Retiring MPs bid farewell

Farewells and tributes were heard in the House of Commons this week as a number of MPs that are retiring ended their careers on Parliament Hill on Friday.

When the third session of the 40th Parliament was adjourned Friday afternoon following the successful motion of non-confidence in the government, a number of MPs walked out of the House of Commons for the last time.

Nineteen of them have announced they are not running for re-election. Some have already departed over the last few months, but others left Parliament Hill after Friday's historic vote.

Before the vote took place, MPs on both sides of the Commons mixed and mingled, chatting with each other, shaking hands. Some political rivals exchanged farewell hugs.

Though they were about to disagree on whether Prime Minister Stephen Harper's minority Conservative government should stay in power, there was one thing they did concur on earlier in the day — that Speaker Peter Milliken will be missed.

List of MPs leaving (or who have already left) includes:

  • Shawn Murphy.
  • Greg Thompson.
  • Christian Ouellet.
  • Raynald Blais.
  • Jen-Yves Roy.
  • Francine Lalonde.
  • Serge Menard.
  • Peter Milliken.
  • Albina Guarnieri.
  • Jim Prentice.
  • Rick Casson.
  • Bill Siksay.
  • Chuck Strahl.
  • John Cummins.
  • Keith Martin.
  • Jim Abbott.
  • Stockwell Day.
  • Jay Hill.
  • Derek Lee.

Representatives from each political party paid tribute to Milliken, who was elected in 1988, and chosen as Speaker in 2001. The MP from Kingston, Ont., is the country's longest-serving Speaker and has earned great respect from politicians in Canada and his counterparts abroad.

Conservative House leader John Baird, noted that he was 19 years old when he first met Milliken. He praised Milliken for his intelligence, integrity and professionalism and wished him well.

"You will go down in history as, if not one of the best speakers, the best speaker that the House of Commons has ever had," said Baird.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff paid an equally kind tribute to his fellow MP. Milliken's retirement means the Commons is losing a "faithful guardian" and "fierce protector" of democratic traditions.

"You've built a legacy that will outlast you and will endure in the annals of this Parliament," he said. "Farewell, Mr. Speaker, this House will miss you and we will never forget you," said Ignatieff.

The Bloc Québécois and the NDP also paid tribute to Milliken, and then the Speaker himself said a few words. He told the Commons he's been honoured to be an MP and the Speaker, and that it's been a privilege to serve the community of Kingston. He said he's looking forward to spending more time there and with his family.

"It's been a singular honour to serve in this position," Milliken said, thanking the MPs for electing him repeatedly as Speaker. "I do appreciate the support and collegiality you've shown me."

His voice cracked as he wrapped up his remarks: "What has been the wonderful part about it is the affections and respect you have showered upon me since my first election. Merci beaucoup."

On Thursday, some of the MPs that are headed for retirement rose in the House of Commons and bid farewell.

Excerpts of remarks given by retiring MPs:

Liberal MP Albina Guarnieri thanked former prime minister Paul Martin for taking a "huge leap of faith" and putting her in his cabinet, and former prime minister Jean Chrètien for not "throwing me out of the party for my sometimes contrary voting record."

"I think most every one of us comes here with a willingness to raise the potential of Parliament to change the lives of people," she said.

Conservative MP John Cummins, a British Columbia MP, thanked everyone including Air Canada staff and the workers at the Ottawa Marriott hotel where he's lived for close to 15 years while staying in the nation's capital. "My hope when first elected, was that when my time here was done the folks at home would say he kept his word, he represented us well. That remains my fondest hope. Thank you, all."

Chuck Strahl, ending a 17-year political career that included several cabinet positions, made an emotional farewell. The Conservative MP choked back tears when he talked about joining Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet on the heels of his cancer diagnosis.

"His encouragement to me at that time was, 'Don't let people tell that you you can't still contribute, don't let them push you aside.' And cancer survivors need to hear words like that and they need to know in their heart that they're true," he said.

Strahl went on to say that his time on Parliament Hill reinforced "the conviction that Canada is one of the most blessed countries in the world, full of abundant natural resources and of generous, stoic people, consistently peaceful and generally prosperous. We are among history's most fortunate. What a great country."

Stockwell Day, who was treasury board president and public safety minister in Harper's cabinet, also spoke patriotically about Canada and the freedoms its residents enjoy. He described receiving the support of constituents as "a sacred trust" that should always guide parliamentarians and that representing voters is "truly the highest order of democracy." He paid a loving tribute to his wife and thanked her for the sacrifices that spouses of MPs make. "I might not have the perfect marriage, but I do have the perfect wife," he said.

Bloc Québécois MP Serge Menard  spoke about all the activities he is looking forward to doing once he has some time on his hands: travelling, reading, listening to music, skiing and biking. It's time to move on, he said. "It's time to bequeath this privilege to younger people," said Menard.

The NDP's Bill Siksay said that as a gay man, it's "been an honour to represent the queer community in this place."

Bidding farewell to his colleagues, Siksay left them with this thought: "My predeccessor Svend Robinson, once remarked that the highest duty of a member of Parliament is love. Love should be our daily agenda — a daring, justice-seeking and tender love. Some day, even here, we'll find that path where all we do, we do for love."