Change is the law of life
My final column of 2015 understandably leads to a retrospective look at the past year and the remarkable period of change it represented for my family and I. Thinking about the year also brought to mind one of my favourite John F. Kennedy quotes that I think perfectly illustrates the fact that change is actually the only constant in life. He said: “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” Each year becomes a collection of memories and experiences, some of them very positive and a few less so. The highs and lows make you stronger as a person facing the future if you learn from these experiences. For me, 2015 was a year of almost constant change and it afforded tremendous opportunities and experiences that will help me going forward.
For my family, 2015 began with a very special occasion. On January 5th, I was sworn into cabinet as the Minister of Veterans Affairs at a simple ceremony with the Governor General and Prime Minister at Rideau Hall. My wife Rebecca and our children were there along with a few friends who were able to scramble on to last minute flights when they learned what was happening that morning.
Unfortunately, my parents were in Florida so they were not able to make it to Ottawa for this special ceremony that a retired politician like my Dad would have loved. For me, becoming Minister was less about the elevation to cabinet, but more about the fact that I was able to help Canadians who were injured serving our country, which was an area of personal passion for me having worked on these issues after my twelve years serving in the Canadians Armed Forces. It was a profound honour to be able to affect positive change and that is what we did in rapid fashion. While I only had ten full months as Minister, I am very proud of what was accomplished and proud of the exceptional team that came together to help me. We changed the tone of dialogue on veterans issues and helped expand and modernize a department that had been struggling to meet the new needs and expectations of modern veterans. We introduced and passed new benefits through Parliament that will help thousands of veterans and their families over time. We devoted new resources and attention to innovative treatment options for mental injuries from service including service dogs and equine therapy. It was personally rewarding to announce the national equine therapy funding at WindReach Farm south of Port Perry. In the coming months we will also complete the final legacy of our mental health work when we hang the striking sculpted relief of WWI soldier and area MP Sam Sharpe in the halls of Parliament. This artistic work, by Scugog artist Tyler Briley, will help us continue to reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues by embracing our history and learning from it.
From the high on that January day to the low of the election result in October, “Real Change” became more than just the slogan of Justin Trudeau, it became the hallmark of 2015 for my family and I. After a marathon election, I was re-elected to a role I am passionate about, but I also lost the ability to continue my work for Veterans. The joy of being re-elected during a difficult election was tempered by the sadness I felt for many good friends who lost their seats because “change” became the driving issue on Election Day. Our government accomplished a lot of positive things for Canada and governed through difficult economic times, but we cannot dwell on the past, or as JFK said, we will “miss the future”. We must learn from our loss as we fulfill our role as the Loyal Opposition. We must seek to defend our policies and principles with a new tone and with the desire to show the real choices facing Canadians as we plan our future together. I put my name forward to be interim leader of the Conservatives at the urging of many colleagues to ensure that we adopted a new tone as we reconnect with Canadians. While I did not become interim leader, I was humbled by the tremendous support I received and very happy my approach was endorsed by our new leader. I am very confident our new interim leader, Rona Ambrose, is already adopting this new style and she will help us move forward in opposition and to offer a compelling vision to Canadians.
There were also numerous highs on the ground in Durham in 2015. It was a highlight for me to deliver a speech at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) and announce a $27 million investment towards their next phase of growth. The funds will help them build the Centre for Advanced Research Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which will help us prepare young people for the jobs of the present and future. My father and our friend the late Jim Flaherty had been among the early champions of a university in Durham, so it was a special moment to be able to champion the expansion of our university to prepare it for the future. It was also rewarding to secure some infrastructure investments for Durham that will help local governments with everything from roads and bridges, to flood mitigation and high speed internet connectivity. In many cases, we had to force the province to get behind these priority investments and I am glad they finally did. The most rewarding work of 2015, however, were some successes for constituents that will only be known by their family and my office. My Durham team often gets so close to families as we help with immigration, tax or other issues that we share in the joy of a great outcome. Seeing a mother and daughter reunited or a family get the relief they were seeking often leads to tears of joy in our office and make our work worthwhile.
2015 is ending in a way that is certainly very different to how it began. but I am thankful for all of the opportunities the year brought me. Change is indeed the law of life. I will savour the memories of this past year and pledge to learn from both the highs and lows as the next year begins. I hope that the new year brings much opportunity and prosperity to your family and to our community as we face the future together.