POLITICS
06/08/2019 11:08 EDT | Updated 06/19/2019 13:52 EDT

Veteran MPs Say Goodbye To Parliament With Gratitude And Humour

And yes, some included shots at rivals.

CP
Long-time MPs Nathan Cullen (left), Rodger Cuzner (centre) and Kevin Sorenson are among those who are saying goodbye to the House of Commons this year.

As Canada’s 42nd Parliament winds to a close and a federal election inches closer, MPs who are headed home for good are bidding farewell to the House of Commons.

Retiring MPs are being given about 10 minutes to say their goodbyes. Some of the speeches are funny, highlighting the unusual twists and turns stemming from a life in politics. Others are emotional, with reflections on the path that brought them to that special place.

But the remarks help showcase that behind all the cut-and-thrust in the House and despite all of the noise, most MPs respect one another as colleagues, no matter their partisan stripes.

HuffPost Canada wanted to highlight the words of some of the long-time MPs who are closing this chapter.

This story will be updated as more veteran MPs share their final reflections.

Nathan Cullen, NDP MP for British Columbia’s Skeena-Bulkley Valley

Nathan Cullen, first elected in 2004, is one of the most popular and respected New Democrats. He ran for his party’s leadership in 2012 and could be called upon to do so again if the job becomes vacant in the future.

As an example of his longevity, Cullen joked that he had a full head of hair when he first arrived in Ottawa from his northern B.C. riding.

“I will ask that no one Google that,” he said.

Cullen said that his goals in politics were to eventually leave with his health, family, and integrity intact. While those might seem like modest ambitions, he said, they are far from it.

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“This can be a brutal place,” he said. “It can be hard on families. It can be hard on relationships. It can be hard on us as individuals and we do not often talk about the strains of being away, the mental health struggles many of us have and do not talk about.”

Cullen said that while “this strange life” has afforded him chances to meet presidents, kings, and queens, he has been most impressed by the local activists and Indigenous leaders in his riding.

“I believe we are actors passing across the stage,” he said. “May we, in all of our efforts, seek to not only leave Parliament a better place, but leave this country a better place.”

His last line: “For sure, I have been left better by this experience.”

Rodger Cuzner, Liberal MP for Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton-Canso

Rodger Cuzner has served in Parliament since 2004. He’s perhaps best known for his annual holiday poem in the House, a parody of “’Twas The Night Before Christmas” that takes good-natured shots at political rivals in the other benches.

Cuzner shared a story about being in the room with former prime minister Jean Chretien when he told then-UK prime minister Tony Blair that Canada would not be going to war in Iraq.

I think the history books show that decision was a great moment for this country,” he said.

The affable Cuzner said that while he took his responsibilities seriously, he never took himself too seriously.

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His last line: “Rodger, over and out.”

Larry Miller, Conservative MP for Ontario’s Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound

Larry Miller, an MP since 2004, is known for a blunt style that has at points sparked controversy.

In his farewell address, Miller told the House he left high school at age 15 due to “irreconcilable differences” and some “Irish stubbornness.” 

“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,” Miller said.

Miller said he prided himself on being a “constituency MP” for his riding.

“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,” he said.

He choked up while reflecting on the deaths of former Tory MPs Jim Flaherty and Gord Brown, as well as the 2014 attack on Parliament Hill. 

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His last line: “It has truly been a slice, Mr. Speaker, but I am out of here.”

David Anderson, Conservative MP for Saskatchewan’s Cypress Hills-Grasslands 

David Anderson, first elected in 2000, recounted a quip from an old friend about the similarity between politicians and babies’ diapers.

“They should be changed often and for the same reason,” Anderson said.

A deeply religious man, Anderson spoke about how his belief in God affected his work and about weekly prayer breakfasts on Parliament Hill that he said have “cemented so many relationships.” 

He also recounted how he came to live in Ottawa with Alberta MP Kevin Sorenson in early 2001, after both decided that staying in hotels wasn’t for them.

He thanked Sorenson’s wife for allowing her husband to “share an apartment with me for almost 20 years,” suggesting it must be some kind of record.

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His last line: “May God bless Parliament and may God bless Canada.” 

