Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the Bloc opposition day motion. The Bloc's rationale for wording the motion the way it did, demanding that Parliament express the apology, is well placed given that expecting the government to do it is likely never to happen. We saw that today in the few opportunities government members took to speak to the motion.
They have given 20 minute speeches, and in questions and comments have been asked repeatedly whether they are voting for the motion, and they cannot answer that question. That would indicate to me that they are probably not supportive of the motion. Were they in favour of it, I expect they would be eager to let us all know at this point.
The fact that the three opposition parties are supporting the motion guarantees that the motion will pass and at the end of the day, the Bloc will get what it wanted in terms of getting it through. The apology will be made, regardless of the reluctance on the part of the Conservative government.
Conservative members have indicated that they have been quite forthcoming with apologies since they have come to power and cited several examples. It is a mystery to me why they would be reluctant to vote for this apology, when they have been fairly forthcoming in other situations.
In terms of the Liberal members, I know the member for Honoré-Mercier spoke this morning. I believe he was the second speaker. He made it clear right up front that he was apologizing on behalf of the Liberal Party for its 27 years of neglect on this file. But he did not indicate, at least I did not hear it, whether that apology came from his leader or whether it was his personal opinion that an apology would be in order.
He also did not indicate, nor has anybody in the House so far that I have heard, what the Liberal government actually did during those 27 years to solve this problem. I would have expected that the government, which is always eager to take a whack at the Liberals, would have come prepared and, rather than giving us vivid descriptions of the flora and fauna of the park, would have provided details.
If the Liberals had done nothing for 27 years, the government would have been keen to point that out. I waited to hear that and did not hear that being expressed by government members.
Their positioning so far is very curious, but the new member for Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette will be making his first major presentation in the House today and will be taking questions. I am sure that the member for Winnipeg North, myself and others, will be very eager to ask him whether he has the answer to the secret that we have been waiting for all day as to whether the government is going to support this motion and make it unanimous. That is, in fact, the right thing to do.
As I had indicated, the Bloc opposition day motion calls for an apology to the former residents of Forillon National Park whose property was expropriated in 1969. A little later I will get into an explanation of many other expropriations, including in my home province of Manitoba, that occurred during that period of time. It certainly was a time when there was a lot of activity in the establishment of new parks, both federal and provincial, as was the case in Manitoba.
In 1969, the Quebec Union Nationale government led by Jean-Jacques Bertrand and the Pearson federal government agreed to create a new national park in the Gaspé region. I believe that was the first national park in Quebec, as one of the Bloc members mentioned. Between 1969 and 1972, over 1,000 residents, about 225 families, living in the area had their properties expropriated to make way for the park.
A similar activity happened in Manitoba with Hecla Island. In reading of the histories of the two, they are very similar and the time frame is reasonably similar as well. According to the histories, it was a sign of the times. People were moving in to the cities. The high school in Hecla was closed down. I think the schools were closing down because there were not enough school-aged children.
It is an island, and it has to be kept open. The causeway had not been built at that time, so it required winter roads and attention. The population dropped and there were fewer and fewer school-aged children.
The people on Hecla Island were promoting the idea of economic development through the establishment of a provincial park. I believe that happened in this situation as well. One of the speakers earlier on today pointed out that there was an expectation that the Quebec and federal governments sold the people on the idea that if they turned the area into a provincial park, there would be jobs.
Like what happened on Hecla Island, the jobs did not materialize. People were stuck selling their property. In the case of Hecla Island, they were not all expropriated because a fairly large number of them voluntarily sold. When they sold, it was sold at low levels and people had to move to places like Winnipeg where property values were triple.
The landowners were at a very big disadvantage and they started having second thoughts. Those who waited to be expropriated, who were fewer in number, ended up getting more for their properties. That led to a lot of acrimony between these groups.
What subsequently happened was a later Conservative government attempted to resettle the people. That ended up in a big mess as well. In fact, police and fraud charges were brought against several people for forgery and so on. I will get to that issue later.
The 220 families were living in the area and had their properties expropriated to make way for the park. Once again, this has to be pointed out. A member, who I get along with very well, has committee hearings right now, but he gave the impression that people were not compensated.
My information is that the residents were compensated for their properties. However, when they had to move, they had to start over. They had to buy properties. They could not replace their property at the price they received. They were at a disadvantage from day one. They were living under this assumption that somehow there would be all these jobs, which never materialized.
The former residents have been calling for this formal apology for 40 years now. We have asked the question many times about where the Liberals were on this. Once again, I would have expected it to be wall-to-wall Conservative speakers today, dumping on the Liberals for their lack of action for 27 years and being eager to be onside. It really is a mystery to me as to why they are holding back.
Parks Canada has created an interactive exhibit in one of the expropriated homes, detailing the experiences of some families that were forced to leave. Commemorative plaques have been placed around the park where the communities once were. All of this is very well and good. It has taken a lot of years for Parks Canada to do it. It is something it did not have to do, but it was the right thing to do.
