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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

Opposition Motion—Forillon ParkBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Raynald Blais Bloc 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 ParkBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Conservative 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 ParkBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Pablo Rodriguez Liberal 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 ParkBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Conservative 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 ParkBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer NDP 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?

Opposition Motion—Forillon ParkBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to point out that we have always been the ones to offer apologies for the blunders of the former Liberal government. I am willing to take some blame, but I do so with respect for everyone. The first people who should apologize for this expropriation are the members of the Liberal Party of Canada.

Opposition Motion—Forillon ParkBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is probably consulting her BlackBerry to figure out how to answer me. I too would like to ask a simple question that requires a simple answer. When she is through fiddling with her BlackBerry to get the answer, perhaps we will hear a reply.

The Conservative Party of Canada could have avoided referring to events that occurred 40 years ago, as the Liberals are continuing in any case to pay on a daily basis for the sponsorship scandal. But that is not the issue. The Conservatives are in power and make up the government. I want them to answer this clear question with a yes or a no and we will accept their reply. Will they be supporting the motion, or will they not?

Opposition Motion—Forillon ParkBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to answer my colleague. We have always supported the people of Forillon. We have always maintained a dialogue with them. I will speak on my own behalf. We have always done everything with respect for everyone concerned, and I see no problem with voting in favour of the motion.

Opposition Motion—Forillon ParkBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Pablo Rodriguez Liberal Honoré-Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased today to stand to address the Bloc Québécois motion, which reads as follows:

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 their descendants an official copy of the Journals of the House of Commons indicating the adoption of this motion.

I would first like to say a few words about Forillon Park as such and then say a few words about the history involved before getting—because I will get to it—to the matter at hand. All of those who have gone there know—and those who have only heard about it also know—that Forillon Park is recognized for its wilderness and natural beauty, and in fact all of the Gaspé is a very beautiful place. On this topic, as my Bloc colleagues surely know, the National Geographic Traveller magazine has ranked the Gaspé among the 20 top destinations to visit in the world in 2011. It is an absolutely extraordinary region that I love very much, just as I admire the men and women who live there or come from there.

For its part, Forillon Park itself is also an absolutely extraordinary place. The wild beauty of its landscapes, the fact that man, the land and the sea exist there in harmony, the diversity of its plant and animal life—as I have said before, all of that is superlative.

All that being said, everything is not rosy, nor has it been in the past. Dispersed here and there among the bushes, one can see the foundations of houses that were demolished and bear witness to a turbulent past. For the children and grandchildren of the displaced families, this is a harsh reminder of their collective history. Up until the creation of the park in 1970, several communities and many families derived their livelihood from the land and the resources of that region of the Gaspé. Some families fished, and had for generations, and I also remember seeing a documentary showing families settled in some small coves who worked in all of the stages of the fishery, be it the actual fishing or the landing or processing of the cod; they then sold it to the big companies, and much of the final product was exported to Europe. So there was still a deep-rooted fishery tradition there. Others farmed or raised livestock, and often they did both. This traditional way of life had been passed on from generation to generation.

Everything changed, everything was turned upside down when the area was designated as a national park. The designation as a national park and the new requirement to protect the ecosystem, put a stop to the commercial activities that those communities relied on for their survival. So the impact was significant. As a result, almost 225 families were forced to leave their land and their homes. The houses were destroyed or burnt down, often as their owners looked on, which is very sad. All in all, an estimated 1,200 dwellings were destroyed or burnt down. The lives of those people, those families, those men, women and children completely and drastically changed overnight.

This difficult, I would even say dramatic, situation lasted for a number of years. There was the beginning, and then there was the aftermath. First of all, those families would have received little or no compensation if they had not fought for five years, if they had not gone to court to have some of their rights recognized. That should never have happened. They were already going through trying and painful times, and being expropriated was already difficult enough to live with. At the very least, those families should not have been forced to go to court to claim what was rightfully theirs.

In addition, I am not sure why, but for part of the time that followed, the information provided to visitors about the history of the park stopped at 1942, which in a way hid 30 years of the existence and lives of the individuals most affected by the creation of the park. Not only were their requests ignored, but their own past was also denied.

For decades, their presence was forgotten and their collective history was hidden, in a way. For a long time now, these families have been calling for an official apology from this House for the injustices they suffered. I personally agree that they should receive an official apology, and my party, the Liberal Party of Canada, also agrees that they should receive an official apology, simply because these people deserve it.

When we talk about a situation like this, it is clear that we are not commemorating or remembering a proud moment in our history, but rather, just the opposite. So we must pull our heads out of the sand, face the issue and talk about it. As we know, an apology for the people whose properties were expropriated is long overdue. Their descendants—their children and grandchildren—have been calling for and hoping for an apology. This apology, as I said, is not only overdue, but it is also deserved.

All governments, regardless of their colour, regardless of whether they are red or blue, are far from perfect. They can make mistakes, regardless of their colour. But the biggest mistake that a government or a political party can make is not having the courage to acknowledge its mistakes. When we make a mistake, we must have the courage to admit it. If we create a situation that produces injustices, we must have the courage, decency and humility to apologize.

