House of Commons Hansard #128 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was parks.

Topics

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion—Forillon Park
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Raynald Blais Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

moves:

That this House issue an official apology to the people whose properties were expropriated to create Forillon Park for the unconscionable manner in which they were treated, and that the Speaker of the House send the representatives of the people whose properties were expropriated and of their descendants an official copy of the Journals of the House of Commons indicating the adoption of this motion.

He said: Mr. Speaker, I am very honoured, and also very humbled, to rise today to speak about the people who were expropriated from Forillon. They were treated without justice, respect or dignity.

I would also like to point out that today marks a rather unusual anniversary. Another injustice occurred on February 10, 1956. On that date, Wilbert Coffin was hanged. Today, the members of his family are holding a very special ceremony in the Gaspé region.

Injustices have occurred, both in the case of Wilbert Coffin and in the case of the people expropriated from Forillon. Again this week, another case of injustice involving employment insurance was brought to the attention of my office. Recently, as we know, changes were introduced to reduce the number of hours of work required for employment insurance eligibility from 910 to 840 hours. That is 70 fewer hours, but this can still mean the difference for two particular young people. One is six hours short of being eligible. He has 834 hours of work to his credit instead of 840 hours, and according to the rules, is not eligible for employment insurance. This was the first time that he had ever applied for employment insurance. The situation was the same for the other young person who was short 20 hours of work. I can think of many unfair situations happening in the Gaspé region, the Magdalen Islands, elsewhere in Quebec and in the world.

Thus, fundamentally, when we talk about an injustice like the one the people expropriated from Forillon were victims of, we are talking about all injustices. When we fight one case of injustice, when we fight for respect and human dignity, we are fighting for all human beings who have faced similar situations in the past, are facing them now, or will in the future.

Getting back to the issue at hand, I would like to mention the co-operation and involvement of two individuals. The first is Lionel Bernier, who wrote a book in the early 2000s about the fight for Forillon. He served on a commemorative committee in 2010, which somewhat eased the pain of those who were expropriated. Another individual, Marie Rochefort, is still fighting today on behalf of a group of expropriated persons. These people, their committee and supporters are keen to meet with anyone interested in the plight of those expropriated from Forillon.

The story of Forillon is the story of the creation of a national park. I will give a bit of background information. The park was created in the late 1960s or early 1970s by Jean Chrétien, who at the time was the minister responsible for parks. At that time, a number of people—225 families to be exact—lived on the land that was slated to become Forillon Park. These families had cleared the land and built their homes there. Another 1,200 or so people had title to land in what was to become Forillon Park. There is the basic context.

This was not a park carved out of an uninhabited area. It was already home to a community. People were led to believe that the creation of a park would bring tremendous wealth to the Gaspé. There was talk at the time of 3,000 jobs, of many jobs down the road for a lot of people. There was also talk of major economic spinoffs. Sadly, however, the realization dawned in 2005 that Forillon Park had created the equivalent of 70 full-time jobs. A total of 70 people work at Forillon National Park which lies at the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula.

So this is what happened. People had been living on their land for years. They thought they would continue to live their lives on this magnificent peninsula. Suddenly, they were swept away by a tsunami similar to the high tides we have seen strike elsewhere. The tsunami was supposed to bring with it development, growth and benefits, but the sad truth became apparent with the passage of time. These people were caught in the middle of a chain of events.

I represent the riding of Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, but back then, there were other elected provincial and federal officials representing the same region. They were complicit in these events and in the sad story of these people.

When these people originally settled on this land, they were thinking about growth, the future and their families. Suddenly, the bulldozers arrived and their lands were expropriated to make way for a park, with the promise of tremendous growth in the Gaspé region. Moreover, they were paid very little for their land and properties.

Caught in the middle of these events, some people accepted their fate because they could see a glimmer of hope. They were told that they would have to leave their land, move into town or go somewhere else. But at the end of the day, they found themselves in a situation where they were offered very little for their land compared to going market rates.

