Madam Speaker, it is a great honour for me to participate in this debate on a historic event, but it is also our duty because of the government's actions and our philosophy on the environment. We used to think that we had to choose between the environment and the economy. Now, in modern days, everyone understands that we have to achieve a balance and solve this problem without having to make this type of choice.
The way people in the Forillon Park region were treated, unfortunately, is unacceptable and hard to understand today. As the Liberal Party's official environment critic, I want to say that our party will definitely be supporting this motion.
The government also has to have a clear understanding of the new approach to a challenge like this. Families and the community have suffered greatly and we have to express our empathy. We are not asking that the House make only a simple gesture, but rather a meaningful gesture. I repeat the request or invitation from the other members in the House of Commons, to all the members here, to make a unanimous gesture towards the people affected by the creation of Forillon Park.
It is very important for us today to reflect on how things were done in a different era and what that means. It should not be done in condemnation in the sense of not understanding some of the context where there were laws and executions by the provincial government. Things were done by the two governments of the day that created an outcome, which I do not think anyone in this place would say was intended. However, everyone in this place can say that this was not acceptable and should not stand on the historical record without some kind of recognition that is sincere, rooted in an understanding of what people have gone through in being displaced in that fashion by their official governments.
Most people in this place have difficulty relating to that. There have obviously been experiences around the world with that, but, luckily, few in our country. It led to a change in policy by the government of the day shortly thereafter, or at least in the years that followed, but only after a great deal of difficulty for the families. It is incontestable that we would years later, with the benefit of the perspective we have today, let this stand.
It is not just sustainable development; it is really about how we come together fundamentally around preserving the environment and then looking at the benefits and the impacts on people. We cannot do just one or the other.
In this case, it was the thrust, an honourable thing, I suppose, in its intention, to create a park and so on. Without doubt, that somehow went awry and caused the degree of hardship, both actual, in the sense of buildings being destroyed, tensions between authorities and citizens and so forth, and also in terms of the sense of isolation and grievance the people affected feel. That reaches forward even to today.
On the tenor of this debate, for this to be an official apology, for this to give respect to the suffering of the people, which is real, which we can relate to it and which may touch a few members of the House, we cannot and should not try to take away or say we can excuse it. To do that, we need to minimize the amount of partisan advantage we try to take in being able to bring this forward.
If I were a family member reading the transcripts of what came forward today, I would want to know that this was put in a context that actually told me something genuine took place, that this was not political football or somebody trying to make points on the backs of what was a terrible thing to have happen, having a government take something away from us in a manner with which, by all the reports of the day, people fundamentally did not agree, did not understand and did not have perhaps the rights of recourse. They had to seek those in the courts and only received some kind of compensation years later.
We are here today for a different kind of compensation. It is not about financial compensation; it is about respect. Respect cannot be offered if we simply go around the House pointing fingers at our respective past administrations or at the moral superiority we might all have in hindsight. I do not think it is about condemnation so much as it is there is a learned experience, that whatever the reluctance have been of governments or of parliamentarians or houses of commons in years past, that we will get over that today. Again, that legacy does not belong to us. It belongs to the families that are affected.
Going forward, we need to see a parks policy that not only gets rid of the egregious things that happened there. I believe that was taken care of in 1979 around the expropriations, negotiations and all those kinds of things. The law of the day that required people to not have any commercial businesses in the park and so on has been changed and modified so we are less prone to have these kinds of problems. However, beyond that, there has to be something meaningful about what we are doing today.
I want to believe that is the intent of bringing this forward, and I believe it is. To have it turn into anything else would be a bit sad, a bit more of a reflection on us than on any of the actual events of the day. There are very few of us who can say that we were part of those decisions. I have had occasion to hear from a few of the people who were involved before, at least peripherally. I think no one intended this to take place.