In supporting this motion, the Liberal Party of Canada acknowledges its share of responsibility for certain errors of the past and issues its official apology to all of these men and women who were affected by what happened in the expropriation.

The significance of this motion may be symbolic, but our vote on it is nonetheless important. It is a matter here of granting those who were expropriated and their descendants what they have been seeking without success for far too long now. It is a matter of demonstrating to them that we understand them and respect them.

In adopting this motion, we are saying that we are sorry, but we are also saying “never again”. This should never happen again in the Gaspé, elsewhere in Quebec or anywhere in Canada.

We support this motion to show our most sincere respect to those who have suffered, but there are also lessons for us to learn from this. Let us demonstrate humility and learn from this mistake, and let us make sure that it never happens again.

To those who might oppose this motion, I say that there is nothing extravagant or exceptional about it. It does not ask for anything that has never been done by this House. We know that the House has apologized on certain occasions, whether to Canadians of Japanese origin for the wrongs done to them during World War II or, more recently, to our first nations for certain unacceptable treatment they suffered. This has been done and may be done again, certainly in the present case.

That being said, we must also take concrete action that, in a way, is self-evident. Action that is easy to take and represents a hand extended to those people who were expropriated, as well as their children and grandchildren.

Recently the sitting government granted a pass to the families so they could enter the park free of charge for the next three generations. This is a step in the right direction, but the families were asking that this pass be granted to the next five generations. We agree with them that this is the way to go.

These families were uprooted from their ancestral land. They were on that land for generations. Later, for years, if they wanted to go back to their land, to go and meditate at the gravesites of their dead, these people were forced to pay admission to the park. That is a situation that should never have happened.

I said a little earlier that the vote on this motion is intended as an official apology to those who were expropriated and their descendants, but another of its purposes is to ensure that this never happens again. In that regard, a number of measures have been put in place, including by the Liberal government, to ensure that it never does. Thanks to certain of those measures, there are today rules and agreements to be complied with when national parks are created, so as to avoid similar cases in future.

I urge all members and colleagues in the House to vote for this motion. Through it, we are sending a clear message to those who have suffered so much. In a way, we are helping not only them and their children and grandchildren but all those who live in this magnificent area to turn the page on the sad events of the past.

In saying that, I am in no way minimizing their suffering or their desire to be heard and respected. Quite the opposite, the vote on this motion regarding the past enables us as well to take a fresh look at the future, a future that can be filled with promise.

I read recently that despite the events surrounding the creation of the park, the local community recognized from the outset how important it was to preserve the extraordinary natural and cultural heritage that is Forillon Park. From the beginning, it has played a major role in tourism, attracting more than 175,000 visitors a year. It is an extremely valuable asset in terms of tourism and the economy.

Forillon Park is one of the reasons—there are others as well—why the Gaspé Peninsula placed third in 2009 in the most beautiful destinations in the world. In the world! Just recently in 2011, as I was saying, it was included on the list of the 20 most beautiful destinations in the National Geographic Traveler magazine. We need to look to the future as well and consider the mounting popularity of ecotourism. The park and its surroundings will obviously become an ever more popular tourist destination, to the great advantage of the entire region.

When I speak of that, I am not at all avoiding the subject, because the issue we are addressing today may be rooted in the past but it affects the future as well. The people who were expropriated in Forillon do not want to live in the past any more than we do. They want us to do something today that flows from what was done in the past. They want formal apologies, and we are giving them those apologies. However, the people of Forillon and the Gaspé Peninsula also want to face the future. They want to pave the way for a better life for themselves and especially for their children and grandchildren. We are doing what needed to be done in regard to the past. But let us also do what needs to be done to build a better future along with them.

Opposition Motion—Forillon ParkBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer NDP Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have often been impressed with the speeches made by this member from the Liberal Party. He manages to be straightforward and eloquent at the same time, and he has been that here today.

I was very pleased to hear that he and apparently his party are prepared to accept responsibility for the transgressions of Jean Chrétien and others at the time.

I do not think he was off topic when he talked about the importance of our parks system, and how we need to move into the future and build upon those parks for ecological reasons, for social and cultural reasons, and for economic reasons. I thought all of his comments were quite relevant.

I was going to ask him the hard question, that after 27 years of Liberal rule since these unfortunate instances, why an apology was never forthcoming before, but we have heard it here today and I thank him for it.

My question for the hon. member is, will he join the Bloc, myself and the NDP, in encouraging the Conservatives to make this a unanimous motion, so that we can leave this unfortunate past behind and move to a much more prosperous, thoughtful and better future?

Opposition Motion—Forillon ParkBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Pablo Rodriguez Liberal Honoré-Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, to begin, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for his kind words. In all sincerity, I thank him.

I have often heard him speak in the House, particularly on environmental issues, and I must say that I have enormous respect for what he is doing on that file.

Like my Bloc and NDP colleagues, I would obviously like this vote to be unanimous. Unfortunately, the government has not been sending any clear signals when it talks about this issue.

I want to emphasize my party's belief that an apology should be offered. This apology may be coming late, after many years, but it is sincere. I would like the government members to stand and support this motion, so that we can be unanimous in our apology.