Just think of it. When Forillon National Park was created, the 225 families who lived on this land were forced to find somewhere else to live. Those with very strong ties to this region wanted to stay in the Gaspé region, in the town of Gaspé in particular. However, property and home prices had risen because of the anticipated increase in development. These people had to find other pieces of property to purchase, and that with very little money. They had to spend substantial sums of money to purchase another piece of property and a home. Many of them had to go into debt.

Many could not accept this ridiculous state of affairs. They fought back. To use once again the analogy of a tsunami, they were engulfed by a giant wave. Those who were unable to accept the creation of Forillon National Park, with its promise of wealth and development, were forcibly expropriated.

How is a person supposed to react to a government official in a nice suit? We have talked a lot about white-collar crime these days, but other kinds of crime are committed as well. Back then, these people were caught in a no-win situation. Roughly 1,000 people in five municipalities were affected. We are talking about 214 residential properties, 355 buildings, 1,400 woodlots and 8 factories.

And what of the famous promises I alluded to earlier? I can give the House some idea of the exact numbers involved. The park was supposed to generate tens of millions of dollars in investments and create 3,000 jobs, including 700 permanent jobs. The creation of the park was also going to lead to an exponential increase in the number of visitors each year.

In 2005, the town council of Gaspé reported that the park employed 35 persons all year and 100 more during the summer, or the equivalent of 70 full-time jobs per year. At the time, 3,000 jobs were promised, but in reality, only 70 jobs were created.

I will not sing you a song about the fate of these people. There is, however, a song by Paul Piché, and another lesser known one, La chanson de Forillon, or Song of Forillon, with lyrics by Maurice Joncas, a Gaspesien, and music by Pierre Michaud. There are almost enough people here to sing it as a choir, but that is not what we are here for. I will read the lyrics to you:For generations, they lived on this land
To live or die was the law of the people of Forillon.
Fishing boats in summer, axes and stoves in winter,
Sharing happy times, that was more or less their world.
But others came to survey, to measure and trample on the land.
From Ottawa they sent bulldozers to clear it all away.
Québec agreed and told the people to leave it all behind.
Now bid goodbye to your land, your home, your family, your friends, your Gaspésie.
Leave your homes for Montreal, Gaspé, Québec or someplace else.
Even with your broken hearts, everything will work out fine.
Go and die in the big city; it's not so hard to do.
A tree uprooted always dies.
Our land, our Gaspésie, will be transformed one day,
Of that we can be sure.
Strangers will come to Forillon and not remember
The ones who cleared this land a hundred years ago.
For generations, we lived on this land,
To live and die, that was the law of the people of Forillon.
Fishing boats in summer, axes and stoves in winter,
We no longer share those happy times.
Now everyone pays at the gate.

Those lyrics accurately reflect the spirit of the day. The last line says it all, “Now everyone pays at the gate”. There used to be a village, a church, a community and a cemetery. The descendants of those who lived in Forillon National Park had to pay an entrance fee just to be able to visit their family's roots and pay their respects. That is the sad reality. When we think about what happened to these people, we get the clear sense they were not shown an ounce of respect.

That is the battle we are fighting today, the battle for recognition of what happened. Another battle needs to be fought in Quebec City, but that will take place in another theatre, the National Assembly. Quebec was complicit in this situation, but we have work to do here in Ottawa.

That work has been done in certain circumstances, particularly the cases of Mirabel and the Indian residential schools. Now it is the turn of those who were expropriated to create Forillon National Park. Now, 40 years after the fact and many painful memories later, the people are asking for something. They have been given access passes for the three generations of descendants living in the area. This gives them free access to the park and means they do not have to pay at the gate to visit the park to pay their respects to their families or reconnect with their roots. But they want five generations to receive these access passes, not just three. That is one part of the issue.

In addition, these passes should not be limited to just the 225 families who owned homes or property located in the park. I mentioned woodlots and other properties. We are talking about roughly 1,500 people. Although it would not cost a lot to give them all passes, that small gesture certainly would mean a lot, and therefore not be so small, after all.

So I obviously urge parliamentarians of every stripe to stand united in the House of Commons on this motion. In fact, it is merely a first step. For Parliament to make a formal apology is one thing, but we also want the government to formally apologize to each and every person to whom this kind of thing has happened, is happening or will happen.