However, we are not here to offer any excuses for it, only to say that we have learned from it for parks going forward. Our ability to try to reconcile our desire to have a certain amount of nature protected and available in perpetuity for our children and our grandchildren, and those noble purposes, cannot be done on the backs of local citizens who have not had adequate means to access their rights.
To me, this is at the heart of the change that has to happen. Certainly our party thinks we are closest to it, where sustainable development is really a principle. It is something to use in every decision we make. It is not, as we sometimes hear, that we have to choose one over the other and then there are losers and winners. I guess that is what formed the standoff, unfortunately, in the case of Forillon Park.
I have heard at least a good degree of openness in the House today, but we have to understand the sensation, the honest experience that people have gone through. I do not think it takes a lot for us in 2011 to reach back and know what it must have felt to have the weight of official organizations working against average citizens in this fashion. That is not to say there was not a perspective on both sides, but that the preponderance of what happened is something we do want to identify. It is the only way to give honour to that experience. We have to walk in the shoes of the people, their children and so on.
I appreciate the government saying that it would continue or expand some of the access rights of people and their families. I think we have to look at practical expressions going further than that. It is perhaps not the purpose of the motion, but it would be consistent with it. This is not just about free access so people can visit gravesites, but about some honouring of the people for the sacrifice they made, recognizing that they lost in a couple of ways. They not only lost the territory they made their homes on but also a sense of belonging.
Both levels of government were there and seen to be hostile to them. That is something we have to heal. We have to be part of that. I think that is the main reason we are discussing this today.
What has been requested is neither money nor material things. It is simply an honest and sincere and, hopefully, widely shared and unanimous apology to say that those events were regrettable and that we have a sincere regret in this House for their having taken place, because we represent that same officialdom today that seemed to have abandoned the folks there before. The sensation felt by the people is something we can all relate to. It still informs some of the things people feel today and we rightfully owe it to people to be able to express that in our discussions here today.
We know that the government has talked somewhat about parks and having new ones established. It would behoove whoever sits on the government side to make sure that before we go forward with the establishment of other parks, we deal with this much less admirable part of our heritage, the manner in which this park was created. We have an anniversary that has passed, but one that we are still in a position to recognize 40 years after these events took place.
I believe it is in the capacity of everyone in this House not to see this as any kind of political jousting or exciting of old animosities, or even a condemnation, but one where have the benefit of seeing what happened. We are not superior, we are not having a better outlook, but we have learned. We have the benefit of mistakes. A very great part of what happened with Forillon Park was a mistake, and that is why we have to be here today in this House in explaining this to the families that were affected and the children and grandchildren of the people who were disrupted in that way. This disruption took up many years of their life.
Once we have an apology from this House, then there are other things that could be contemplated and concrete things that could be done to effect a better reconciliation between the park that is there on our behalf and the people who were expropriated. When we create a public park, it is similar to our forcing kids to go to school and our doing other compulsory things, in that we are trying to do these things for the greater good. However, that benefit to the many cannot be at the expense of the rights of any small number of people. In hindsight, that is clearly what happened with Forillon Park. There is a management plan in place, and some of it reflects outreach to local citizens and people nearby, but while it acknowledges what happened, it does not quite jump the gap that exists.
It acknowledges the sensation that has arisen from the expropriation of the use of forests and so on, which has meant that the people who are living next to the park and who should have the most benefit from the park and who should feel the most sense of ownership instead have this lingering sense of loss and of displacement and injustice. The number of people affected does not matter. This the only body they can come to for redress. So it is a good way for us to move forward, if there is consensus.
In another vein, the government was supposed to create many more parks. The Government of Canada was in Nagoya, Japan and was a signatory to an agreement to put aside 15% of our land mass, a 50% increase over what we have today, and 10% of our coastal areas. We have less than half of one per cent in marine parks today, far behind those of other areas.
The pledge that every party and every member needs to make, in the spirit of non-partisanship, is that we will work to ensure that we find ways to reconcile local populations and the interests and rights of people in these areas in a way that honours the bad experiences that took place in Forillon National Park and the Gaspé.