Bill Casey, Liberal MP for Nova Scotia’s Cumberland-Colchester

Bill Casey was first elected as a Liberal in 2015 after what he called a “zigzag career” that saw him previously sit as a Progressive Conservative, a Conservative, and an Independent.

It was during those years as an Independent that he sat near Justin Trudeau, who called him in 2014 to ask if he’d be interested in returning to politics and running as a Grit.

Casey’s address championed how backbench MPs can make a difference by pushing for changes through legislation and on committees.

“Every single member of Parliament I have ever met has brought something to the table,” he said.

Casey took the opportunity to encourage others to put their names on a ballot.

“The hours are long and the stress is awful, but representing people in a riding is the most wonderful job a person can do,” he said.

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His last line: “I could not have done anything for 30 years that would have been more rewarding, more satisfying and more interesting. Thanks very much.”

Guy Lauzon, Conservative MP for Ontario’s Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry

Guy Lauzon told the House he has been blessed in many ways in his “life of 75 short years,” including by finding love in 1999 after 17 years as a widow. 

He reflected on what it meant to be elected in 2004 after campaigning for years at any event in his riding where there was more than a dozen people.

“Everyone in the House knows, but cannot express to other people, how exhilarating it is to be elected a member of Parliament, but it is also humbling,” he said. “When I realized that my peers had said, ‘Guy, we trust you,’ it was the most humbling, wonderful experience that I have ever had.”

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His last line: “To the citizens of Canada, to all the staff in Parliament and all my colleagues, I say thank you. God bless them and may God bless Canada.”

Anne Minh-Thu Quach, NDP MP for Quebec’s Salaberry-Suroit

Anne Minh-Thu Quach told the House about the shock of being elected in the “Orange Wave” of 2011 that brought many young New Democrats to Ottawa. She also shared what it meant to be one of the few MPs of Vietnamese origin.

“As a young woman who has served in the House since 2011, I know what a challenge it was to get people to take women and young people seriously,” she said.

Minh-Thu Quach, who has a young child and is pregnant, touched on the strides Parliament has made for parents, including changes that have allowed MPs to bring their children into the Commons until the age of 18 months.

She stressed the need to listen to young voices and take action on climate change, an issue of vital importance to the next generation.

She thanked her daughter, Mila, for sharing her mom with Parliament even when she did not understand why.

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Her last line: “Mila, I will be home soon.”

Bev Shipley, Conservative MP for Ontario’s Lambton-Kent-Middlesex

Bev Shipley told the House how his wife once vowed she would “never marry a politician.”

But when local organizers asked him to consider a federal run after some years in municipal politics, Shipley said she changed course. 

He won his seat in January 2006, an election that saw Tories win a minority government. “There should never be an election in the winter, not in Canada,” he said. 

Shipley thanked colleagues of all political stripes for “the friendships we have built and sustained.” He thanked those who voted for him, and the ones who didn’t but put up with him anyway.

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Last line: “May God bless each and everyone in this Parliament and may God bless this great country of Canada.”

Kellie Leitch, Conservative MP for Ontario’s Simcoe-Grey

A pediatric orthopaedic surgeon, Kellie Leitch said she ran for office in 2011 because she wanted to do good for children and because the late Jim Flaherty asked her to do so.

She was appointed labour minister and minister for the status of women in 2013. Leitch said that while she initially thought heading a department with a specific focus on women was “ridiculous,” she grew to find it to be “one of the more meaningful and fulfilling roles I have ever had.”

Leitch is perhaps best known for her controversial campaign for the leadership of the federal Tories, which focused on a desire to screen immigrants for so-called “Canadian values.” Leitch addressed that issue in her farewell address, saying she faced threats and abuse for the position.

“What most Canadians saw during the campaign was people slandering me and my reputation,” she said.

She said all MPs share a common desire to make Canada a better place.

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Her last line: “I encourage the leaders in this place to remember to take courage and bring forward bold ideas. Canadians are expecting us to.”

Murray Rankin, NDP MP for British Columbia’s Victoria

Murray Rankin, a former law professor first elected in a 2012 byelection, spoke about how he was most proud to help secure pensions for victims of thalidomide poisoning and his work across the aisle on medical assistance in dying. 