I met with these people, and I visited Dolbel-Roberts House in Forillon National Park. The museum tells some of their history. People have shared their stories on video, on tape and now on DVD. With heavy hearts, they describe what they went through and the tremendous pain of it all. And for that pain, we owe them our consideration today.

I want to commend my leader and my political party, the Bloc Québécois, for taking the time to look into this issue and allowing it to be our focus for an entire day. As I said before, by devoting a day to one particular injustice, we are actually tackling all injustices. And there are plenty to chose from. There is no shortage of injustice, we might say. This is an initiative the Bloc Québécois is proud of, but it is also taking a non-partisan approach. I hope it will be taken in that spirit. I am the first to speak, and others will follow, including members from the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party. I hope we will unanimously support this motion.

This motion is not intended to fix everything. Keep in mind the situation I described. Today, all these people who have come here would, on one hand, prefer not to remember what happened, to forget completely, because nothing in the world could possibly right the wrong done to them. But on the other hand, they have a little voice inside telling them this would nevertheless be helpful, just as it could be helpful to those who are and will be watching us today. They may appreciate the fact that we are telling them what happened, making them aware of the injustice that occurred, of the disrespectful and undignified manner in which some people were treated. It helps to hear what happened. In any case, it helps me to talk about it.

As a native of the Gaspé region, I know very well that we have endured all kinds of situations throughout our history, which continues to unfold. Given what we know about the creation of Forillon National Park, about those who were expropriated, about the sad anniversary of Wilbert Coffin's hanging and about all the other injustices, the very least we can do today is to recognize what happened. When you make a mistake this big, the least you can do is to consider apologizing.

The former member of Parliament for my riding made some mistakes, and I apologize for that to all those who were expropriated in connection with Forillon National Park. Had I been the member at the time, there is no doubt the situation would have been much different.

Opposition Motion—Forillon Park
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for informing the House of a matter that had its genesis some 40 years ago and affects up to, I believe he said 225 families, but with other properties about 1,000 persons.

This comes up from time to time with events from the past for which there has been an injustice or the issue had not been dealt with in a manner wherein if we were in the same position we would have felt there was a better solution.

My question for the member is to inquire whether this issue has been raised at any time before with the current government or with other levels of government and has there been any uptake in terms of consideration of the well-founded point that has been raised today by the hon. member?

Opposition Motion—Forillon Park
Business of Supply
Government Orders

February 10th, 2011 / 10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Raynald Blais Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for that question. It gives me an opportunity to say that there has indeed been some correspondence, particularly from representatives of the commemorative committee, such as Lionel Bernier, whom I mentioned earlier. I myself have written a letter to the current Prime Minister, requesting the same things we are asking for today on behalf of the people concerned. I met with the former acting minister for Parks Canada, who is now in another position—House Leader, of course. I hope to have a chance to meet with the new minister one day to move this issue forward.

We have a wonderful opportunity here. We had a great opportunity last year, with the commemorative events, but we have an even better one today. The government has a chance to respond positively to these requests.

Opposition Motion—Forillon Park
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member for his motion today and I certainly indicate that the NDP caucus is strongly supportive of it.

The motion calls on the House of Commons to issue the apology. Why does the motion not indicate that the government should issue the apology?

I would also like to know what the Liberal government did regarding this situation, because it was in power for 27 years from the time the park was established. Were the Liberals asked to do anything over those 27 years?

Opposition Motion—Forillon Park
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Raynald Blais Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Elmwood—Transcona for his question. As I mentioned earlier, this happened on Jean Chrétien's watch; he was the minister responsible for parks at the time. Unfortunately, no government has taken any tangible action.

We need to discuss what happens here, but we must not forget that there are also people responsible in Quebec City, people who need to acknowledge their mistakes, even though they were made by the government or governments of the day. The Union Nationale was the party in power when all this took place, by the way. In Ottawa, it was Trudeau's Liberal government, which included Jean Chrétien. Then, in Quebec City, it was the Union Nationale government.

Unfortunately, no one has made a formal apology or taken any meaningful action so far. I am very aware that the current Liberal Party leader has had a chance to meet with these people and spoke publicly on the issue. Today is a perfect opportunity for him to take an even stronger stand, not only as a show of support, but in a genuine attempt to help heal the wounds of those who were expropriated from Forillon National Park.