The establishment of these parks will be a challenge. We have made some progress over the years. In Canada we think of ourselves as having infinite amounts of space and people sometimes bristle that we would put a park so close to other people, but there is that need, too. We have to form a stronger sense of stewardship with nature in Canada.
We are the largest per capita stewards of nature anywhere in the world. I know that other members of the House were in Nagoya, and I know that Canada has not maintained its reputation as a green country. Members know that the Canadian government was given a booby prize in Nagoya, a type of backwards award as the dodo, the government least likely to conserve plants, animals and nature simply because of the way it behaves.
This entire episode causes us to contemplate some fundamental principles. We could treat this as an unfortunate incident, but it arose out of the attitudes of the day, where if one wanted to make something in the public interest, then everything else became secondary. We need to find a better way of going forward.
The environmental issues of today are, if anything, quite a bit more urgent. There is pressure on us that no one in the House can really escape when it comes to climate change. I say biodiversity and climate change are very much linked. Dealing with how much nature we can conserve so we can do the good job of keeping the atmosphere clean and safe is very important, but we have to deal with questions from the past like those prompted by Forillon, including, how are we going to move forward?
None of us can duck those questions, not if we believe that part of the reason for our being here as representatives and for being people with privilege and power is to make sure that the next generations will be in better shape than we are. We have to be able to do that using methods that are quite a bit more effective and more amenable to nation-building than the ones used at Forillon.
However, we need to make progress. We have not done that lately and, hopefully, this debate will cause people to reflect on why we are not in a position of having learned and having been able to move things forward and having the possibility of consensus. If we size up the issues, whether they be the creation and setting aside of parks or dealing with people in a way that is honourable and just, we would think those things would supersede any other interests we would have, because they are now recognized as fairly fundamental.
We are going to have to create a lot more parks in the future and do a lot more things to change the way we use nature: it is not disposable. We are seeing the impact not just of carbon use but also of a whole range of things that we in this country have taken for granted. Somewhere in that attitude is what informed the mistakes that were made in Forillon. It is an attitude that is well recognized, and I think that many people in the House are open to adopting something quite different, an outlook that will move the country forward.
I look forward to hearing from all members of the House who are going to speak in this debate. I say this not out of partisan entrapment but with sincerity from having looked at this issue, which is not one that I was very familiar with in advance.
I feel that it is crucial that all members of the House make both a unanimous and a sincere gesture towards those people. Otherwise, this will continue to be a black mark for everyone.
The people of this region were failed once, at least. It would be very important not to fail them again. I do not hear from the government side any legal or other barriers to this, nor from this side, even though there were Liberal governments in place at the time.
We are not reaching back and saying that we have to defend every action at all costs, especially when we have the benefit of hindsight. There are many rooms that have to be made here, if we are to find a really good expression toward the people of Gaspé who were affected by the Forillon Park expropriation.
I look forward to seeing the outcome of the debate over Forillon Park and, even more, to seeing whether we take it in the spirit that is intended and find more common ground on how to approach our very big challenges when it comes to the environment, to protecting nature, and dealing with climate change. Not only the people of Forillon but also the people of Canada are looking at this chamber and wondering where the capacity for that is. Do we have the capacity to rise above partisanship? Will everything here be seen as partisan?
Whether members like it or not, everything we do for our partisan stripes is seen as self-interest. It is not seen as being done for the glory of a greater cause; it is seen as our being unable to put aside partisanship for the public. The public out there is hungry for us to move forward on these issues. It is not about big or small government, but at some level about integrity. We are asked not to make up for a lack of integrity but to assume the integrity that is available to us today.
Certainly, it is well within our bounds to ensure that we give a sincere and fulsome apology to the people affected by the Forillon Park expropriation. I am very happy to support this bill on behalf of the Liberal Party.