Opposition Motion—Forillon ParkBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I also want to applaud the member for covering the bases on all of the issues that surround this matter before the House today. I believe it was done sincerely, eloquently and in the best interests of all the stakeholders concerned.

There have been at least three or four attempts to ask the government how it intends to deal with this matter. The opposition parties are in agreement and would like this to be a unanimous motion.

My concern is that the member who spoke on behalf of the Conservatives ultimately broke down and said that she was speaking on behalf of herself and that she supports it. It appears the government is sidestepping a fundamental question which is extremely important to the people involved and, of course, of interest to the whole House.

Does the hon. member agree that it appears the government is having difficulty accepting the facts? Will it do the right thing, join the rest of the House and pass the motion unanimously?

Opposition Motion—Forillon ParkBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Pablo Rodriguez Liberal Honoré-Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question.

It seems clear that the government has not yet taken a position on the motion or that it is not comfortable with the position it has taken; we will soon find out which is the case. Questions from the opposition forced the member to finally admit that she, personally, would most likely support the motion. But we do not know whether her government will do the same. That is sad because this motion is giving us a unique opportunity to offer an official apology and say that we are sorry about how all of this happened.

I am saying it now, I will keep saying it over and over again, and the other parties will repeat it as well: it would be good for those whose land was expropriated, for their descendants and their grandchildren, if this message were unanimous, if we were all saying the same thing. I think it would do them good to hear that. It would not right the wrongs or fix the past, but it would be a positive gesture for the House to reach out to them. And that gesture would be even more meaningful if the message were unanimous and included the government.

Opposition Motion—Forillon ParkBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the hon. member on his excellent speech and the way he spoke on behalf of the Liberal Party to ask that an apology be given to the people whose land was expropriated for Forillon Park.

Recently, the people of Forillon and the three subsequent generations were given a pass granting them free access to the site. Some will go and see their houses again, and others will visit the cemetery to pay their respects to their ancestors. In the past, they had to pay to visit Forillon Park.

Now, they are asking that the government extend the pass to the 1,500 families whose land was expropriated and their descendants, up to the fifth generation, and not just to the 225 families who were owners. In fact, 225 families were owners, which amounts to over 1,500 people.

I would like my colleague's opinion on this request.

Opposition Motion—Forillon ParkBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Pablo Rodriguez Liberal Honoré-Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question that touches on another aspect of the story. For years, decades, the children and grandchildren of people whose land was expropriated had to pay to visit the very place where they had lived or to meditate at the graves of their deceased relatives. They had to pay to go there, which is completely unacceptable, and I said so in my speech. I also said that the government's gesture of offering this pass, which should have been a given from the start, is a step in the right direction. However, as the hon. member said, the families have asked that it be valid for five generations. I am in full agreement that the privilege of this pass should be maintained for five generations of descendants.

Opposition Motion—Forillon ParkBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer NDP Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to this opposition motion. It deals with what happened over 40 years ago when the federal government and the government of Quebec came together to create Forillon National Park.

The park is located in a beautiful part of a spectacular region. It is on the tip of Gaspésie in eastern Quebec. Unfortunately, as we have heard today in this House, the way the park was formed was not beautiful. It was rather ugly.

In 1969, over 1,000 people were forced to leave their land to make way for the park. There were 225 families who were made to leave. The fact that this was done in more than 20 cases to make way for various parks across Canada does not make it any more right.

The Bloc opposition motion seeks an apology from the House to the residents there who had their homes, land and businesses expropriated by the government to make way for the park.

This kind of thing should not happen. People should not be forced to sell their homes and land to make way for government-created parks in a draconian way. It is hard to leave land one loves and have loved for generations.

Many years ago I helped to create many parks in northern Ontario. The largest was Wabakimi Wilderness Provincial Park near Lake Nipigon in northwestern Ontario. It is a beautiful area of almost 9,000 square kilometres that should be preserved for future generations and it is.

I worked hard for many years, not only to create that park, but to make sure that the rights of trappers, first nations people, hunters, tourist operators, nearby residents and other local and traditional users were respected. In helping to create the park, there were no expulsions of residents.

I can only imagine what it would be like for families who have lived in a spectacular setting such as that for generations to have to leave against their will.

One of the worst situations occurred at Kouchibouguac National Park in New Brunswick which was expropriated the same year as Forillon from the people who lived there. There were 250 families comprising over 1,000 people who had their homes levelled to create that 250 square kilometre reserve. There were 10 Acadian villages affected.

Governments were as insensitive to the Acadian residents of Kouchibouguac as they were to the inhabitants of Forillon. But it was not just the Acadians who were impacted. The Mi'kmaq people have a centuries-old spiritual and cultural connection with Kouchibouguac. The park lies within traditional hunting and gathering territories for the Mi'kmaq.

At the time, the minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, someone named Jean Chrétien, said that the new development would allow accommodation for more urban people and ease demand for other parks in the Maritimes.

In 1980, the federal environment minister and the New Brunswick premier established this special inquiry for Kouchibouguac National Park to examine the social and economic impact the establishment of the park had on former residents.

