‘Thanks for the opportunity’
Staff High school dropout. Alcoholic. Member of Parliament.
Many of us might wonder how someone who is the first two items on that list might possibly succeed as the third. Stormont-DundasSouth Glengarry MP Guy Lauzon, who is retiring this year after 15 years in Parliament, has often wondered the same thing.
Indeed, when he took to the lectern last Wednesday evening at a retirement dinner in his honour at the Cornwall Civic Complex, he spent very little time talking about the Conservative Party’s accomplishments. Instead, he chose to pay tribute to his family, his community, his supporters, and God.
“You are thanking me but it should be the other way around; I should be thanking you for giving me the opportunity to be an MP,” he said.
He spoke briefly of his battle with alcoholism, how he took his first drink at the age of 15 and quickly developed a severe problem. It’s a story he chronicled in his book –
which he wrote to give people hope and to support the Mental Health and Addiction Centre in Cornwall – and, more briefly, in front of about 300 people on Wednesday.
“On Friday, I will celebrate 45 years of sobriety,” he said to thunderous applause. “You are applauding my family, my support system and the god of my understanding. If you know anyone with an addiction problem, please let me know how I can help.”
Mr. Lauzon – who first entered politics in 2000 when he ran, unsuccessfully, for the Canadian Alliance before finally defeating the incumbent MP, Liberal Bob Kilger, in the riding in 2004 – was feted by a number of dignitaries including MPP Jim McDonell, Cornwall Mayor Bernadette Clement, and former North Dundas Mayor Eric Duncan, himself a one-time member of Mr. Lauzon’s staff who is now the federal riding’s new Conservative candidate.
Mr. Duncan praised Mr. Lauzon for being extremely visible in the community, quipping about how he and his wife, Frances, attended so many events that people no longer rolled out the red carpet for him and just treated their presence as an everyday occurrence.
He told one funny story about an incident that occurred near the beginning of Mr. Lauzon’s career in federal politics. After presiding over a ribbon cutting ceremony at a yacht club in Long Sault, Mr. Lauzon began making a beeline for the parking lot. Concerned that his employer might be distressed, Mr. Duncan chased after him to find out if anything was wrong. Mr. Lauzon allegedly replied that he was just fine but that he was in a hurry. “I have to get to St. Andrew’s because I am marrying Frances in 45 minutes.”
Later, Mr. Duncan segued into a discussion of Mr. Lauzon’s professional accomplishments, lauding the veteran MP for bringing more than $150 million into the riding to fund various projects including St. Lawrence College, the River Institute, the Benson Centre, the 2015 International Plowing Match in Finch and South Glengarry projects like the CharLan Rec Centre, the Lancaster Legion, the South Lancaster Wharf, and Cooper Marsh.
“Guy is most proud of the Service Canada facility here, which has created 217 jobs, and for the $100 million international bridge,” he said, adding that Mr. Lauzon’s constituency office is the busiest in Canada as it has helped with 80,000 passport applications, put $16 million back into people’s pockets through disability tax credits, and, this year, did 6,000 income tax returns at no charge.
Senator Marjory LeBreton told Mr. Duncan that he had big shoes to fill if he wants to succeed Mr. Lauzon as the area’s MP. “I have seen some good MPs in my time and Guy Lauzon was one of the very best,” she said, adding that Mr. Lauzon would often come into work with a file full of newspaper clippings, which he would comb through and then write personal notes of congratulations to the people he’d read about in those clippings. Aside from the personal touch, she highlighted two major milestones of Mr. Lauzon’s time in the House of Commons – his 2006 appointment as the deputy whip and his seven-year tenure as the chair of the Conservative National Caucus.
In her speech, Mayor Bernadette Clement, who ran against Mr. Lauzon as a Liberal candidate in the 2011 and 2015 elections, told the outgoing MP that he is beloved in the community. “Guy and I met a couple of times in the elections and I like to say we had a David and Goliath type of relationship,” she said. “I considered myself David and if you do that, you need to bring a big sling and mine came up a little short.” The mayor’s comments were taken lightheartedly as she quickly lauded the MP for his work ethic and his “excellent staff.” For his part, Mr. Lauzon returned the compliments, publicly congratulating her for being Cornwall’s first female mayor but also the first one to be a visible minority.
British Home Children
One of the first speeches of the evening came from Judy Neville – sister of former Stormont-DundasSouth Glengarry MPP Jim Brownell – who had lobbied Mr. Lauzon to have Canada declare a national day to remember British Home Children. From 1869-1948, more than 100,000 children were sent from the United Kingdom to Canada, where they were forced to to do indentured farm labour. The work was often humiliating and many of the children took the stories to their graves.
“I asked Guy what we could do to get a National British Home Child Day,” Ms. Neville said. “He originally asked if there was enough interest and I said ‘yes.’ It needs to be documented and recognized.”
Last year, Mr. Lauzon introduced a motion into the House of Commons that called for Sept. 28 to be recognized as British Home Child Day. It passed unanimously.
“Thank you, Guy, for giving those children a house in this country,” she said.
Throughout the evening, there was a running joke that Mr. Lauzon might not be done with politics, much to the chagrin of Mrs. Lauzon. Indeed, MPP Jim McDonell went so far as to quip that “the good news is that Guy isn’t running again in the fall. The bad news is that in 2022, he’s running for mayor.” Even Mr. Lauzon joked about it, saying that if he decided to run again in 2019, he could “win a re-election and a divorce at the same time.”
Mr. Lauzon started his speech by saying a few words to his francophone supporters. When he was done, he confessed that when he started out in politics in 2000, he could hardly speak French.
“With the help of a whole lot of French courses, I feel like I am almost bilingual,” he said. Earlier, Denise Gilbert, a representative of the francophone community, thanked him for his work to ensure local services were available in French.
The audience was treated to video greetings from Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Mr. Scheer praised Mr. Lauzon for his passion and dedication and Mr. Harper lauded him for his accomplishment in business, charity, and politics.
Mr. Lauzon was visibly moved by this, calling the former leader of the country a “tremendous wonderful family man and the best Prime Minister we’ve ever had.”
RETIREMENT DINNER: Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry MP Guy Lauzon watches as Cornwall Mayor Bernadette Clement greets his wife, Frances.