Rankin said he was honoured to be singled out by colleagues as one of the hardest working MPs on the Hill.

But he was also frank about his disappointment with how things work in the House.

“I am frustrated by question period. I don’t mind saying that,” he said. “I think a lot of us are. We can do much better for Canadians. The tired lines and the bad theatre is wearing a little thin.

“I know that I do not look forward to it, and I know people on the other side feel the same way. Surely, we can do better.”

Rankin also said he remains “deeply disappointed” with the progress Canadians have made on reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and in “our collective failure to address the climate crisis.”

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His last line: “Jack Layton still said it best, ‘My friends, love is better than anger… so let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic.’”

Brad Trost, Conservative MP for Saskatchewan’s Saskatoon-University

An avowed social conservative first elected in 2004, Brad Trost told the House he stood up for what he believed in during his time in Ottawa.

“While it has been said that politics is about compromise, I have always believed politics should be about principle,” Trost said.

Adrian Wyld/CP
Conservative MP Brad Trost rises in the House of Commons on April 22, 2016.

Trost, who finished fourth in the 2017 Tory leadership race, referenced his social conservative views by saying “human life matters from conception to natural death,” and that he hoped his daughters will “inherit a Canada that is moral.”

His last line: “To God be the glory.”

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet, NDP MP for Quebec’s Hochelaga

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet spoke about her baptism by fire as part of the crop of New Democrats who came to the House in 2011.

“The class of 2011 had to learn fast,” she said. “Less than a month after we got here, the government was forcing Canada Post employees back to work.”

Boutin-Sweet stressed the importance of championing affordable housing and for MPs to take the time to hear what voters have to say about issues.

“Listening to the public is supposed to be our job. I wanted to give the people a voice.”

An archaeologist, Boutin-Sweet  said she learned “a million things” in the job and visited every Canadian province.

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Her last line: “Perhaps… Jack Layton sensed something, and my political career was foreordained.”

Kevin Sorenson, Conservative MP for Alberta’s Battle River-Crowfoot

Kevin Sorenson, a fixture on Parliament Hill since 2000, said he turned to his Wikipedia page for help crafting his farewell speech.

“It says I represent ‘a riding that is very conservative even by the standards of rural Alberta,’” he said. “Well, as my staff has reminded me, a three-legged dog could win in Crowfoot as long as it is a Conservative.”

He thanked former prime minister Stephen Harper for naming him minister of state for finance.

“I was proud to stand by his side and give him unconditional support as we negotiated trade agreements, steered through the recession and balanced successive budgets to ensure the future of this country and that of our children and grandchildren,” Sorenson said. “Serving his government was the highlight of my political career.”

He also addressed the 2014 attack on Parliament Hill and the painful memories of 9/11. 

“Those dark days are all but washed away by the many fond memories I have of Parliament Hill and the friendships I have forged,” he said.

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His last line: “May God continue to bless this great land that is the greatest country in the world: Canada.”

Dave Van Kesteren, Conservative MP for Ontario’s Chatham-Kent-Leamington

First elected in 2006, Dave Van Kesteren reminded the House that he is a father of eight children and a grandfather to 39 children.

“I only have 10 minutes, so I will not name them,” he said.

Van Kesteren said being an MP has allowed him to see all parts of the world.

“I have witnessed the vibrant economy of Asia, honoured our soldiers in Europe, witnessed democracy at work in South America, encouraged peace in the Middle East, and saw extreme poverty but also hope in Africa.”

He noted his years of service on various committees, from ethics and industry to finance, fisheries, and foreign affairs.

“This has been a tremendous honour, but it is time to go back home,” he said, promising some southwestern Ontario hospitality for MPs who may come visit.

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His last line: “May God bless you, and may God bless Canada.”

Linda Duncan, NDP MP for Edmonton Strathcona

In 2008, Linda Duncan became the first NDP candidate elected in Alberta in 25 years.

She told the House about her first time stepping onto the polished marble floors of Centre Block and nearly doing the splits.

“My sage advice for all the new female MPs who will come in the next election is to make sure that they have rubber soles on their shoes,” Duncan said.

Duncan said it was her challenge to try to get NDP MPs in caucus to think like Albertans. 