A court ruling in 1979, in favour of the expropriation, led to some 200 people actually rioting in the park. Following a second riot several weeks later, a special commission was created which criticized the government's actions and granted expropriated residents an additional $1.6 million in compensation.

One resident, Jackie Vautour and his family, refused to leave the park and turned down several offers from the government. He endured violent confrontations before being forced to leave. Vautour challenged the expropriation in court, but eventually had to move into a motel where he was tear-gassed by the RCMP when he refused to leave after the government stopped paying for his room.

This situation, coupled with what happened with the Forillon expropriations that same year, shamed the government into changing its ways, thank goodness.

National parks created since then are mostly in sparsely populated areas, like Canada's north.

The Canada National Parks Act was amended in 2000 to prohibit the expropriation of people's land in order to create new national parks. However, despite those steps, the fact remains that the government has only taken tentative steps to rectify the wrongs committed.

This year, the government is introducing a special entry pass for families for several generations whose properties were expropriated during the creation of these parks. It will allow former owners kicked off their land to go back and enter it for free. The government may think it is being magnanimous by waiving entry fees for people to visit the land taken from them, but it is not making it very easy to get these entry passes.

Individual parks and historic sites will be responsible for the distribution of the passes. Eligibility will be based on existing historic records, if any still exists, or a committee has to be struck and a committee process navigated to determine whether or not someone can get a pass.

Last year, the environment minister received a petition from hundreds of people whose property was expropriated at Forillon. They asked for five generations, not three, to be given free access to visit their ancestral homes. That is a very reasonable request, given what has happened. That is a first step. People do not just need to be able to visit their family homes once in a while, but also their parents, grandparents and ancestral families who are buried in three cemeteries inside the park.

By and large, the way the whole situation has been handled by the government has not been very good. The 2010 Forillon National Park management plan recognizes that the government has not been sufficiently attentive to the families whose homes it expropriated.

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my remaining time with the hon. member for Churchill.

The Forillon National Park management plan states:

The current commemoration of the former residents – particularly those whose lands were expropriated – of their history and their contribution to the park’s identity does not meet the community’s expectations. Finally, the local population’s sense of ownership of the park is still finding opposition due to the memory of the expropriation.

Finally, in view of the 2010 celebrations for the park’s 40th anniversary, a commemorative site will be created in the park especially dedicated to those whose lands were expropriated, and an exhibition dealing with their history and that of the settlement of Forillon will be presented there.

One of the expropriated homes in the park was made into an exhibit, telling the stories of 17 people who were forced out. Some plaques will be placed around the park to commemorate places where families used to live. In many places we can still see the foundations where homes stood before they were bulldozed or burned to the ground.

The government is giving out passes and making commemorative plaques and picnic tables but so far it has not offered an official apology. Knowing the history of expulsions in this country, particularly with our Acadian peoples, one would think the government would have more sensitivity about expropriations and expulsions.

What the exiled residents of Forillon want is a simple gesture of civility and an admission that something was done that should not have been done. They want an apology. Many suffered financially from the expulsion and most suffered emotionally to see their homes and lands taken away from them. An apology is the least the government can give.

Members may notice that the motion does not ask anything of the government. It asks this House to issue that apology instead. I am interested in asking the members of the Bloc why they are asking the House of Commons rather than the government to issue this apology. I can hazard a guess. After waiting so long for an apology from the federal government, the surviving exiles from Forillon who lost their homes are getting fewer in number and they probably have little confidence that the government will issue an apology in their lifetime.

We, the members of this chamber, are being asked to fill that void of leadership and show the compassion that the federal government has not. I am pleased to be given the opportunity to oblige. This is basic decency. I will be supporting the motion and I urge all parties and all members of the House to do so in order that it will pass unanimously.

Opposition Motion—Forillon ParkBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Pablo Rodriguez Liberal Honoré-Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank and congratulate the hon. member for his speech. At the end, he mentioned that the motion calls for the House rather than the government to issue a formal apology. I have already said, on my own behalf and on behalf of my party, that we agree to do it, that it is quite normal and that it is the least we can do. An apology will not correct past errors but it is another step in the right direction. I have also said that this motion would be stronger and more meaningful if the government also supported it, if the government would stand with the Liberal Party, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP and vote in favour of this motion.

I would like the hon. member to tell me why, in his opinion, the government refuses to support this motion.

Opposition Motion—Forillon ParkBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer NDP Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have often been disappointed that we now have a government in power that either apologizes but seems not to mean it or just does not apologize. I hope this time it will share the responsibility and apologize on behalf of all of us and really mean it, as we all mean it.

Opposition Motion—Forillon ParkBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand in the House and express our party's support for the Bloc opposition day motion before us today.

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

Given the speeches here today, it is clear of what happened to the people who used to live where Forillon Park is today. They went through a very traumatic event. It was truly a tragedy. It is unconscionable that the people in the communities that were impacted were not consulted, their views were not heard and their wishes regarding their land were not respected, the land being one of the most fundamental connections to their roots. Unfortunately, this is a pattern we have seen time and time again in Canadian history, a history marred by forced relocations, a failure to consult and work with people and communities and to listen to what they have to say regarding how they want to live and contribute to their communities and to our country.

