important roles or titles I will ever have are being husband to Max and daddy to Rose and Claire.
Long after I have left public life, I will be bringing my children back here to remind them that Parliament matters. This is where brave lawmakers, nation-builders, members of Parliament and senators helped build, and will continue to build, a Canada that is one of the truly rare places in the world where a family like ours is possible.
There is a tradition in rural Nova Scotia churches. I have gone to a lot of funerals over the years. There is a reading that ends with, “Miss me, but let me go.”
Mr. Speaker, thank you, and miss me, but let me go.