The government has announced that in 2011 it will issue special entry passes for families up to third generation. Our critic indicated that this should be expanded to five generations. It does not just include this park. I believe it includes all the parks in the system. Those passes are to be given to people up to third generation whose principle residence was expropriated for the national parks or national historic sites.
The member for Gatineau indicated that people who wanted to go back to visit their ancestors in the graveyard would have to line up and pay to get into the park. I believe there are three graveyards in this park. It is hard to comprehend.
Eligibility for lifetime passes would be based on existing historic records, if any still exist. A committee would determine whether someone could get a pass.
These committees are part of the reason the Conservatives got into trouble in Manitoba with the resettlement of Hecla. They had a committee, but some of the people on the committee ended up getting them into trouble, as I had indicated before.
Despite expected difficulties in getting these passes, many former residents see this as a promising first step.
A petition from 750 former residents and their descendants was presented to Minister Prentice in 2010. I join my colleague from Thunder Bay—Superior North in complimenting Minister Prentice who did a very good job in the many difficult spots he found himself in with that government.
The 750 former residents were asking for free park access for five generations instead of the three the government was promising. There are three cemeteries in the park. Most of the generations of 225 family ancestors are buried there and most buildings in the park were burned down or bulldozed in the creation of the park. However, the ones that remained were preserved.
We see this as a relatively non-controversial motion. We feel the apology should have a very limited financial implication because court cases have already ruled the expropriations were within the law.
There are expropriations all over. Governments have to expropriate. Duff Roblin, when he was premier in Manitoba, had a floodway built, and he has almost approached sainthood for having done so. It saved the province of Manitoba billions of dollars. Just recently the floodway was expanded, costing quite a bit more money. However, it is expected to save a lot of grief in a few months from now when the flood waters are at historical highs. To build that floodway, he had to expropriate.
Let us not delude ourselves. Governments of any stripe involved in construction projects, like a floodway to save billions of dollars in damage, have to expropriate, but that is a different situation than a national park.
As with Hecla, the fact is the government basically killed the park when it got rid of the people. There needs to be activity in the park with people living there. Then the Conservatives went full circle and decided, in 1998, they were would try to bring people back and repopulate it.
How nice is that? We go to all the trouble of expropriating and forcing people out of the park, then 15 years later decide to try and bring them all back to restore the mess that was created in the first place.
We have seen all kinds of inconsistencies with governments over the years, for example, the nursing shortage. The Conservative government fired 1,000 nurses in Manitoba at a time when the population was aging and we needed the nurses.
The member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel talked about the Mirabel airport. The best brains in the country developed the concept for a new airport in Mirabel and expropriated all the land and what happened? It turned into a big boondoggle. At least the Conservative government did the right thing back then and gave the land back to the original people who wanted it.
The government did the right thing then, so we want it to do the right thing in this case. It is not that difficult to join with the rest of the members of the House. The motion will pass anyway, so why not make it unanimous? Why not do the right thing and admit that governments can make mistakes. No one is above admitting a mistake and correcting the problems that come about as a result.
In the four minutes I have left I want to deal with some of the issues coming out of the Manitoba situation. Other members have talked about how this parallels situations in their provinces. It was not a federal park in the case of Manitoba, although I believe the government tried at one point to make it a federal park. It was a provincial park. Many articles have been written on this because it was a long-standing saga and it mirrors the situation with Forillon Park. It is the same story but a different environment.
Interestingly enough, this happened during the same time period. We are not talking 20 or 30 years separation. We are talking about the same time that the park in Quebec was being set up. There was the park in New Brunswick as well that had a more violent end to it. All three of these situations happened at the same time.
The settlement on the Hecla Islands was founded by Icelanders in 1876. There is just too much information for me to try to get it in my remaining two minutes so I will try to cut it short.
The island had a population of 500 people who were served by two schools and two stores. A few people eked out a living on farms plagued by poor soil conditions. Most islanders were commercial fishermen and captains who took to the lake to earn an adequate livelihood.
The island's fortune began a downward spiral in the following decade, which resulted in many fleeing their communities to places such as Gimli and Winnipeg to seek better opportunities. In 1966 the last remaining school closed, giving islanders another reason to abandon their homes. The islanders could no longer support themselves as an isolated community. They were served by an ice road in the winter and a tiny ferry when there was open water. The causeway was not completed until 1972.
I want to make this clear for the member for Selkirk—Interlake who put some misinformation on the record this morning. When the NDP became the government in 1969, it inherited the Walter Weir Conservative government's two-year old plan. The Conservatives had already been planning to turn Hecla into a provincial park for two years. The process was well under way.
When Premier Schreyer looked at the plan devised by the bureaucrats, he did not like what he saw. The bureaucrats wanted all the people gone. The premier, however, envisioned a park with some of the original inhabitants and he proposed to expropriate the land for needed infrastructure and any private homes. To have no one living there was a flight from common sense he believed.
Evidently there was a plan to leaseback, but very few people took advantage of the province's proposal because the island was economically depressed, according to a federal-provincial rural agreement. Of the 99 properties expropriated, 56 of them were voluntarily given up, 18 were eventually voluntary ceded after negotiations, 17 cases were decided by the courts and 3 properties were not considered for expropriation.