It is critical for me to support this motion, not just because of what the people in the region of Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine have gone through, but also what it means in terms of setting a precedent for other peoples who have been forcibly relocated, as well as others whose voices have been silenced by the present government and preceding governments, such as Liberal governments of the past.

I have the honour of representing Churchill riding in northern Manitoba. Northern Manitoba has a very tragic history regarding the federal government's treatment of First Nations people. Unfortunately, there is also a history of forced relocations as well as relocations which, in many ways, while not said to be forced, if we look at the patterns that had taken place was in fact forced.

While some of that history has been recognized, there still remains a denial for other historical claims put forth by people who had been most adversely affected. One of those peoples are the Sayisi Dene who today live in Tadoule Lake, which is one of the most northern communities in the constituency I represent. It close to the border of north of 60.

Tadoule Lake is a Dene community and the people have shared their stories with Canada for some decades now. They spoke of a forced relocation from a nomadic lifestyle in northern Manitoba where they followed the caribou herds and lived and thrived off the land. Because of a decision made by officials of the Government of Canada, a decision that was approved by the political leaders of the day, the Dene people were forced into some of the most egregious living conditions in what is Churchill today. They were forced into a life of poverty and a life to which they were not accustomed. They had depended on the hunting and trapping seasons and being able to move and fend for themselves. Those patterns were crushed by the Government of Canada when it refused to listen to the cries for help from the Sayisi Dene people. Even when the lifestyle in which they were forced brought about alcoholism, drug addiction and the kinds of abuse that many Canadians cannot even imagine, they still were not heard. It took decades for them to fight for access to reserve land on which they could relocate to, which is now called Tadoule Lake.

The Sayisi Dene people of Tadoule Lake have said that they want true recognition from the Government of Canada when it comes to the tragedy that they faced. It was a tragedy in whose path they still live with some of the highest suicide rates and addiction rates and a real sense of trauma exacerbated by the fact that the Government of Canada is continuing to fail to recognize their wishes, which is not just an apology but also compensation for what they have lost.

When we look at monetary figures, it is impossible to put down in numbers the cost of the lives that have been lost, the cost of the futures that have been lost and the continued impact on future generations. However, the Sayisi Dene people have said that this relocation needs to be recognized, and not just in terms of monetary compensation, but a commitment to healing on behalf of the Government of Canada.

Still, in the year 2011, they have been denied that wish. There have been movements on the part of the government that have been seen as very positive from the community but the continued failure to deal with the relocation and bring closure to the community's wishes is something we are still waiting for.

We do not need to keep living with this kind of history. We need to respect the wishes of the people who have gone through this trauma. It is not the government, it is the people on the ground, the communities that make up our country. That is why we should be looking at today's motion and supporting it unanimously. We should be listening to the wishes of the people whose history and wishes has been ignored.

I find it interesting that the motion asks for something as fundamental as an apology from the House. It certainly speaks to a recognition that we all ought to have regarding this issue. It is also very much in line with Canada's increased consideration of the method of apologizing as a way of moving forward.

One of the moments I will never forget in my life was the historic apology made toward residential school survivors by the Government of Canada and supported by the House. It was an honour to share in that moment with so many survivors in my home community of Thompson, Manitoba. It was powerful to hear the government, the House of Commons, apologize to people whose lives were so negatively impacted and whose lives were destroyed during of a shameful part of our history.

However, in that moment of apology, people saw hope that would allow them to move forward, to heal and to work with communities and say, “They have heard us and they know what this has meant to us. Now we can begin to move forward”.

In light of that apology, there was also hope that we would not stop there, that we would continue in the spirit of that apology and move forward with tangible pieces that would contribute to the well-being of survivors and their communities. I believe that a critical consideration for us as members of Parliament and representatives of the Canadian people is to hear those voices.

In the context of our debate here today, we in the NDP hope that the wishes of the people of the Gaspé region, with which many of us across Canada re familiar , will be heard, and not just today in this House but that moving forward, they, their families and the people who will come later will know that we care and that we are sorry for what was done to them.

Opposition Motion—Forillon ParkBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the comments of the member were thoughtful. It is a change for the House to have such a civil dialogue in a very sincere and open way, acceptance of responsibility and clear support.

What seems to concern a number of members is we still have not heard from the government. The member talked about the aspect of hope and promise for the future. My concern is the government does not have a position that it is prepared to share with the House, to lead off its debate with a clear statement of intent with regard to the motion, and I believe that is telling. Does the member share that view?

Opposition Motion—Forillon ParkBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am also concerned by the government's failure to express a clear position on this important motion. I am not sure what the tone of discussions might be in shaping that decision on behalf of the government. As I pointed out in my comments, it has apologized to a number of people, not just in the residential school apology, but to others who have been relocated. I think more recently of the people of Grise Fiord.

I know many Canadians will be looking for an apology on this relocation. For example, the Sayisi Dene people whom I represent would like to hear an apology come their way and a resolution to their tragic history as well.

