Politics·Analysis

Retiring MPs offer some regrets in farewells to Parliament

At least 50 MPs won't be seeking re-election when October rolls around and have been taking these past days to say their farewells in the House of Commons, Chris Hall reports. Regrets, well, they have a few.

At least 50 MPs who won't be running again in the fall have been saying their farewells

With humour, thanks and some emotion, MPs who aren't running for re-election say their final words in the House of Commons. 4:16

The clock in the House of Commons closes in on 7:30 p.m., normally a time when MPs are exhausting their incessant drone of partisanship, accusations of incompetence or worse dressed up as questions, with the responses similarly devoid of actual information or meaning.

In these dying days of Canada's 41st Parliament, the chamber is still ringing with voices into the evening — but this time they are not in the heat of debate.

These days those voices belong to MPs standing one last time in the chamber to say goodbye. Parliament's evening sessions are now, for most, a time of reflection.

"Mr. Chair, it was an accident,'' Conservative MP Leon Benoit, one of the few remaining members of the original Reform class of 1993, told his colleagues in his farewell speech.

"That will be my defence at the Pearly Gates when I, a 22-year politician, am making my pitch for entry. But I will not be lying, because it was an accident. I never intended to get into politics. It just kind of happened."

Fifty MPs — and counting — will not be running for re-election this fall; more than half of them are members of the governing Conservatives.

Their reasons are as varied as the MPs themselves: some are cashing in on still lucrative parliamentary pensions before the rules change after this next election; others want to spend more time with family, or lost nomination battles.

Almost all speak of wanting a life back after the long hours, the trips back and forth from their home ridings, the demands of trying to serve constituents and political party.

"To use a football analogy, I know that I am in the fourth quarter and that I cannot count on overtime, and I want to get some stuff done before the two-minute warning," said Conservative Laurie Hawn, who entered politics in 2006 after a long military career.

It's complicated

Hawn recalled the untimely death of colleague Jim Flaherty, the former finance minister, who passed away shortly after announcing his departure from politics.

"Jim Flaherty's situation did not drive my decision, because it was already made, but it certainly reinforced my decision. Whatever may be any of our reasons, my sincere wish and advice to colleagues is to not leave it too late."

At the other end of spectrum, and the opposite side of the Commons, New Democrat Alexandrine Latendresse is leaving after just one term, and barely into her 30s.

NDP MPs Alexandrine Latendresse (right) and Craig Scott look on as party leader Tom Mulcair takes centre stage in the foyer of the House of Commons. Latendresse, just 31 and a first-term MP, is also not running again, saying the job is sometimes overwhelming. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Latendresse was part of Orange Wave that swept across Quebec in 2011, depositing her and so many other young and inexperienced candidates in Ottawa.

Like Benoit, she never expected to win. Nor, as she explained, did she expect how difficult life on the Hill could be.

"I had some wonderful times during my term here. However, to be honest, it was not always easy. I also had to deal with some very dark sides of politics.

"I went through some very tough times. I saw how complicated being a young female member of Parliament can be. I saw how partisan politics could become harmful and toxic. There were days when things were not really easy.

"However I was able to remain hopeful and persevere thanks to the love and support of my gang here."

War of attrition

It's startling to hear someone so young talk about needing to persevere. Stunning to hear a woman talk about the lack of respect she felt inside an institution that is supposed to symbolize our most deeply-held values.

But politics these days seems less a battle of ideas than a war of attrition.

The survivors are those who can juggle family and political career, whose skin is thicker. Who can say, right to the end, that the sacrifices were worth it because they made a difference.

Liberal MP Irwin Cotler enters the Liberal Party caucus meeting in Ottawa on Wednesday, probably for the last time. First elected in 1999, he won't be running again this fall. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Liberal Irwin Cotler, who's stepping aside after 16 years in Ottawa, was one of those.

A former justice minister, he helped usher in Canada's first anti-terrorism law after the attacks of 9/11. He spoke of his role in introducing Canada's first law against human trafficking, and appointing more women, members of First Nations and visible minorities to the bench.

Parliament is supposed to be the voice of the people, he said, even though it rarely seems that way.

"Today's sentiments might invite a certain cynical rejoinder, particularly as one observes the sometimes cacophony of question period or the toxicity in the political arena.

"Certainly and fortunately, I still retain that great respect and reverence for this institution, which I regard as the centrepiece of our democracy, the cradle, the nurturer for the pursuit of justice."

Rob Anders isn't running again because he lost not one but two Conservative nomination battles in Calgary.

His last speech amounted to a thank you — to gun owners, victims of Communism, parents who home-school their children, police officers and others who, as he put it, "fought in the battle for preventing the moral decay inside Western civilization itself."

People, one assumes, who supported Anders in the past.

Respect was also the theme chosen by another Conservative, Rick Norlock. The former police officer arrived in Ottawa in 2006 intending never to heckle his opponents.

A backbencher's lot: to be camera fodder as ministers hand out infrastructure cheques in their ridings. Left: former MP Dean Del Mastro; right; Northumberland Quinte West MP Rick Norlock who laments the lack of respect MPs show each other. (PR Direct)

He acknowledged that he failed to live up to his own expectations.

"Why do we not have the kind of respect in this place that we should have? It begins with us. We cannot expect others to respect us, unless we respect each other.

"Question period," he went on, "usually begins with the opposition asking, 'Why are you the worst government that ever existed on this planet, on Earth, in this country?' We respond by saying, 'We are the best government ever.'

The truth, of course, is that neither side is right. But Norlock is. Respect for Parliament, and for different political views, has to begin with the people elected to represent the rest of us.

About the Author

Chris Hall

National Affairs Editor

Chris Hall is the CBC's National Affairs Editor and host of The House on CBC Radio, based in the Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. He began his reporting career with the Ottawa Citizen, before moving to CBC Radio in 1992, where he worked as a national radio reporter in Toronto, Halifax and St. John's. He returned to Ottawa and the Hill in 1998.

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