Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in this House to speak to and support the motion of my highly esteemed colleague from Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier.
On the weekend, I worked with my colleague from Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier on another matter she is very involved in, namely the issue of the private airport in Neuville, where there was a huge public demonstration. I commend the hon. member for attending. She gets a lot of public attention even though she sometimes does not get enough media attention. However, her constituents truly know how involved she is and that they have her ear. I am extremely proud to call her a colleague.
I have listened closely to the speeches that have been made since this motion was moved in this House, in particular the speech by the member opposite, who listed the measures the government has taken thus far in this matter. My first comment is that those things were the least the government could do to protect the citizens from the potential dangers of the contamination. Unfortunately, we could describe those measures as minimal and even below the threshold of minimal.
The fact is that thousands of people who have lived or worked in Shannon or on the base at Valcartier, those who still work there and those who felt threatened north of Val-Bélair, which is now part of Quebec City, have for years been living with a tragedy that affects the whole community.
I shall explain. In that part of the Quebec City region, north of the city and at quite a bit higher altitude than Quebec City, there is a very special way of life, with a great many areas where nature is still very wild and natural. It is an area where settlers came from many different places and included francophones, the Irish and others.
It was my privilege to live for a few months in Saint-Gabriel de Valcartier, very near the base, and I came to appreciate the ways in which this is a very distinct and special society. I mean that the way we use it in French, and not in the sense of an elite. It is a community with a very strong identity and one that is very proud of its connections. But what is important is that CFB Valcartier is one of the most significant major bases in all of Canada.
When we look at the history of CFB Valcartier, we must not forget that, as early as Canada's entry into the first world war, it was a hub for troop deployment, for training and for maintaining a large military presence in eastern Canada, which enabled Canada to go into action in various theatres of operations, both in war and in peacekeeping.
The reality is that not all the victims of this contamination live in Shannon or the immediate area. Thousands of Canadians have passed through Valcartier and now live all across the country, from British Columbia to Alberta to New Brunswick.
The case of Valcartier is not unique, either, because, sadly, we have also seen the Agent Orange problem at CFB Gagetown, New Brunswick, which unfortunately has shown that some past errors require the government to pay serious attention to comforting and supporting people and correcting these tragic errors, which were not necessarily made deliberately by the government. We recognize this, of course.
Beyond the measures taken by the government, the real issue is that the state still does not recognize its responsibility regarding the decontamination and is leaving it up to the citizens of Shannon to assume full responsibility for the whole process, including the stress of taking legal action.
So far, the bill for this action against the Department of National Defence and the various components of SNC-Lavalin totals $4 million. That is a very serious issue. Given the regrettable legacy of the Valcartier base, it is completely wrong that this government, like its predecessors—because this is a very long-standing issue—is not assuming its primary responsibility. That responsibility is to check the facts and to tell citizens, armed forces members and civilian personnel that it accepts some responsibility and that it is demanding that the other parties involved also accept and recognize their responsibility. From there on, the government will be able to defuse this situation, which is very hard from a human standpoint on the people of Shannon and the surrounding area.
Of course, I fully realize that, from a legal perspective, when a legal opinion relating to court action has been provided, the argument can be made that the process must follow its course. The problem is that, morally, this can become a cover to avoid responsibility. Recognizing and assuming that responsibility in relation to the contamination would be a courageous move that would surely defuse the problem and bring some relief to the people affected. More importantly, it would signal the beginning of negotiations to reach an agreement that would benefit all parties.
Nobody wants a judge to decide what is best for the people of Shannon, for the government of this country. Nobody wants a solution imposed through a perfectly legitimate outside intervention, but one that could easily have been avoided. In my opinion, the real problem has to do with shifting that responsibility to a judge, instead of courageously assuming it. This is all the more regrettable because, in this specific case, people have been waiting for several decades.
I am going to give another example. The Prime Minister recognized the responsibility of the Government of Canada and he apologized to Canadian citizens of Japanese origin for their internment during World War II. That was commendable, and it was the right thing to do. This is something that NDP members can easily recognize. In fact, I congratulate the government on this initiative.
To govern is not just to anticipate. It is also to assume responsibilities that are sometimes difficult. I call on the government, and particularly on all members of this House who have military bases in their ridings and whose constituents are serving as soldiers, sailors, aviators or civilian staff: we must really ensure that, for the benefit of the residents of Shannon, the government recognizes and assumes its responsibility regarding past actions. That will be the first step in arriving at a solution benefiting all parties.