I truly hope the government sees this as an opportunity to listen to a group of Canadian people and to give hope to so many others who we know have not been heard. They would like to move forward with the support of the government.

Opposition Motion—Forillon ParkBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer NDP Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, there are many valid reasons to create parks in Canada, for ecological reasons, historical reasons and preserving aspects of our culture. However, a big reason is Canada was one of the signatories to the biodiversity convention at Rio de Janeiro. We committed to protecting 12% of representative ecosystems throughout Canada. We have not yet met those targets, so we still need to create more parks and protected areas. Hopefully, as we go forward, we will learn from this bad lesson of the past and do it differently in the future.

The hon. member for Churchill works hard with first nations people. What ideas does she have on how we could best move forward to give that kind of protection and do it in a way that is sensitive to aboriginal and other peoples?

Opposition Motion—Forillon ParkBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Thunder Bay—Superior North also works closely with first nations people in his area and, like many of my colleagues in the NDP, knows that the only way to move forward is to work in partnership with first nations, where first nations give direction when it comes to the treatment of their lands and the stewardship them.

It is based on a history. When the first Europeans came to what is today Canada, they found a land that was sustained, respected for centuries and millennia by first nations peoples.

As we look at the development of national parks, we need to remember to protect the biodiversity of our country and take guidance from first nations people who are the experts. I believe that is the only way, moving forward.

I know specific examples in my area. One is the Misipawistik Cree Nation, “Grand Rapids”, which has offered that guidance to officials from the government seeking to build a park. I would hope we learn from the past and move forward working in partnership with first nations.

Opposition Motion—Forillon ParkBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to this motion, which I will now read to the House.

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.

It has already been 40 years since the people were forced out of Forillon. Such injustices are not uncommon. For instance, consider the seniors who for years were cheated out of the guaranteed income supplement. I hope that in the next few years—and it should not take 40 years—the government will issue a public apology for the fact that some seniors were deprived of the guaranteed income supplement for many years.

The same thing goes for employment insurance. Once again, the government should one day issue a public apology for having often deprived unemployed workers. Very recently in my riding, an unemployed worker from Saint-Barnabé-Nord needed 595 hours in order to receive employment insurance benefits. He complained about the fact that he could not receive benefits because he had accumulated only 581 hours. He was only 14 hours short of the number of hours required, while everyone knows that there is an accumulated EI surplus of between $50 billion and $60 billion. Still, the government deprives people who work very hard to be able to access those funds.

These situations are unfair, which is also true in the case of the people who were mistreated and are the subject of this motion. They feel strongly about the fact that, for over 40 years after the expropriation, the federal government never publicly apologized for the major inconveniences they suffered as a result of the government's decisions.

Before I explore the matter any further, I would like to say that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.

The current government could have committed to making an apology in this matter. Instead, it made do with half steps. The initiative came about when the then federal minister responsible for national parks, Arthur Lang, floated the idea to the mayor of Gaspé of a national park on the Forillon Peninsula. In the 1968 framework agreement, the federal government earmarked $8.3 million to develop Forillon National Park. Negotiations with the Quebec government dragged on, and in April 1969, Jean Chrétien, the federal minister responsible for national parks, made known his impatience regarding the refusal of the Bertrand Union Nationale government to cede the Forillon land to the federal government.

This is a clear example of the contempt shown by the Liberal government—in the person of Jean Chrétien—for Quebec and its institutions. The Quebec government caved in, however, under federal government pressure, and came down on the side of nature conservation. The land was expropriated by the Government of Quebec and then ceded to the federal government. In keeping with the National Parks Act, the federal government stipulated that the land be returned to its natural, undeveloped state. The creation of Forillon Park therefore meant that land had to be expropriated from at least 983 people in five municipalities.

The experiences of those who had their land expropriated at Forillon are well documented and unambiguous.

I have been lucky enough to make a number of visits to the magnificent Gaspé countryside, for many one of the most beautiful regions in the world, with views of the sea, forest and mountains. Of course, people in this region have their own culture, poetry and songs, and they are good-hearted. Thousands of people visit the Gaspé and many stop to see Forillon National Park. Most of these people are undoubtedly oblivious to the fact that over 225 families were pushed off their land and evicted from their homes in the early 1970s in very trying, unfair circumstances.

In fact, across the entire area, from Cap-des-Rosiers to Grande-Grave, L'Anse-au-Griffon, Penouille and Rivière-au-Renard, the establishment of Forillon National Park in 1970 led to the complete expropriation of each and every one of these families, who were uprooted from their homes. This does not include the thousands of other Gaspé residents who lost part or all of their land. It was a terrible injustice.

After the residents were brutally cast off their land, their homes, barns and outbuildings were burned. Residents had been backed into a corner and there was widespread outrage. There was anger and revolt in the face of what amounted to government-mandated injustice. That is why we are calling for an apology to be made to these people, who were treated unfairly.

Still today, although some Gaspesians will talk about it, this is a taboo subject that has been concealed by the federal park authorities, hidden and ignored for years. Since the creation of Forillon Park, there has been no human presence there apart from interpretation activities. Visitors to Forillon Park were not told about the lives of the residents of Forillon before the expropriation, let alone about the tragic expulsions that happened in 1970. It was a hidden tale; no one wanted to talk about it. The government was ashamed to talk about the truth of what happened in the 1970s.

