Mr. Leon Benoit (Vegreville—Wainwright, CPC)
Mr. Chair, it was an accident. 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.
I was not from a political family. My mom and dad always took the responsibility to vote seriously, but other than that, there was no political background, no heavy political involvement. What they did is instill in all of their 17 children, of which I was one, an idea that voting was important. They gave us that.
I first realized the importance of politics when I worked as a farm economist for Alberta Agriculture. One of my duties was to interpret policy changes, and those policy changes included budgets, both provincial and federal. I interpreted what these changes actually meant to farmers and what they meant to their farm operations. I came to realize very quickly that whether one likes politics or not, it is important.
In 1988, when Preston Manning held a meeting in Lloydminster, I attended that meeting. There were about 40 or 50 people there. After listening to Preston, a few of us decided we should build this political party, so about 10 of us came together and started the first constituency association for the Reform Party in the Vegreville constituency. This was a constituency that was represented by the deputy prime minister at the time, Don Mazankowski.
In 1992, when the constituency association was holding its first nomination process, I helped to organize it. Later, when encouraged by quite a number of people, I got involved, and I won the nomination, although it obviously was not for my speaking prowess.
By the way, when I told my wife that I was considering a run in politics, her response was, “You? You're going to be an MP? Who is going to vote for you?” Well it was not quite like that, but I read between the lines. We know how it is with our wives; we can kind of tell. I really appreciate her support. I did then, and I still do.
Then in 1993, I was part of that first wave of Reformers to sweep into Ottawa. Getting elected, we all in this place know, does not just happen. It took a lot of work by a lot of people over a long period of time. Many of those people started by helping to build this new political party from the ground up. From the very start, there was nothing there, and they built it into an organization that actually successfully elected a member of Parliament in its first real try at it.
Many of that first board of directors who started this political party back in 1988 went on to be key players in my first campaign. They were people like Connie Kempton, Dave Clement, Morgan Day, Dave Dibben, Andy Cameron, Les Mitchell, Gordon Kyle, Allan Murray, and Ralph Sorenson, who actually is the father of our current Minister of State for Finance.
This group was led by a great Canadian, Sam Herman. Starting with nothing and starting from nowhere, with a brand new party and no organization at any level, Sam took it on, and he led this group. He was an organizer, he was a leader, and he was a fundraiser, and he taught us all a lot about how to do these things.
Let me tell everyone a little about Sam. Sam led our group from nothing, as I said, a non-existent organization, to being as strong a constituency association as I have ever seen. He organized us and he led by example. He encouraged us, and he reminded us why we were doing all of this work. It cost each of us a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of our own money.
When I won the nomination in June of 1992, Sam went on the road with me for over a year. It was practically a full-time job. He had just sold his farm equipment business and was starting a new personal financial planning business with two other partners. In spite of that, he went on the road with me for over a year.
As I said, campaigning was almost like a full-time job, going to town to town, business to business, having coffee parties and building this organization from the ground up. It was like a full-time job, except there was no pay, and this at a time when Sam could ill afford the time. This incredible commitment and sacrifice is truly something I marvel at to this day. He then became my campaign manager in 1993 when the election was called.
As members know, in 1993 I was one of the first group of 52 Reform MPs who stormed Ottawa. We brought about a lot of positive change. I would argue that we continue to do that through this new Conservative Party of Canada, a brand new party started in 2003. I believe this new party is carrying on down the path that was started by that Reform Party of Canada, and of course down the path of the other parent party, the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.
I am so proud of my colleagues and friends in this place. We are a great team. I also believe that our Prime Minister will go down in history as one of the greatest prime ministers this country has ever known. With his long-term planning, he has led our team to reduce taxes and make an average Canadian family of four more than $6,000 better off than they were when we took office 10 years ago, and this is nothing to sneeze at.
Think of the difference that $6,000 a year can make for an average of family four. They can use it to invest and build for retirement, to spend on something they need or something special or in some cases just to get by, or to pay for education and so on for their children. This does make a real difference, and it is something I am very proud of.
I am proud of the work that this team, my colleagues, have done in the areas of justice, in ending the Wheat Board monopoly, in ending the long gun registry, and in making our streets safer.
I want to recognize that the opposition has played a role in this as well. I am not one—at least not now, after 22 years—to believe that any one party has all the answers, and I respect my colleagues across the floor. I want to thank all of them for their contribution to making this government a better government.
Finally, I want to say how proud I am of my wife and our children and our grandchildren. I cannot express how much I appreciate what Linda has done for me and our family over these very difficult years. I am so much in love with her, and I look forward in the years ahead to spending more time with her. I am hoping we can find a way to make that work, because as all members of parliament know, we really do not get as much time with our spouses and families and we would like, and she has done a great job.
I am so proud of all of my family. I have five children, married, who have produced eight grandchildren. It is just so wonderful to go home and enjoy the grandchildren and see the fruits of the labour that Linda has put in.
I want to end by thanking all of my constituents for allowing me these seven opportunities to represent them. There was stronger support every time. It was over 80% the last time. I want to say what an honour and what a privilege it has been to represent them. Thirty years ago, I could not have imagined that I would be given that incredible honour and privilege. I thank each one of them from the bottom of my heart.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Members not seeking re-election to the 42nd Parliament