Hon. Jean J. Charest
I have never seen so many faces change so rapidly.
Today I am confirming to the House the decision I announced last week to resign my position as the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. This resignation is to take effect on April 3. I shall be retaining my position as MP for the federal riding of Sherbrooke for several weeks and shall inform you in writing of the effective date of my resignation from that position.
I had the privilege of being elected to the House of Commons for the first time in 1984 and was re-elected in 1988, 1993 and 1997.
Upon my arrival in the House of Commons I was appointed to the position of Assistant Deputy Speaker. I held several ministerial portfolios, including Minister of State for Youth, to which was later added the responsibilities of Minister of State for Amateur Sport and deputy House leader.
In 1990, I headed a House of Commons special committee on a resolution to accompany the Meech Lake agreement.
I held the position of Minister of the Environment for over two years. For a short time I was also Minister of Industry and Deputy Prime Minister.
During those 14 years I was actively involved in one leadership race and two referendums. I will be leaving the House of Commons for a new political arena.
During my years in federal politics I was a participant in two great events. The first was one of the greatest victories in Canadian political history. The other was one of the greatest defeats in Canadian political history. I am grateful to be able to stand here today in front of my peers and to say to them that I actually survived both.
As a minister of the crown I applied a simple test to the policies I sought to implement. I would ask myself whether any given initiative would be meaningful enough to actually be around and withstand the test of time long after I would have departed.
As minister of youth I attempted to implement a national youth strategy that resulted in two meaningful initiatives: the stay in school program, which was directed at young Canadians who needed help and encouragement to pursue their studies; and a major youth initiative in the province of New Brunswick.
When I was Minister of State for Youth our government quadrupled funding for co-operative education through what was known as the co-operative work education program. We also implemented several literacy initiatives.
I must note that I became concerned with this problem when, as a young criminal lawyer I noticed that a lot of young people who ended up in court did not know how to read or write. I was shocked and told myself that one day we would have to deal with this problem.
As minister of sport I assumed the portfolio at a very turbulent period. The Dubin inquiry into the use of drugs in sport had become a most significant inquiry in the world of amateur sport.
As minister of amateur sport, there are two initiatives of which I am very proud. In 1989 Canada's ministers of sport decided to formally include sports for physically handicapped athletes in the Canada Games. We also made representations in this regard for the Olympic Games and for the Commonwealth Games in 1990. We were encouraged in this initiative by two great Canadians, Rick Hansen and André Viger who is from my riding of Sherbrooke.
The second initiative of which I am very proud is my contribution to the first Francophone Games, a sporting and cultural event that is different from all others, especially since these games are held alternately in the northern and southern hemispheres.
As minister of environment I experienced one of the most fulfilling mandates of my political life. I was minister of a department that was at the cutting edge of science, law and public administration.
We proceeded to implement one of the world's only plans of sustainable development, the green plan. I was also privileged to lead Canada's delegation to the earth summit in Rio. The summit was a high point for Canada and for then Prime Minister Mulroney whose leadership broke the G-7 logjam on the issue of the biodiversity convention and a convention on climate change.
In all my endeavours, today if there is one thing I would like to say, it is how privileged we are as a country to be served by what is undoubtedly the best public service in the world. In all the years I have worked in government, I have been impressed day after day. I am sorry to say that there are not enough opportunities for us in this House to share with other Canadians how the men and women who work in our public service do it with a great deal of rigour, with a great deal of energy. When we compare the level of service that we get here in Canada to any other country in the world, we are privileged and lucky to have what I think is the best public service bar none.
In my 14 years of service I have had the opportunity to serve five prime ministers: Mr. Turner, Mr. Clark, Mr. Mulroney, Ms. Campbell, and the present incumbent, the member from Shawinigan. All these prime ministers are, without exception, exceptional individuals. There is no doubt in my mind that they had only one goal and that is to serve their country well. I want to recognize that today for all those in this House and for the present incumbent.
Most of my years in federal politics were served under former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. His government began the difficult task, an unrewarding task, of spending restraints and deficit reduction.
The policies brought forward between 1984 and 1993 set the stage that allowed the current government to attain a balanced budget. Canada's influence on the world stage was significant. I was part of a government that fought for free trade and NAFTA. I am honoured to have served in a government that I believe history will judge as being one of the best.
As the first French Canadian leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, I am leaving the party of Confederation. I leave behind a young and dynamic caucus, colleagues in the Senate. Most of all I will miss my friend and trusted companion, the member for Saint John.
I leave behind all those who work in the House of Commons. Today I want to spill the best kept secret in the country. This is the best place to work in Canada. Pages, messengers, bus drivers, security staff, all of them, it has been a privilege to have worked with them.
I want to thank my political staff who for 14 years has always supported me in my work.
I especially want to thank the fantastic team in my Sherbrooke office. I want to thank all these people who have served me so well.
We live in a country which, better than any other country, is preparing its citizens to live and work in the new area of globalization. Our diversity demands that we respect differences and espouse the virtues of a society which values tolerance.
Canada is based on a partnership between anglophones and francophones, which has grown to include first four provinces, then ten provinces and two territories, soon to become three. This partnership has evolved toward social and economic solidarity. This partnership, which originated in the 1774 agreement, has allowed us to do great things together in Canada.
Our destiny is calling us to even greater things, to renew our commitment, this 1774 partnership, to reconfirm it because we are presently in a state of doubt in this regard. But this partnership calls on us to do more by including our western fellow citizens in our institutions and doing more to include our native peoples.
I know of no other country in a better position to prepare the next generation to live, work, travel and create in the new millennium.
I have often said that my most important title was member for Sherbrooke. I am giving up this title at the federal level in favour of the same title in the Quebec National Assembly. I am answering a call, and after listening to people in Quebec I chose to listen to my own heart. Today Quebec is profoundly divided, therefore in a weakened state.
However, I do know that when Quebeckers are united and pursue a common goal, as they did in the early sixties under Jean Lesage, they can do great things. I also know that they need neighbours who are not strangers, especially not adversaries, neighbours who are fellow citizens and allies, people who share the same values. It is to go back to these people—
Topic: Oral Question Period
Subtopic: The Hon. Jean J. Charest