Opposition Motion—Forillon Park
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Paule Brunelle Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, as a member of Parliament, one of the aspects of my work I most appreciate —and that is our role, of course—is defending citizens who are victims of injustice, especially in a case like this one, Forillon Park, where people are waging a battle like that of David against Goliath. It is easy to understand that when you uproot a tree, it is painful and difficult, but uprooting a people is something truly agonizing. It is an attack on the people's identity, on its life and on everything around it.

We feel that this has enormous repercussions, on several generations in fact, as we can see in this case. It is certainly incumbent upon us to extend our apologies to all of the Quebec men and women who were affected.

The member spoke to us of the Forillon Park battle, and this immediately brought to mind images of the military, even though I understand of course that this is not what we are talking about. But I would like him to tell us a little about how people resisted this decision. There was surely some resistance.

Opposition Motion—Forillon Park
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Raynald Blais Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, they resisted with a lot of dignity. I think it is important to talk about this again, to go back to this story.

In the face of this tidal wave, they decided that this was unacceptable and that they were going to have to fight. They fought before the courts. They finally managed to win their case, but after several years. The errors were recognized. Those people were given money and told that they had not been paid sufficiently at the time and that there was now a willingness to give them three or even five times what they had been offered back then.

All of a sudden, some people who had accepted those offers realized that this was not right and that they should also fight. In fact, they wondered why they should accept peanuts and recognized that there had been a mistake regarding this expropriation. These people fought and they also triumphed.

So there was a type of battle. It is unfortunate that summarizing all of that struggle in a few seconds is extremely difficult. When people encounter this lack of respect and have to fight against an enormous machine, the slightest bit of support—and today's support is highly important—surely helps to salve the wounds.

Opposition Motion—Forillon Park
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Beauport—Limoilou
Québec

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Parliamentary Secretary for Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate.

Canada's national parks, national marine conservation areas and national historic sites were created for Canadians by the federal government in order to allow them to discover the diversity and natural and cultural riches of our great country.

The Parks Canada Agency has been given the mandate to manage these exceptional sites on behalf of Canadians. Thus, the agency is the steward of a network of protected natural and historic areas that is among the most beautiful and most vast in the entire world.

Parks Canada manages this array of 42 national parks, 4 national marine conservation areas and 167 national historic sites so as to allow everyone to have memorable experiences there, while ensuring that the parks' resources are protected for future generations.

Parks Canada has from its inception continued to evolve. Today, the agency is reaching more and more people, allowing them to have more and more memorable experiences and becoming more relevant in the eyes of Canadians, while continuing to protect our heritage, celebrate our history and encourage the population to explore, wonder and dream about the future.

As the parks are protected and managed on behalf of Canadians, Parks Canada recognizes that the public must be actively engaged in dialogue when the time comes to define the future of these unique sites.

This approach is part of a profound change within Parks Canada and has led to concrete action that is facilitating the reconciliation process with regard to Forillon, and also having an impact throughout the country. By sharing leadership with people from the community, we are obtaining mutually beneficial and more satisfactory outcomes for everyone.

In the case of Forillon National Park, in 2006, when the public consultation on the management plan took place, Parks Canada heard the heartfelt cry of people who wanted their park to listen to them, recognize the past and carve out a place for them in its history. Since 2007, Parks Canada personnel have expended considerable effort to ensure that this page in Forillon National Park's history will be told with respect and to get closer to the expropriated families.

It was in that spirit also that in early 2007, Parks Canada set up an advisory committee to create a setting conducive to communication between area residents and the park's management. One of the top priorities was to tell the story of the expropriation, which is a key chapter in the park's history. To do this, Parks Canada got together with people from the area and some of the expropriated residents, with whom it worked closely in order to determine the best way of telling their story, as a gesture of reconciliation.

Another tangible act by Parks Canada was the organization in 2009 of a reunion day, which was a first step in that reconciliation. Parks Canada made a formal commitment at that time to tell the people of the Gaspé and all Canadians about the events that preceded the creation of Forillon National Park. For many of the 300 people in attendance, that was the first opportunity they had to come back to the place where they had grown up and had lived.