“I like to think that I am also leaving behind a few friends from the other parties,” she said.

She expressed some dismay that MPs are not able to tackle every challenge constituents bring to them. But there are also moments of “pure joy,” Duncan said, when an MP’s office is able to help a constituent gain citizenship, a veterans benefit, or a federal grant. 

“I wish to thank all the environmental community and Indigenous leadership who allowed me to be one of their voices for change,” she said.

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Her last line: “My retirement agenda is to get a rescue dog. My brother says it is my turn.”

Robert Sopuck, Conservative MP for Manitoba’s Dauphin-Swan River-Neepawa

Robert Sopuck, first elected to the House in a 2010 byelection, also recounted advice about the two things a politician never passes up: “a chance to give a speech and a chance to go to the bathroom.”

Sopuck said he caught the political bug after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. He said his Czech family took in refugees.

“I’ve been called a bouncing Czech, a cancelled Czech, a blank Czech,” he joked. “As long as I am not a phony Czech, I will be OK.”

Sean Kilpatrick/CP
Conservative MP Robert Sopuck speaks in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Oct. 26, 2011.

 

Sopuck has long championed the interests of hunters, anglers, and trappers in Ottawa. His speech included some pointed shots at “the animal rights movement” and “environmental extremists” who he said don’t understand that way of life.

“Why does a person enter politics? Quite simply, it is to make a difference,” he said.

His last line: “It has been an honour and a privilege to serve with all members on all sides of the House as I end my political journey.”

Mark Warawa, Conservative MP for British Columbia’s Langley-Aldergrove

Mark Warawa, first elected in 2004, delivered his farewell address in early May. The long-time MP is battling pancreatic cancer.

“I may be around for a long time or I may be around for a short time,’ he said. “We do not know.”

The MP also spoke about his deep faith and his belief that no MP is in Parliament “by accident.” Before his diagnosis, Warawa was preparing to become a chaplain.

“We have a responsibility to do what is right, to be truthful, to be people of integrity in making Canada better and working with one another when it is appropriate to do so,” he said. 

Warawa said that his personal health challenges have shown him that Canada’s palliative care system is broken and needs to be fixed.

Warawa called on his colleagues to show more kindness to one another.

“I want to encourage each of you to love one another, to encourage each other,” he said. “Do what is right. Be honest.”

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His last line: “To God be the glory.”

Mark Eyking, Liberal MP for Nova Scotia’s Sydney-Eyking

Mark Eyking said his mom gave him some sage advice when he was elected in 2000: “Work hard for Cape Breton and behave while you’re up there.”

Eyking spoke about the many sacrifices in political life and how nobody gets through those tough moments alone. 

“I encourage all Canadians to get involved, whether by putting their name on the ballot or by encouraging and supporting someone who wants to put their name forward,” Eyking said. “People who do that are so important.”

He called for the extension of employment insurance sick benefits from 15 weeks to 50 weeks for those who most need it, something he said is “not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do.”

He ended with his personal definition of how to be fulfilled in life.

“May you live in the place that you love, may you do the things that you enjoy, and most importantly, may you be surrounded by those who share those goals with you,” he said.

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 His last line: “I was truly blessed.”

Rob Nicholson, Conservative MP for Ontario’s Niagara Falls

Rob Nicholson, the longest-serving member of the Tory caucus, was first elected in 1984. Though he was defeated in 1993, he returned to Ottawa in 2004.

Nicholson told the House how the Cuban missile crisis sparked an interest in politics when he was a boy, and admiration for former prime minister John Diefenbaker.

“At the age of 13, I had the privilege of meeting the Right Hon. John Diefenbaker, who asked me if I wanted to become a Conservative MP some day. I said for sure I would,” he said.

Nicholson said that after 24 years in the House, he has seen how Canadian democracy works.

“There is not another country in the world that does it better than Canada,” he said. “At citizenship courts and others, I always say that to be a Canadian means that one has won the lotto of life.”

Nicholson lauded each of the Tory prime ministers he served under: Brian Mulroney, Kim Campbell, and Stephen Harper. He said serving in Harper’s cabinet was “one of the great chapters of my life.”

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His last line: “I thank everyone for the memories, for they will last long after the goodbyes.”

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