Yes, last year Parks Canada did decide to present an exhibition about the residents of Forillon and their lives before the unfortunate expropriation. And recently, the people of Forillon have received a three-generation passport allowing them to enter the site free of charge. It was not until very recently that they were able to see their homes again or go to pay their respects to their ancestors in the cemetery. But this is not enough.

They are asking for an official apology from the government for each person whose land was expropriated. They are also asking that the passport be extended to the 1,500 families whose homes were expropriated and their descendants to the fifth generation, not just the 225 families who owned land.

For five years now, the government has been boasting about its glowing record, including on the economy. The facts are quite different. The government has a very poor record on social and environmental issues. I am sure the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie will be able to say a few words about this. As I said, the facts are quite different and this case is one illustration of that.

The Conservatives could easily have agreed to offer an apology. Instead, they have made do with inadequate measures. This morning, there is nothing that tells me officially yet, after hearing a speech from a Conservative member from Québec, that this government will vote in favour of this motion. The people of Forillon whose homes were expropriated deserve better.

In conclusion, we have here an opportunity for all members from all parties to do what has to be done, to have this House offer its official apology to the people of Forillon Park whose homes were expropriated, for the unconscionable manner in which they were treated.

It would not be the first time that a government agreed to reform and offer apologies to people who have been affected. It was done for Canadians of Japanese origin who were interned and stripped of their property during the Second World War. It was done again recently for those whose land was expropriated for Mirabel. It is now time to do it for the people of Forillon who were uprooted from their community, who lost their homes and their land. These people are entitled to a public apology. They should be given their place in the official history of Forillon Park.

Opposition Motion—Forillon ParkBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

February 10th, 2011 / noon

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with great joy and much sadness that I speak today to this opposition motion moved by the Bloc Québécois—more specifically by the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine.

This morning, my colleague expressed his sadness about this human tragedy involving hundreds of Quebec families from the Gaspé region. These are families that went through a human tragedy: their properties were expropriated and they were stripped of their homes, their land and in some cases their sugar bush.

It was time for an apology, and I want to thank the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine for moving the motion we are debating today. This motion calls on the House to 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 calls on the Speaker of the House to 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.

It is important to realize the significance of today's debate. This House cannot brutally expropriate property from the people of Quebec. These were brutal expropriations. That is the right word, since the motion talks about the unconscionable manner in which the property owners were treated. We could also talk about the brutal relocations by our government authorities. We have no choice but to seek an apology from the government.

We have no choice. This idea to create a national park was born in the late 1960s. A minister responsible for national parks was visiting eastern Canada, Quebec in particular, when he saw the magnificent beauty of the Gaspé region as he was flying over. The region is still just as magnificent today. The minister got the zany idea to create a park where people were living and had been proudly living for generations.

The federal minister at the time, a Liberal, came and told the mayor of Gaspé that it would be tremendous to establish a park, perhaps to be called Forillon National Park, and to set aside that part of Quebec territory to establish the first national park in Canada. At the time, it was already known that the then-minister, Jean Chrétien, wanted to establish the first park on Quebec soil and to tear the people from their land in order to create a park under federal jurisdiction. That was well known.

Then negotiations began with the Government of Quebec. Starting in 1968, the government started to put money on the table. It set aside $8.3 million to establish the park. Money talks. That is when it told the communities and the mayors that it was ready to put money on the table as part of a framework agreement. The Government of Quebec resisted, but the federal government had more up its sleeve and started to dangle the prospect of significant economic benefits in front of the people and the communities. It told them that, if the federal plan came to fruition, the region would see economic benefits.

Once again, money talks. What did the feds say? They suggested—it was a federal government commitment—that the park should bring in tens of millions of dollars in investments. They talked about $30 million to $40 million per year, 3,000 new jobs, 700 of which would be permanent, and a threefold increase in tourists, with the number reaching 600,000 per year. That is the impression that the federal government left with the communities of the Gaspé: “Yes, we are going to establish a park, but it will bring you major economic benefits”.

And what are the results today? Certainly nothing like what the federal government promised 40 years ago. The mayor's office in Gaspé conducted an assessment and, in 2005, it calculated that the park employed 35 people year-round and another 100 or so in the summer. This is the equivalent of about 70 full-time jobs per year, whereas the government had said that there would be 700 permanent jobs and a threefold increase in the annual number of tourists. But the number of annual visitors has stalled at about 146,000, a long way from the 600,000 per year that the federal government projected 40 years ago. It can also be seen that visits are dropping steadily by 9%. The economic benefits that the federal government dangled in front of people 40 years ago have not materialized. A number of questions must be asked.

