‘Thanks for the op­por­tu­nity’

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - News Law­maker, From Law­breaker to

BY STEVENWARB­URTON

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.”

Ac­com­plish­ments

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.

Run­ning again?

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.

Video greetings

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.”

STEVEN WARBURTON PHOTO

RE­TIRE­MENT DIN­NER: Stor­mont-Dun­das-South Glen­garry MP Guy Lau­zon watches as Corn­wall Mayor Ber­nadette Cle­ment greets his wife, Frances.

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