Parks Canada repeated the gesture in 2010 by inviting all of the expropriated people and their families, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the creation of Forillon National Park, to come and rediscover their park and take part in reunion activities.

On that occasion, my colleague, the member for Lévis—Bellechasse, on behalf of the hon. Jim Prentice, who was then the Minister of the Environment and the minister responsible for Parks Canada, inaugurated the exhibit “Gaspesians from Land's End” at Dolbel-Roberts House, located in Forillon National Park. This exhibit is one step in the reconciliation work undertaken by Forillon National Park in order to reconnect with the expropriated owners, their descendants and the former residents who lived on the land when the park was created.

It reflects Parks Canada's desire to underscore the contribution these families and these communities made to the history of the region and the country. This exhibit stands as a permanent record of the life of the families that were expropriated when Forillon National Park was created. A group of expropriated owners took part in all of the steps in the preparation of the exhibit, from the concept to the final product. To respond to their wish to share their story, some moving accounts were recorded and are presented in the hall that is dedicated to them. The exhibit and the work that went into it proved to be a positive exercise, and the group repeatedly expressed its satisfaction with the co-operation of the Parks Canada team.

Everyone feels that the exhibit is dynamic and that the expropriated families are given a large role in it, having enriched its content by adding family photographs, objects and archives. There was a call sent out to the public on community radio, and over 400 photographs were lent and integrated into this exhibit. In the exhibit hall dedicated to the expropriated families, cultural activities and reunions may be held all season long. Various events are planned, such as meetings to share genealogical information, musical evenings and family reunions.

This exhibit is more than a cultural product; it is a social contract entered into by Parks Canada and the Forillon expropriated owners committee. The commitment, openness and sincerity of all parties have constituted a real cornerstone, a solid basis for this project that promises continuity.

The Government of Canada invested close to a million dollars in this exhibit. In addition, this new exhibit will enhance the experience of the many visitors to Forillon National Park and improve the tourism offering of the park and the whole region.

This gesture of reconciliation allows more than 225 families to revisit the area where some of them grew up and where an important part of their history has been brought back to life.

Since 2006, Parks Canada has done much to reach out to the people from the area and work closely with them, particularly the expropriated owners. The actions mentioned previously constitute a solid foundation upon which Parks Canada intends to continue building. Moreover, Parks Canada wants to maintain an ongoing dialogue with all of those who have a strong connection with Forillon National Park. In closing, Parks Canada is very proud of everything that has been achieved up until now and intends to continue its efforts in that regard.

Mr. Speaker, we are proud of the work that has been done in Forillon National Park, and this is a beautiful chapter in the Gaspé region's history that we must continue to tell.

Opposition Motion—Forillon Park
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Raynald Blais Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, what I just heard is practically unbelievable. Unbelievable! A beautiful chapter? That is amazing. Everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

I want those who will be speaking on this to have a little respect for those who were expropriated, please. Let speakers address the matter at hand. The question is quite simple. Are they ready to support the motion we are discussing today, yes or no?

Opposition Motion—Forillon Park
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, we and Parks Canada worked closely with those who were expropriated. This was done with the greatest respect, with the Government of Canada, the Government of Quebec, the Forillon National Park representatives and the expropriated people. We have always done everything with respect, and I expect that to continue.

Opposition Motion—Forillon Park
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Pablo Rodriguez Honoré-Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I still have not heard an answer from the government side to my colleague's question. I do not want to hear about everything they did with Parks Canada and whether they went gallivanting around there. I want to know whether they will be supporting the motion, yes or no.

Opposition Motion—Forillon Park
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would say to my colleague opposite that it is a good thing our government decided to act on this, because for their part, they have done nothing over the past 40 years.

Opposition Motion—Forillon Park
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to hear the answer to the question asked by previous members, which is whether the government will be supporting this motion. We still have not received an answer.

It has been four years since Parks Canada initiated the projects commemorating the expropriations through interpretive panels and picnic tables. Why has the government not moved beyond token gestures and why, after years in power and over 40 years since the expropriations, has the government not offered an apology?