It is also important to remember the position taken by the Government of Quebec in 1970 when it was time to move forward with the project. Dr. Camille Laurin clearly indicated that these issues were related to land-use planning, which was an area mainly under Quebec's jurisdiction. Nevertheless, the project was carried out, resulting in the displacement of populations and the expropriation of families. The record speaks for itself: in five municipalities, at least 983 people, 225 families, 214 residential properties, 355 buildings, 1,400 woodlots and 8 manufacturers were expropriated. We are talking about an area of 154,675 square kilometres. These are the results. This is the harm that the federal government caused to the people and damage it did to the region.

In order for the park to be established, under the Parks Act, the area had to be returned to the most natural state possible, which is what made what I will refer to as this “cleanup” necessary: populations were displaced, buildings and houses were destroyed and, in some cases, houses were burned. This event was a loss of human heritage. We did this. Some might say that generous compensation was provided in exchange for the demolition of these buildings and the destruction of this cultural and human heritage. But such is not the case. According to witnesses—I have at least 10 pages of statements—there are citizens who had 50 acres of land with houses and sugar bushes and they were offered only $1,400 in compensation. This is the type of compensation that the people of the Gaspé received. People who owned sugar bushes were stripped of their inheritance, which was earned through the hard work of their families for generations.

These people deserve compensation. These people deserve an apology. These people deserve an acknowledgement that they have lost an important part of their cultural heritage. That is why we cannot accept the federal government's response, which has been limited to providing passes to 225 families who owned homes there, but limits free access to the park to only three generations. It must do more.

The government must listen to the legitimate claims and demands of these Gaspé residents, who have come together to form a committee called Regroupement des personnes expropriées de Forillon et leurs descendants. They have three demands: first, provide passes to all expropriated families and five generations of their descendants, effective this spring; second, install five signs in Forillon Park indicating the number of families who lived in the area before the expropriation, as well as the names of the families; third, and the basis of our motion today, have the federal government apologize for the unfair treatment of these families, who had to leave their part of the country under duress and because of government harassment.

A few months ago, the member for Lévis—Bellechasse dared to stand up and say that the government acknowledges the type of pass demanded by the group, but that it would limit its use. Why will this government not apologize to the people expropriated? Apologies have been made for other reasons, in other contexts. It would be simple. The people expropriated to make way for Mirabel received an apology, as have others who were treated badly in the past.

This Parliament has been asked to assume its responsibilities on other occasions. Why can we not do so today for the people of Gaspé? Why? That is what we have been trying to find out all morning. All the parties in this House have asked the government why it is refusing outright to agree to the motion moved by my colleague from Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine. The member from Quebec City spoke on her own behalf only, and not on behalf of her government.

This injustice has gone on long enough. Forty years of Gaspé history is a good reason for us to pause, reflect, conduct a debate in this House, and apologize. We have to ensure that justice is served and that we remedy the harm done.

I would like to say that this is part of our heritage, part of the history of Quebec. Earlier, I was reading the lyrics of a song written by one of our Quebec songwriters, composer Paul Piché, who put pen to paper when these communities were going through their ordeal. He wrote:

St-Scholastique or Forillon Park
Forced to leave in the early morning
For the tourists and their planes
We are always in the way
People lost their homes
Their land and then their country
All I could do was
Write this song
That can do nothing more for this place

Although nothing more could be done 40 years ago, this Parliament must do more. It has a historical responsibility to the communities to ensure that the parliamentarians who are gathered here today, and who have agreed to debate this motion, will vote in favour of my colleague's motion.

We must do so because this is not the first time that the government, with its heavy-handed approach and its completely phantasmagorical ideas, has shown that it could not care less about communities, as we have seen with Mirabel and Forillon Park. For the government, these lands are just commodities, and the people and communities on these lands have no history. For the government, it is as though these lands were never farmed or worked, as though families never lived on them.

We need to look at what happened. We are talking about five municipalities. It would be like the government deciding to demolish the Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie borough in Montreal to make it a federal jurisdiction. Imagine what that would mean for the people, communities and families who live in a region and, as Paul Piché says, in a corner of the country. I think that if we were not able to fairly compensate these families for the damages they incurred, the least we could do would be to apologize and acknowledge that we made a mistake.

This morning, the member for Honoré-Mercier told the House, hand on heart, that the Liberals were sorry. We are happy to see that the Liberal Party acknowledges the harm that was done 40 years ago, but we have not heard anything from this government. This government has a hard time listening to the claims of people whose property has been expropriated. This government refuses to participate in a debate when it is its responsibility. We have to wonder what this government is doing. We have to wonder because the government had been trying to buy the communities since 1968. That is more or less the situation.

Since 1968, the federal government had been saying that it would set aside $8.3 million to create this park. It was already starting to tell the communities that there was a little something in it for them, a carrot on a stick. This phantasmagorical idea to create a park on Quebec territory was completely irresponsible. The government tried to sell the idea of jobs and economic benefits. It was supposed to create structure. That term was not used in the 1940s, but if the then-parks minister were in the House today, he would claim that the Forillon Park project would “structure the community”. He would also tell us that this project would create jobs in the regions. Unfortunately, that never happened.

The benefits have not materialized. What is more serious is that federal power is being extended further.

To wrap up, I hope that the government takes responsibility and votes in favour of the motion that was moved, because it is time that the people who lived in that part of the country get some real restitution.